What you need to know:
- Kenyans’ big appetite for culinary masterpieces continues to drive the surge of food industry in Nairobi.
A very juicy loin lamb with thinly shredded apple skin by its side. A syringe with gravy in it. A tiny mushroom in a bowl. Scallops in a glass with a greenish base, and a shell-shaped thing-y on the side.
We are sitting at Social House, one of Nairobi’s upmarket restaurants that serve the wealthy and aspirational rich. We are here to taste a meal that costs Sh10,000 and above.
The menu is a thoughtfully chosen compilation of ingredients that you would find in your home, but the way you cook them is nothing close to this.
Here the chefs skillfully transform the food into a culinary masterpiece. On this particular day, the hotel has invited chefs from Peru and Mexico to its Urban Brasserie.
“Kenyans have an adventurous palate, and they warmly embrace new flavours,” says Anibal Torres, the Executive Chef of Social House.
We start eating, not a mountain of food as many would imagine, but many tiny servings that uniquely excite the palate. And as the meals come, we keep eating and eating.
These dishes in restaurants are among the few that cost over Sh10,000 a meal and Kenyans are paying.
If someone were to ask us if the meal was worth that amount, we would say yes. Reason? First, the cost is in the food plating. The food is served on unique dainty plates that you only see in a few hotels.
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Choosing crockery has become a serious business in Kenyan hotels as chefs seek creativity in food presentations. These chefs have had to rack their brains to invent new plating options, to tickle the palates of diners.
Second, is the food presentation. You would rarely find a hotchpotch or a confused mixture of ingredients in these dishes costing over Sh10,000.
3-hour braised beef tongue
Fairview Hotel in Nairobi is another restaurant that is serving such kinds of meals. Theirs is a Chef’s Table experience. This is a bourgeois kind of dining where diners watch as the chef shows off his or her culinary skills in an intimate set-up.
“This [Chef’s Table dining] includes a discussion with the chef regarding food allergies or dislikes and finally a four-course meal. During or after the meal, I walk around to see how people are enjoying the food and to chat and answer questions,” says the Fairview Executive Chef, Kabelo Mooketsi.
It is 7 pm and the first course reads “gin-kissed salmon adorned with ginger and lime, ensconced in a homemade sweet chilli embrace.” We try it. It leaves a symphony of textures in our mouths.
The second course is a gastronomic ballet—a three-hour braised beef tongue. The succulent beef is served with smoked polenta [which is a maize porridge-like dish], pickled vegetables, and baby heirloom potatoes.
“The food industry in Nairobi has experienced an incredible surge in the past year since I’ve been here. Tonight’s culinary journey exclusively featured locally sourced ingredients, except the Japanese scallop, the only element imported from Asia. Even the beef is sourced right here in Kenya,” says Chef Mooketsi.
For seafood, he serves a Japanese scallop adorned with a spicy cheddar cheese sauce. There is a puree, yellow garnish and dessert that has everything from lemongrass, ginger, vodka, cognac, Procera gin, honey, soda water, and lemonade and is crowned with a strawberry and coconut foam
Aged beef tenderloin and smoked lamb loin would be every Kenyan’s favourite. It is a 60-day-aged beef tenderloin, bathed in red wine jus, parsnip espresso, beetroot puree, and roasted potatoes.
“Over the past year, I’ve embraced numerous risks, making inspiration a cornerstone of my meals,” he says.
At Sierra Manor, the owner and chef Alan Murungi showcases what a Sh10,000 meal ought to look like. We are here at his manor-like restaurant for a Team Wine Kenya event, where five Kenyan female sommeliers are preparing to travel to Paris to compete at a Wine Olympics. [They jetted out in early October and back.]
The chef comes out to explain the inspiration behind the meals. Most chefs use these experiences to have one-on-one interactions with diners and find out what they think about the food. He is serving about 30 guests. He has paired the food with three South African wines.
The Sh10,000 experience starts with a bubbly from Paul Rene MCC as an aperitif to stimulate the appetite. The other option is a Procera Blue gin and tonic.
The first course is a delicious appetiser - tuna tartare served on brioche bread. The crunchy nature of the brioche blends so well with chunks of avocado and the tuna melts in the mouth. It is a twist for those who would not dare taste tuna.
The stunner of the dining experience is the lobster and prawn jollof rice. West Africans would argue that seafood and jollof should not be cooked together. Astonishingly, it proves to be a sweet, sumptuous meal thanks to the red pepper and pumpkin.
The jollof rice is paired with white wine, the Rocking Horse 2016 from Thorne and Daughters in the Western Cape of South Africa. An interesting choice that compliments the complexity of the meal.
The third course is lamb meat from his own farm. Three chunks of the juicy aged Nanyuki lamb glazed with miso and onion cream for a deep savoury taste. To mellow out the saltiness of the meat, a red wine from the De Toren Private Cellar is selected. De Toren Delicate is a gentle, fruity wine that is light enough for lamb meat which is very tender and soft.
At this intimate dinner, we interact like we are at a fancy dinner table, at someone’s home. We laugh. We discuss our favourite parts of the dining experience. The waiters continue to fill up wine glasses. In a normal dinner, a top-up would be an additional cost. But here, not at all.
Finally, the dessert is served: Sticky toffee with white chocolate vanilla cream and salted caramel ice cream. A simple sweet treat to end the night.