If you could measure the Nairobi Restaurant scene over the past few decades with a seismometer, it would be a boring, flat line with occasional tremors. However, the last three years have seen the scene rocked by major earthquakes (metaphorically speaking) characterized by the opening of great, new restaurants and a growing number of authentic ‘foodies’( let me use food-lovers), who love eating out. Also, on a separate note, I think it is time we flambed the word ‘foodie’. This is a word that I use sparingly and it always makes me shudder when people take pictures of say, a burger and plaster a hashtag like #foodiethings #foodie etc. We all have clumsily overused buzzwords and phrases that we hate. Mine are ‘foodie’ and the phrase ‘I can’t’. I digressed. I know.
Nairobi Restaurant Week has been on everyone’s lips for the past few days, and it should because it is a breath of fresh air for the Nairobi food, wine & restaurant scene. I’ve been out of town for a few days but I was dying to try at least one or two restaurants for #NRW2015. I had a free afternoon on Thursday and I decided to go over to the newly opened Caramel Restaurant & Lounge, that everyone has heaped praise about. It is located in ABC Place in Westlands, Nairobi. I wanted to see what sparked such a hubbub. I called up my friend Wamathai, asked him to join me for lunch, and he obliged. He is a great friend, a skilled photographer and he tells it like it is. He was the best person to compare notes with.
Step into Caramel Restaurant & Lounge and you feel like you are in another dimension. Am I being overly dramatic? No. There are beautiful hostesses (clad in short, all-black dresses) at the door who welcome you with ebullience and show you to your table. Being a curious person, I did not want just to eat and leave. I wanted a small tour of the place and Alison Ko, the reservation’s manager showed me around the establishment. You could tell that a great deal planning went into setting up because everything from the décor to the low hanging lights is impeccable. The colours which are black, brown and yellow work in synergy to create a great theme. The lighting is soft and this is perfect for a restaurant and lounge setting. There were many things that stood out for me as you will see from the ‘Best 10 that caught my eye’ photos below. The best place for me was the cigar room. This was a cozy room meant for people to light a cigar as they chatted over a glass of whisk(e)y. The room felt like a place where men would meet to discuss business and a myriad of other topics that constitute ‘mantalk’. My crony felt so much at home and I could tell that he was intrigued by this room.
At a moment where there are so many restaurants in Kenya, Caramel is getting into the ring and it is doing so in a contemporary American style and menu setting that remains unique. The clientele seems a mix of expatriates who are here on business or tourism and locals who are in for lunch before getting back to work. I cannot complain about the service because our food arrived promptly and the waitstaff knew the menu like the back of their hand and did not get enervated due to our countless questions about the food.
The Drinks List
The whiskey & scotch list was very well picked and it included the big names in the Drink business. I also scrutinized the winelist trying to figure out what brands were in the portfolio. If you come here for a glass of wine, you will not be disappointed. The cellar was quite ample when it came to the bubblys, champagnes and bruts. I managed to spot some of my favorite wines like the B & G. Such an establishment would not miss world class names like Moet & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Laurent Perrier and Don Perignon among other champagnes.
The #NRW2015 menu was surprising and I couldn’t wait to try the Mac & Cheese that my friend had recommended all week. It also included truffle oil, accompanied by a 3 cheese dipping sauce. This was not your run-of-the-mill Mac & Cheese. The three component cheeses were Cheddar, Parmesan and Mozzarella Cheese. My friend tried the seared Beef Carpaccio with shaved parmesan, capers and truffle oil. I did not like it very much but it boasted a high degree of culinary creativity in terms of ingredients and presentation that was almost architectural. We decided to order different things although we occasionally stole bites from each other’s plates. The Mac and cheese was crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. The carpaccio was my least favorite of the day.
For the main course, I ordered Marinated grilled chicken with baby spinach and parsnip puree. The parsnip puree gave the chicken an extra wow factor. My favorite was the Chinese chicken salad. I could camp there for life just to have this salad every day. It was served chilled and had clementines, cashews and honey mustard dressing. The best part about this salad was the chilliness as well as the crunchiness of the cashews, which was a welcome surprise. The dressing gave the salad a little sweetness and it begged you for another bite.