I hadn’t been to the Arbor Place Restaurant since it moved from one end of James Gichuru Road to the other — from the slip road at Gitanga Road end to East Manyani Road turning just before the Waiyaki Way end. I hadn’t experienced its weekend flea market. So I went.
I was wondering about the flea market name. I had been to the famous one in London on Portobello Road, also to a big one in Antwerp. Both were a bustling collection of stalls selling second-hand things. But in neither of them were fleas on sale – not overtly, anyway.
So I Googled it. I learnt that flea market originated with the French ‘marché aux puces’, which means ‘market of the fleas’ – since the second-hand things on sale at the stalls, especially clothes, could well be flea-infested.
I doubt whether you could find fleas on any of the goods sold at the Arbor Market. Nor were the things being sold there second-hand. Everything was new and smart and clean. There were lots of informal but stylish clothes. There were many jars of jams and pickles – many pots of scented moisturising creams. There was even a booth for selling shiny books.
I didn’t see any fleas. I experienced no itches. Fleas are hardy things, so I believe. A consultant friend told me just the other day about the time he visited a shamba on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam. He took tea in the farmer’s house and patted his dogs. When my colleague got back to his hotel in the city, he realised he had carried away many fleas. He ran a bath. He thought the best way of getting rid of them was to get into the bath with all his clothes on. He thought he had solved the problem. But when he went into the bathroom in the morning, he saw many fleas jumping around the plug hole.
But don’t let this story put you off visiting a flea market – not any of those in Nairobi. They are not really flea markets anyway. The one at the Arbor is in such a pleasant place – a lush Lavington garden. And in the airy main building, the glass-fronted inner restaurant overlooks the garden, and it has for company the Aromatics Spa and a shop selling beauty products.
I didn’t have time for lunch that Sunday, but the day was hot and I couldn’t resist having a cooling Affogato of ice-cream drowned in black coffee. On the table there was a notice about the daily specials. Most of them were of the ‘buy one and get one free’ style. Except, on Tuesday mornings the promise was that if you bought coffee you would get a free breakfast.
I was intrigued. So, I went back at 10am on Tuesday. I ordered coffee and, sure enough, a breakfast came with it. It wasn’t a gourmet breakfast, but substantial enough – with eggs, sausages and toast. The sun was shining; the birds outsung the gentle hum of traffic on Waiyaki way. I chatted with Karen, the waitress. I asked her if the move from the other end of James Gichuru Road had worked well for them. We might have lost a few clients,’ she said, ‘but we have gained a few more.’
There is much more to the Arbor menu than Affogato coffee, eggs, sausages and toast. It is a mixed cuisine of Continental and Asian. For breakfast that day, for example, if I had not been so mean to try the freebie one, I could have had poached eggs with smoked salmon.
If I had stayed for lunch, I could have had a Thai Green Curry or a bowl of Pho Noodles, ‘served in an aromatic broth made from Vietnamese herbs and spices’.
By the way, the next Arbor Flea Market is on the weekend of March 27/28.