Taste of China

Sigh. If only the good restaurants around here could keep their standards consistent. Taste of China used to be the absolute best Chinese food in town. But, after tonight, I would just describe it as average. Meh.

There are six of us, so we get a good selection and hence impression of the dishes tonight. We start with golden fried vegetables. Massive blobs of something – I can’t even tell what kind of vegetable I am supposed to be eating. They all taste the same. Too much batter, no flavour at all, until you scrape bits of ginger and spring onion off the bottom of the platter. Then the prawns. Again, way too much batter and no flavour whatsoever. The prawns had been frozen and are almost mushy. The best starter is the honey-glazed pork ribs but they aren’t amazing, either. The flavour is good but they are a little overcooked. The spring rolls are okay but are also lacking flavour. Uninspired vegetables rolled up in dough and thrown in the deep frier.

So my hopes lie in the mains. The vegetable fried rice looks okay, but I don’t have any of it. The sweet and sour pork is mainly sweet and I again feel that the meat is overcooked. The kung pao chicken is okay but also doesn’t impress me. But worst: the squid. I insisted on the squid because it used to be my favourite dish. But today, it’s mostly corn starch with a few pieces of mushy squid in it.

Needless to say, I’m not even going to try dessert. I’m done after a few bites of the mains. And that’s a big thing for me to say. My tummy is also not very impressed and gives me a few upset rumbles.

At least the bill is acceptable for Westlands – I would have been even more disappointed to have been overcharged for a mediocre meal.

Disappointing. Meh.

 

Marula Mercantile

I’m hungry!

I haven’t had breakfast yet and, after a long workout and shopping, I’m starving! So, in our quest to try new restaurants, I pick the closest: Marula Mercantile.

The entrance doesn’t look all that inviting, but the narrow alley soon opens to a lush garden and terrace area. It’s pretty quiet, but then it is a weekday mid-afternoon.

We plop down on the semi-comfortable chairs and grab the menu while ordering drinks: beer on an empty stomach seems a bit too over the top, so shandies it is :-)! I’m hungry enough to order the entire menu (and am already eyeing the mixed berry pavlova for dessert) but we settle on the two pork dishes: pulled pork and pork belly ribs. With a side of macaroni and cheese. Because… hunger.

The food thankfully doesn’t take long. It looks scrumptious and comes on large wooden chopping boards: nice and rustic. The pork belly ribs are huge, nicely charred on the outside and soft on the inside. They come with an awesome homemade barbecue sauce, super crispy chips and kachumbari. There is quite a bit of fat on them though (duh, it’s belly after all) and that’s why I’m not too unhappy to exchange plates with K halfway through. His plate looks amazing as well: homemade naan slathered in herby yoghurt, cherry tomatoes and pulled pork, served with a side of rainbow slaw. It’s super delicious (I’d even choose it over the ribs). The only thing that could be improved is the yoghurt: towards the end, it had seeped into the naan, making it soggy. Having it served on the side would have been better. I’m somewhat disappointed with the mac and cheese: they are a bit tasteless and there’s unfortunately nothing special about them.

But that’s fine because I’m stuffed. Too stuffed even for dessert, which is a disappointment.

So instead, we ask for the bill. The pulled pork is mildly overpriced for what you get. Other than that, the prices are comparable to what else is available in the neighbourhood. So it’s definitely a place I’d come back to. Not just for the desserts!

Haandi

It’s all Milagro’s fault. If she hadn’t started demanding butter chicken and naan on Sunday evening, butter chicken would never have been on my mind.

We didn’t get butter chicken on Sunday. Even though she begged and pleaded with the manager of Open House. It was too late and he didn’t care that there’s no good Indian food in Argentina. So we had shawarma elsewhere instead.

But butter chicken stayed on my mind.

So when K asks me where I want to go for dinner on Thursday, it takes me a fraction of a second to yell ‘Haandi!’. He agrees even though that means a trip to Westlands.

I make a reservation (absolutely necessary) for 8. The place is packed. We are led to a small table in the corner. I’m not even looking at the menu; I know I want butter chicken! And garlic naan!

We also order ‘Indian nyama choma’, a roast leg of baby lamb. Aren’t lambs always babies?

But first, we start with a papadum that I douse in the super-spicy chili sauce. And the tamarind sauce. That’s one of the main reasons why I like Haandi: the tamarind sauce. I could drink that stuff!

