Someone asked me the other day about the most iconic places I have enjoyed during my many years in Kenya. The first picture to take shape in my mind was the view from the terrace of Kilaguni Lodge in Tsavo West – over the water hole to the panorama that takes in the snow-capped Kilimanjaro and the green Chyulu Hills.
Another place was the restaurant that used to revolve at the top of the KICC – where I most sharply realised why Nairobi was called ‘the green city in the sun’. And then there was having a seafood special lunch at the Tamarind restaurant in Mombasa, with its view of the old harbour.
That Mombasa restaurant was first opened back in 1972. Yes, the Tamarind Group has been adventuring for a long time – always looking to set up something new in Kenya. I well remember having a steak lunch on the Tamarind Dhow as, serenaded, we gently sailed along Tudor Creek. Talking of steaks, Nairobi has its tourist-popular Carnivore, with its huge barbeque and its all-you-can-eat meat approach. It is one of the very few – only three at the last count – still surviving non-hotel Nairobi restaurants among the many hundreds described in Kathy Eldon’s ‘Eating Out in Kenya’ published in 1982.
As examples of the Tamarind Group’s eclectic tastes, it now has the Tamarind Tree Hotel, set in the Carnivore’s grounds. And did you know that the original and lively Kengele’s bar in Lavington became a member of the group a few years ago?
This article is also something of a sequel. Two weeks ago, I wrote about our surprise when my wife and I went to the Karen Blixen Coffee Garden along Karen Road, where we were looking forward to a relaxed Tamambo Sunday lunch – only to find that the whole place was being renovated by new owners, the Karen Blixen Group. That has been a favourite place for a long time – ever since Frank Sutton set up the first garden restaurant there back in the late 1980s.
We were told that Tamarind had decamped last July and set up at what used to be the Dari Restaurant not far away along Ngong Road and within the Dari Business Park. So we went last Sunday to have a look and a taste.
It is called the Tamarind Brasserie. I checked Wikipedia. I read that brasseries are popular in France and across the Francophone world. They are relaxed restaurants, but a grade up from the bistros that are small, informal and serving wine.
The Tamarind Brasserie is certainly not small, and relaxed is a better word for it than informal. Its grounds are really spacious with a large lawn fringed by woods. You can have a table within a glass-fronted terrace, along a narrow veranda, or in one of the many gazebos scattered along the border of trees and shrubs.
When we were there, a large children’s party was going on – but out of sight and sound, because it was beyond the thick screen of trees. Within the woods there are Thomson’s gazelles, impalas, dik-diks; in the trees there are bush babies, tree hyraxes – and plenty of birds. And the human clientele? Much as it used to be at the Karen Blixen Coffee Garden: a good mix of Kenyan families and tourists.
The menu is large and imaginative – a sort of cross between a Tamarind and a Tamambo one, I think. I chose a grilled fillet of red snapper with quinoa risotto, fennel, cucumber, beetroot, lemon butter sauce and a beetroot aioli. My wife had a very varied vegetarian poke bowl. We were both too satisfied to be tempted by the desserts.
I think the Tamarind Group has made another smart move.
John Fox is Chairman of iDC Email: [email protected]