Carlos Espindola

Carlos Espindola, the head chef and executive chef at Mawimbi Seafood Restaurant and Cafe.

| Thomas Rajula | Nation Media Group

Mawimbi Restaurant puts Kenya on global map

What you need to know:

  • Mawimbi Restaurant is an experience Latin American, Swahili and Asian cultures, says head chef Carlos Espindola.
  • One of Mawimbi customers’ most popular meals is ceviche – or seviche – a seafood dish that originated in Peru.

Walking into Mawimbi Seafood Restaurant and Café, one gets the experience of being in the Coast. Mawimbi is the 2021 World Luxury Restaurant Award winner by no fluke.

A meal can set you back from Sh10,000 to few hundred.

As soon as you get to the front door, beige fabrics hang on the ceiling in forms that remind you of the sandy shores.

This leads you to the Crudo Bar (serves raw dishes), which introduces you to the bites. You could share a sushi roll with a friend or partner as an appetiser. It could also be the main dish. 

The second part of the restaurant, the fine dining area, has amber-coloured light bulbs with lampshades resembling sails. This gives the aura of sailing boats with the sun setting behind them. 

The poolside at the gazebos – the VIP area – has canvasses that give the feel of ocean waves and sails of boats. The landscape includes palm trees.

The detail to architectural design is a precursor to how the restaurant pays attention to customers’ experience. The windows and door done in coastal designs – including arcs – are made of white-coloured wood that still maintains its natural texture. 

The walls are decked with white coral bricks to give the feeling and sense of being in the Coast.

Carlos Espindola, the Ecuadorian head chef and executive chef at Mawimbi, has been in the restaurant business for more than 20 years. The 37-year-old has risen through the ranks of the hospitality and eatery industry, including management.

“Food critics travel around the world and find restaurants. We were surprised. We expected to win in East Africa but not a global award. This has put Kenya on the map. It is a big achievement for the country. Usually, winners come from Europe, North America or Michelin star restaurants in Asia. We’re going for more awards and are ready to face challenges,” Espindola says.

Fine dining restaurant

He pursued his undergraduate studies in Culinary Arts at Cafam University in Bogota, Colombia, graduating in 2003. Espindola then moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he earned his master’s in 2007. 

Other than working at Ecuadorian restaurants, he also had a stint with luxury hotel chain SLS Baha in Nassau, the Bahamas, where he was  restaurant manager and would deliver food to two pools; Bungalow and Privilege. 

He also worked at Umami Burger (Umami is the Japanese word for “fifth flavour”– a rich and savoury taste sensation beyond the commonplace).

Espindola has worked at a pop up restaurant that holds events and offered catering services using the farm-to-plate format in Ecuador. The owner of that restaurant, Chef Ariel Moscardi, who also owns Cultiva Kenya, recommended Espindola to Mawimbi directors.

He arrived in July 2019 and by August 2019, Mawimbi was operational as a fine dining restaurant. It was officially opened in November 2019.

“Then Covid-i9 came and we had to close. It was difficult because we had invested a lot of money, time, effort and love in this place,” Espindola says. 

“After a month of closure due to the lockdown, we started to push deliveries. That was challenging but it made us survive.”

This is what led the directors to add the word “café” to the establishment. They realised they had to include a menu that was affordable to their clients during the hard times. 

Mawimbi has retained some of that affordable menu even after reopening with Covid-19 protocols being observed. The 200-seater restaurant only accommodates 70 customers at a time.

Carlos Espindola

Carlos Espindola, the head chef and executive chef at Mawimbi Seafood Restaurant and Cafe, with the establishment's General Manager Cecilia Kamau display a framed certificate of their 2021 World Luxury Restaurant Award.

Photo credit: Thomas Rajula | Nation Media Group

“The idea of Mawimbi was always to change menus and not bore customers. We want to create excitement for our guests. They should expect different and new stuff,” Espindola says. 

“We are creating a coastal culture, especially here in Nairobi where seafood is rare. Nairobians mostly eat tilapia or fresh water fish. We want to make people open their pallets to local fish. We  work with Coast fishermen to ensure weekly delivery of fresh supplies.”

The restaurant promotes sustainable fishing. Even with some fish being mandatory on the menu, the process must be 100 per cent sustainable.

“In the beginning, they sold us small lobsters but these are the babies of the ocean. I had to go there and agree with them to supply the big ones. I told them there wouldn’t be any more lobster in 15 to 20 years if they continued with the practice,” Espindola says. 

Cold vans bring the fish from the Coast to Mawimbi. Half of the team of chefs is also from the Coast.

They have a lot of experience that Espindola says has been a learning experience for him as well. He has learnt to prepare Swahili dishes, fusing it with his style. That makes the Mawimbi experience a fusion of Latin American, Swahili and Asian cultures.

Because people are keen on trying new dishes, experiences, texture, protein and flavours, Espindola has found himself explaining to guests where the fish comes from, how it is prepared and even how it should be eaten.

“Half of our dishes are raw while the other half are cooked. How the chef and suppliers work or pack as they process the seafood ensures no poisoning,” Espindola says. 

“Some people may not know they have allergies. The first thing we do at the table is ask if they have any specific conditions. That makes us prepare meals to their requirements.”

Most popular meals

One of Mawimbi customers’ most popular meals is ceviche – or seviche – a seafood dish that originated in Peru.

It is typically made from fresh raw fish cured in fresh citrus juices – usually lemon or lime – but historically the juice of bitter orange.

“Ceviche appeared by mistake as a way of preserving food. Our ancestors would put fish in salt and then later flavour it with pilipili (pepper). Once you put all these ingredients in the fish, it sort of marinates and kills most of the bacteria,” Espindola says. 

“Also sushi is served with wasabi (Japanese horseradish) that helps digest the raw seafood,” he says, adding that the signature dish is Poseidon Seafood Plate which has grilled lobster, seasonal prawns, octopus, calamari and roasted oyster.

A plate of Poseidon Seafood goes for Sh5, 600. It comes with bearnaise sauce, chimichurri, rucola, cherry tomato salad and skinny fries. 

Wagyu Beef goes for Sh9,800 and contains Australian steak (250g), Josper grilled (a hybrid grill). That means it has the flavour of the grill and the controlled cooking temperature of the oven) to perfection (medium), charred onions and mushrooms, szechuan pepper sauce.

Besides the skinny fries, you can have a side of Cassava and Mojo Mash. Either goes for Sh360.

Freedom Ceviche (Red snapper, crunchy calamari, green tiger milk, coconut milk, aji amarillo paste, “chifles” green plantain crisps) is pocket-friendly at Sh1,700 Though most feedback is positive, Espindola says critical assessment is important for growth and improvement.

“Nothing can be perfect to everyone,” the chef says.