What follows is heavenly. Butter chicken. It is so, so good. I could eat this all the time. What’s even better is that leg of lamb. They call it Indian nyama choma, but it’s about as close to nyama choma as cheap, rubber-like industrial cheese is to Swiss artisan cheese. It’s like the lamb-version of pulled pork. It comes with a mint sauce that isn’t green like the British stuff. It’s more like a mint-flavoured Indian gravy. So, so good.

And the naan: fluffy yet doughy butter naan and garlic naan. Hot out of the tandoor.

We dig in. We stop talking until the food is almost finished; to negotiate who gets the rest of what. I get the chicken 🙂

We manage to finish the food, but with difficulty. We decline the offer of dessert though, obviously.

The bill comes and is steep. Haandi is one of the best Indian places in town, and the portions are generous, but I do think it’s overpriced. But at least I got my butter chicken.

(A word of warning: I don’t know what it is about the Haandi food, but you will be oozing strong Indian food odours for the next 24 hours. But there are worse things in the world than smelling like butter chicken.)

 

 

Tamambo, Karen

The glutton hasn’t gone out to eat for a while. Lots of delicious home-cooked food and the occasional Java meal, but that’s nothing I can write about, is it? And so when K started talking about burgers yesterday, I knew I wanted a burger.

We haven’t been to Tamambo at Karen Blixen Coffee Gardens in a long time, and as it’s a sunny day, we head there to enjoy the day outside.

The place is pretty packed when we arrive  at lunch time. It may be a week day, but Tamambo is often the lunch spot of choice for tourists on their obligatory elephant-giraffe-Karen ‘I had a farm at the foot of the Ngong Hills’ Blixen tour.

We sit on the porch and someone drops off a menu at our table quickly after that. We order drinks, and food shortly after that. The drinks appear in good time, but the food takes quite a while. But we’ve got time.

The complimentary bread basket arrives first, and after a few weeks of attempting to go low-carb, I can’t wait to dig in. And I’m not disappointed. Freshly home-baked bread rolls and bread sticks with butter. Yum.

Soon after arrrives the starter we share: grilled pork spare ribs with a tomato chutney dip. The ribs have been boiled before they went on the grill, which, in my opinion, always make them loose flavour. But they are still pretty good. Meaty and not too salty (I remember one very salty rib incident here years ago). The sauce could be a bit spicier.

Our burgers arrive while we are still eating the ribs; not the greatest service.

We have both ordered the fully loaded burger with cheese, bacon, mushrooms, onions, and peppers. The bun is home-baked, but, while it’s great bread, it’s so fresh that it’s lacking structural integrity, making it hard to eat the burger with your hands. And there could be more bacon: one rasher for a bacon lover? Not enough. But it’s a good burger. The beef is home-minced, the onions nicely caramelised, and the cheese holds the veggies in place.

The burger comes with a side of chips, and, as always at Tamambo, a chili sauce served in a tacky sea shell.

I’m super-stuffed by the time we finish, and gladly accept the offer of a cappuccino once we finish, to give the food some time to settle. The coffee is good, as is K’s fresh passion juice.

We sit for a little while longer before asking for the bill. The food is good but are the high prices justified? I’m not sure but I always do enjoy the nice garden and quite atmosphere.

Will I be back? Probably. Often? Probably not.

K 1 Klub House

The sun is finally showing itself on a Sunday in Nairobi. My friend N, her daughter, and I are heading to the flea market at K1 Klub House.

The flea market is a bit of a disappointment. Not much to see or buy. But N’s daughter spots the bouncy castle and is occupied for the next couple of hours. Unfortunately, there’s nobody around to watch the kids, and the waitress refuses to serve us near there.

After much convincing, she allows us into the members-only (read: miraa-chewing) section, that has the perfect view of the kid’s zone.

N and I both order the same thing: a tropical smoothie and a chapati wrap. N also has a cappuccino.

Our drinks (and the food) take forever to arrive. But the smoothie is nice: mango, papaya and banana blended with lots of ice and coconut milk. And N loves her coffee. My water will arrive with the bill.

The food, once it finally appears, is a bit of a let-down. The chapati is pretty dry, and not flaky, like it should be. The filling made of chicken, spinach, mushrooms, and onions is alright, but it’s lacking flavour. Even simply adding pepper would have improved it, but there is none on the table and the waitress has vanished. We talk about what else it would make it better: strong cheese (like goat’s cheese or blue cheese), chilis, some bacon… The opportunities seem endless but we are unfortunately not the ones making the menu. The wrap also comes with a carrot and cabbage salad without dressing. It’s edible; okay, really, but nothing I’d come back for; and certainly not without a bottle of akabanga chili oil in my pocket.

