Dinner at the Jiko of Tribe Hotel

Outside the Jiko Restaurant of the Tribe hotel. Photo by JOHN FOX

What you need to know:

  • I guess many of the present UN staff are just as reluctant to explore the streets of Nairobi, whether on foot during the day or even by car after dark. But these days they do have the Village Market close by, always busy and well guarded. And, for beds for their visiting consultants, as well as a place for their own fine dining, they have the adjacent Tribe Hotel.
  • Tribe? It seems like an odd choice of name, doesn’t it, in these days of finicky concern for political correctness.
  • The Jiko menu is certainly more carefully put together than the books on the shelves. And nothing is ordinary. For starters, for example, there are tiger prawns, stuffed with leeks, apple bread pudding and beef speck. Or there’s crispy spiced pork, oven baked fennel and pepper marmalade.

In the mid-1980s, I had a research project in Kenya, and our team – with members from Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana and Sierra Leone – was staying at the United Kenya Club, which is opposite St Paul’s Chapel on State House Road.

We were a youngish and fresh team, busy interviewing in the day and clubbing in the evenings.

A young woman from Chile, who had just joined the UN staff at Gigiri, was also staying at the Club, waiting for her more permanent apartment to be ready. She joined us for our evening activities. We ate at the Carnivore; we danced at Starlight, a very popular nightclub in a converted church at the corner of Valley Road and Milimani Road; at the weekend we went for a walk in Ngong Hills.

Each day, the lady entertained us with the reactions of her UN colleagues when she told them where she had been.

“What, you went to the Starlight? That’s a very risky thing to do!”

“What, you went to the Ngong Hills? That’s a very, very dangerous place to go!”

WELL THOUGHT-OUT

“Thank goodness I met you guys,” she said. “Otherwise, I don’t think I would have ventured out of the UN complex – not anywhere on foot or after dark, anyway.”

I guess many of the present UN staff are just as reluctant to explore the streets of Nairobi, whether on foot during the day or even by car after dark. But these days they do have the Village Market close by, always busy and well guarded. And, for beds for their visiting consultants, as well as a place for their own fine dining, they have the adjacent Tribe Hotel.

Tribe? It seems like an odd choice of name, doesn’t it, in these days of finicky concern for political correctness.

When I raised the point with the management when the hotel first opened back in 2009, I was told that its slogan is “One tribe, one planet”. Well, there were certainly different representatives of our planet when we went there last Sunday evening.

The architecture, too, is very cosmopolitan in its style. Yes, there are many art works that tell you that you are in Africa. In this, the only rival in Nairobi is the Serena. But the Serena is square.

The Tribe is nothing like a box; as soon as you enter, you can’t fail to be surprised by the curves of the walls and the soaring heights of the ceilings. The shapes are cool, but there is a warmth in the deep browns of the woodwork and the rich colours of the drapes.

We were there for dinner at the Jiko Restaurant. It has the same kind of elegance as the rest of the hotel. The tall fretted pillars are inset with small metal triangles that have a blue glow when the lights are on and the candles are lit.

We chose a table at the far end, which is arranged as a manor house library. But, for a place that has such style, the books were rather sparse on the shelves. And they seem to be not specially selected but more like novels left behind by guests ...

But we were not there to appraise the library; we were there to enjoy a meal.

And that we did. The Jiko menu is certainly more carefully put together than the books on the shelves. And nothing is ordinary. For starters, for example, there are tiger prawns, stuffed with leeks, apple bread pudding and beef speck. Or there’s crispy spiced pork, oven baked fennel and pepper marmalade.

We went straight to the main courses, so we could go on to enjoy the desserts. There is a good variety in the Jiko – and a range of prices. At the lower end, there’s charcoal ravioli, with ricotta cheese, braised onion and sage butter sauce – for Sh800.

MONEY TALKS

At the other end, a T-bone steak, “mascarpone cured” will set you back Sh5,000 – but that is for two. I went mid-way and had a grilled red snapper.

The sauce was delicious. So was the chocolate platter that I had for dessert. And all the dishes were beautifully and imaginatively presented.

For me, not at all a big eater, the portions were very manageable. But my tall son, a hoovering kind of eater, sometimes has an appetite that values quantity over quality.

“It’s funny that in expensive restaurants,” he said, “the more you pay the less you get!”

And we are going to get more of the Village Market. As we drove along the parallel back road that leads to the UN complex, we passed a long line of iron sheets shielding a huge building works. We are told that all the entertainments – the water park, the mini-golf, and the bowling alley – have been pulled down to make way for more shops and another hotel to rival the Tribe.

Perhaps there’s not enough money to be made from children’s playgrounds. As they say where I come from, “Money talks”.

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