Night and day at the Bamba Restaurant

Bamba Restaurant

The long bar and the Hamsa hand at the Bamba Restaurant in Lavington, Nairobi.

Photo credit: John Fox | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The EatOut review calls the restaurant a ‘hidden gem’.
  • The restaurant is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

It was last Saturday. After an enjoyable concert performed by the Nairobi Orchestra at the Braeside School, Lut and I had been invited to attend the concert and afterward, have a late meal at the Bamba Restaurant on Amboseli Road in Lavington.

All four of us were in a good mood after the concert, so we were not at all put out by the happy chatter at the surrounding tables as we found our reserved seats.

That was our first impression of the place – busy and lively.

Open for only five months, the restaurant is clearly doing something very right. It was just as well that our friends had reserved a table; in the morning I had gone on the internet to see how the place had described itself, and I saw that it was fully booked for the evening. 

The EatOut review calls the restaurant a ‘hidden gem’. It’s a cliché that makes sense.

It is difficult to find along Amboseli Road, because the only sign is the word ‘Bamba’, written small on a black gate.

If you haven’t been there yet, and if this review tempts you to go, the restaurant is almost opposite the Amboseli Road turn-off to Amboseli Lane.

The cuisine is Lebanese. For starters, we shared two of them: the fire-roasted mushrooms, served with tahini yoghurt, and then Rakakat: crispy fried pastry rolls, stuffed with feta and mozzarella cheese and shatta sauce – made of pounded chilies. The mushrooms were, as my sister used to say, ‘more-ish’.

Bamba’s clientele

For me, the ‘more’ was the Sokaf: marinated beef tenderloin cubes, served with tzatziki – a creamy cucumber sauce. Again, delicious.

It was too dark for a good photograph, so that was a good excuse to see Bamba in Sunday daylight and sample the lunch menu. I’m glad I did; I now have a more rounded story to tell.

The restaurant adjoins an old Lavington house; one half has walls and the other half is open, and both have a translucent cover.

The décor matches the cuisine. A huge mural on a wall at right angles to the long bar is of the Hamsa hand. Google tells me that it is a universal sign of protection, power, and strength that dates back to ancient Mesopotamia – situated roughly where Iraq is today.

It is known as the Hand of Fatima in Islam and the Hand of Miriam in Judaism, and it is believed to protect against the evil eye and all negative energies.

The mid-day Sunday clientele tended to be older, quieter and more mixed than that of the late Saturday evening.

There were small groups of expats, a few from the Middle East and a good number of Kenyan couples and families with young children.

For my lunch, I chose the Halloumi: grilled cubes of mozzarella-type cheese, served with fried cherry tomatoes, black olives and fresh herbs. It was hot, very tasty, and the halloumi was fried just right – firm and not stringy.

Reasonable prices

I was also able to enjoy a dessert that had been sold out the previous evening – the small Pineapple Puff doughnuts, stuffed with pineapple rum jam and served with the Middle-Eastern ashta cream.

Across the food and drinks menus, the prices are very reasonable.

There was time to have a chat with Francis Njuguna, the young restaurant manager.

I was impressed by the music that was playing, and he told me that they have live music sessions on Sundays and that Sunday it was Makadem, with his blend of Bengla and Ohangla music.

I had watched Francis at work; sometimes he was talking with the barman when he was mixing the popular cocktails; sometime he was carrying plates. He is a hands-on manager and he is a good talker.

I asked him about Bamba’s usual clientele.

"All sorts of people," he said. "And that is how we want it." 

If you would like to join them, remember to book, and also remember that the restaurant is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. You can find out more on Instagram.

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