The bill comes to KSh 1900, which seems okay for the wraps, drinks and smoothies. But again, it’s not really worth coming there for the food. Or the flea market.

 

Le Rustique, Nanyuki

I don’t have the best relationship with Le Rustique. The one time I went there in Nairobi years ago, the food orders were mixed up, the service wasn’t great and what was served was definitely overpriced for the quality that was presented.
Then, two years later, we ended up at Le Rustique in Nanyuki. I believe I had a Thai Green curry, but I don’t remember much about it (and I would, had it been mind-blowing).

So I am a bit apprehensive about heading there on our way back from Marsabit to Nairobi.

I am not sure what the ordering process is like; we are with a group of people, and we first people to arrive put in our order.

Once we arrive, I am very happy to be able to wash my hands after five days of camping without running water. Clearly, there have been quite a few people returning from Rhino Charge before – the bin is overflowing with paper towels stained in red dust 🙂

Our starters arrive minutes after we sit down. K and I share spicy chicken wings and calarmari with aioli. Meh. It’s good that I’m hungry – I’m less likely to complain when I’m hungry. The spicy chicken wings are covered in some sort of grey dust; I suppose it may be some sort of pepper covering. They aren’t spicy at all, but slightly under cooked (big pet peeve…). The blue cheese dressing they come with is overpowering. The calamari are okay, yet the aioli is lacking garlic.

K has Chinese BBQ pork as a main. It’s a big slab of nicely cooked pork. I had a few bites and enjoyed it, but I can imagine that the flavour of the strong marinade would have been too much halfway through the meal. I have ordered a mixed grill pizza and am quite underwhelmed. Absolutely nothing special, and it actually tastes better when I have a slice three hours later, cold, on Thika Road… Everything about it is a bit weird. I can’t really describe it, but it certainly isn’t a good pizza.

The chicken burger to my right looks pretty good, as does the steak, but I heard it was a little on the tough side.

The price tag is absolutely not justified for the quality of the food. I’m not planning to head back there when I’m next in Nanyuki.

 

 

Distant Relatives, Kilifi

I’m covered in dust. I’m thirsty. The sun is beating down. And it’s waaaay past lunch time when we get to Distant Relatives in Kilifi.

I stumble from the car to a table by the pool. First things first: an ice-cold beer. K goes to the bar to order, and very quickly my beer appears in front of me, the condensation quickly forming thick drops that trickle down the side of the bottle *bliss*.

Next stop: the washroom. I’m having an issue with my knee at the moment, and the bumpy path to the loos is posing a real challenge to me. I hobble down and back up and am glad I only have to go there once. The place is definitely not disability access-friendly.

Once I make it back to the table, it’s time to order some food. Unfortunately, the special of the day, grilled yellowfin tuna steak in honey sesame soy sauce, isn’t available until dinner. So I settle on the grilled baby calamari in ginger, chili and lime, while K has the king prawns with garlic and herb butter. Other items on the menu include fried chicken, lamb curry, Thai curries and BBQ ribs.

The food arrives pretty quickly, and is really good. The portions are generous, and my calamari is tender and not at all rubbery. The chips are crispy and hot, just the way I like them. The meal is served with a refreshing tomato salad on the side. K’s prawns are super tasty as well, but there could be a few more of them. The herb and garlic butter isn’t overpowering or overly greasy.

Unfortunately, we have to leave soon after we finish our meal. At Ksh 900 per main, the lunch was very affordable, especially considering the great quality of the food!

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The Arbor

It’s been a long Wednesday and I’m glad to get out of the house. I get to The Arbor on James Gichuru and find a cozy spot in the beautiful garden. A very attentive waiter tells me about the day’s specials, and I order a glass of wine (buy one get one free because it’s Wednesday) while I wait for M to arrive.

It’s Nairobi Burger Week (more buy one get one free, yay) and we both go for a burger. I order the Asian Twist Burger, M The Arbor Burger.

The food arrives quickly. My burger comes with crispy sweet potato fries and an Asian-inspired coleslaw. The burger itself is really good. The patty tastes of ginger, lemongrass and chilli and is grilled perfectly medium. Spicy mayo and grilled onions compliment the burger’s flavours, as does the sweet and salty bacon. The burger is served with a fried egg on top, which may sound a little odd but works well. It makes it more difficult to eat though, and I’m sure I’m dribbling egg yolk all over myself. And M looks like he’s enjoying his burger. When I ask him what’s good, he says something along the lines of ‘cheesy, bacon, meat, awesome!’

It’s dark by now and fairy lights illuminate the garden. We aren’t ready to go home yet and, after having another beer, we decide to go for dessert. We order the coconut and lemongrass panna cotta.

