At Under the Swahili Tree by Lake Naivasha

Under the Swahili Tree,

Under the Swahili Tree, a restaurant in Lake Naivasha.

Photo credit: John Fox | Nation Media Group

‘I think this is a special place,’ Emma Forbes said, as she welcomed us to her new Under the Swahili Tree restaurant by Naivasha Lake.

“And it’s been an adventure,’’ she added. Within a few days of the opening, the heavy rains came, the water level rose, and the place was in rather than by the lake.

Just describing where it is along the Moi South Lake Road, I cannot do better than quoting the directions that was given to us: ‘it’s about 30 seconds from the junction with the Naivasha Road. Look for a purple gate with the Boffar Farm sign, between Blooming Suites and Party Island. Drive down the lane and park on the grass by the Kentwood. Walk up the footpath and hop on a boat!’

True. A small boat was waiting for guests, and the boatman punted us for about 200 metres of shallow water that had been a lawn until the rains came, up to a new long boardwalk.

Yes, it is a very special place. We had our lunch on the Pelican Deck, looking out over the waters to the blue hills in the distance and listening to the calls of a Sea Eagle. The menu is different from that of Emma’s Under the Swahili Tree in Karen, Nairobi. As you would expect, there are a number of fish dishes. You can have, for example, Naivasha Tilapia, ugali and greens with coconut sauce, or Swahili Snapper Curry, with chapati, rice and kachumbari.

Popular English dish

Knowing that Emma is English and that fish and chips is such a popular English dish that is what I tried – to see how it matched up with what I so often had in England. It matched up very well. The batter was crisp and the fish fell away in delicious white flakes. The chips were even better than the usual English ones, because they were tasty French fries!

Lut enjoyed the Halloumi burger with chimichurri and fries. Next time, I think I will try the Swahili BBQ chicken skewers with fries and dragon fruit kachumbari. You can also have BBQ pork ribs, cheese burgers, or bratwurst hotdogs.

Emma explained that the bricks for making the pizza oven that had been brought from Nairobi were under water, so pizzas won’t be added to the menu till the water level goes down. Fortunately, the restaurant is firmly built on stilts; otherwise it would have been a disaster rather than what Emma calls an adventure. As it is, there was a good number of guests that Sunday lunchtime – a group that mirrored Nairobi’s racial mix.

Certainly, the prices should not put people off, because they are reasonable – averaging about Sh1,500 . An excellent house wine was Sh600, and a glass of beer was only Sh250 .

Emma joined us for lunch; it was refreshing to be talking with someone who is so energetic, creative and confident. She argued that it is a great advantage that the restaurant is so close to the main Naivasha Road, because it is more accessible than other places further down Moi South Lake Road – and not in competition with them.

Swahili Tree

She is even offering a business lunch menu, which could be attractive to people working at the flower farms along the road or even people driving out from Naivasha Town.

Within a week or so, the Under the Swahili Tree will have another initiative along the lane leading to the Pelican Deck. This is a campsite called the Lagoon, with a cheaper ‘two sausages type’ restaurant, showers and access to a swimming pool.

For people at both sites, boat rides on the lake are available.

For us, it was a very pleasant long lunchtime at the Pelican Deck. We didn’t see Pelicans, but there were Cormorants perching on the skeletal trees out on the lake, the sun was glittering on the ripples of the water, and the Fish Eagles were still calling.

If Emma does the sort of things she does at the Karen restaurant, there will be always something new Under the Swahili Tree by Lake Naivasha.

John Fox is Chairman of iDC Email: [email protected]