And unfortunately, we are both disappointed. It looks grey and is very gelatinous and lacks any kind of flavour. No coconut, no lemongrass. M says ‘it’s like we are eating whale blubber’.

So we swallow our whale blubber and order another beer to wash it down before leaving the garden at 10, just in time for closing.

Because of the specials going on, our bill is very reasonable.

I’ll definitely be back soon to try out more of the menu; it looks delicious. I would try to avoid the place on a rainy day though as there is only outdoor seating.

 

 

 

Brioche, Karen

I was looking forward to finally having a meal at Brioche. Originally from Kigali, there are now two branches in Nairobi as well, one in Karen, one at Village Market.
On Sunday, we head to the Karen branch at Watermark Business Park for brunch.

We are welcomed with big bouquets of flowers (it’s Mother’s Day) by a friendly hostess and are shown to our table.
The place is empty, save for one large group outside.
The decor is simple yet elegant with warm colours that brighten up the grey day.

Today’s special is a high tea. All three of us go for it, even though the regular menu looks quite tempting as well.
I’m positively surprised by the wide selection of high-quality herbal teas and love the strawberry lemonade I order.

Unfortunately, this is where it ends for me.
The high tea is a disappointment.

While very prettily presented, it’s not at all what I expected.
The ‘fresh salmon served on a bed of delicious cream cheese and dill’ turns out to be a very doughy bun with a thin layer of cream cheese with a few chives sprinkled on it and two tiny pieces of smoked salmon. Don’t get me wrong, the bun is nice, but it’s just bread; there isn’t enough filling for it.
Which is why I end up dipping it into the sauce that comes with the ‘chicken colombo simmered in fresh vegetables with an aroma of Kenyan and Indian spices’. On the plate, that translates to a chicken wing each with a small pot of sauce. Not sure what I’m tasting though; too many flavours and the vegetables are cooked to mush. And lastly on the savoury tier, there is ‘Brown’s cheese and roasted tomato on lightly toasted brioche bread.’ When I was a student and wanted to save money for beer, I used to make that. Take a slice of bread, throw some tomato and grated cheese on top and stick it in the oven for a few minutes. The difference is that I used lots of tomato, more than a microscopic amount of cheese and I would usually whack some fresh basil on top. I’m not impressed by what I’m presented with here today.

The crepe with fruit salad and fresh cream is nice; maybe a bit chewy, but it takes me a while to get to it.
There are also mini pastries, which lack the Belgian chocolate the menu promised.
The danish tastes slightly burnt; I skip the croissant.

Lastly, there is a glass of ‘panna cotta paired with passion fruit, strawberry and granola crumble’. The granola crumble seems to have gone missing. The panna cotta itself is nice and full of vanilla beans, yet with the strawberries, mint and passion fruit, there are just too many flavours being mixed.

The food is very filling (I don’t think I’ve had that many carbs in a while…) yet the price tag isn’t justified for the portion size and quality of food.

Because I’ve heard so many raving reviews, I will be back to try some of the regular menu items, which look really nice. I’m hoping though that this will be a more pleasant experience than today’s high tea…

Yul’s, Mombasa

Yul’s. An institution. If you are around Nyali or Bamburi, you will eventually end up there. It allows for easy beach access if you aren’t staying at a beach hotel, and it’s one of the most convenient places if you just want to have a drink (or ice cream) with a nice view.

So on this trip, of course, we also end up at Yul’s.
It’s unfortunately raining, so we sit inside, like everyone else, making the place seem quite crowded.

We order my favourite starter: the honey sesame prawns. And they don’t disappoint, even though I remember their portions being bigger in the past. They are served piping hot on a bed of lettuce with two different dipping sauces.

And then, we share the seafood pizza and a bacon and cheese burger.
It’s the first time I’m having a burger at Yul’s and I’m positively surprised. I don’t even know what makes this burger so good but the flavours go perfectly well together. A bit sweet, a bit spicy and salty, crunchy, al around a perfectly grilled patty. The chips are pretty good too, but the little vegetable serving that comes with it is over-cooked and mushy.
The pizza is okay, but nothing special. It seems a bit dry and tasteless. The seafood consists only of calamari and small pieces of prawns. Parts of the pizza are burned. There are better places for pizza in the area, if you really want one.

But the real reason to head to Yul’s comes after lunch. Ice cream!
Today, I have apricot and chocolate. Yum! I should have skipped the pizza and had more ice cream.

Yul’s isn’t the cheapest place, but it’s a nice place to while away an afternoon.