THE DISH: Third time's a charm at Ali Barbour's Cave Restaurant

The dining area at Ali Barbour's Cave Restaurant. PHOTO | ABIGAIL ARUNGA

What you need to know:

  • The first two times I went, the food wasn't impressive at all.
  • It was actually quite underwhelming, considering the amazing setting.
  • But this time, the service and food was anything but lacklustre.

I'm still stuck in post-holiday blues mood. It's such a bad feeling, honestly, when you've gone on holiday, and it's been absolutely blissful – though how can a holiday not be blissful, really?

You're away from everything that makes real and actual life mundane, you don't have to think about bills, boyfriends or deadlines, and someone else is doing all the cooking. Lol! It sounds perfect to me.

Anyway, this apocalyptic weather isn't helping either. What's with the grey damp skies? What is this, the UK? Sigh. And writing this isn't making me feel better, seeing as I have to now recall and write about the said blissful holiday while enjoying 16-degree weather (pulls on socks).

Enough whingeing. On this article, anyway.

The entrance to Ali Barbour's Cave Restaurant. PHOTO | ABIGAIL ARUNGA

On one of the nights while we were in Diani, we decided it would be a crime to not go down to Ali Barbour's Cave Restaurant. Or rather, the people I was with decided and I was outnumbered and outvoted.

You see, I've been to the restaurant twice before, because each group of people I was with insisted that they must go see the restaurant. It's an inescapable part of the 'We're in Diani' experience, and I always end up caving in to it, because everyone else is usually so enthusiastic, and I'm not trying to be a Debbie Downer.

Why is it inescapable? It's quite grand, to be honest. Ali Barbour's Cave Restaurant, as the name implies, is hewn out of actual cave/rock formations that have been winnowed and weathered over thousands of years into naturally made grottos, big enough to be whittled – only slightly – into an open air restaurant.

The gloriousness comes in when you go to Ali Barbour's around sunset, when it opens, and you can watch the night sky come over you like a supernatural curtain.

Our table at Ali Barbour's Cave Restaurant. PHOTO | ABIGAIL ARUNGA


The ambience is quite nice too – they put in limited lighting to maintain a bit of a dusky, romantic feel, clearly trying to take you back to the days when the possibility of pirates was a very real and imminent danger. But in a nice, swashbuckling kind of way, I guess?

The reason I was grudgingly going over there is simply because the first two times I went, the food wasn't impressive at all. It was actually quite underwhelming, particularly when you consider that you're coming into this amazingly atmospheric setting – you expect a lot more than sub-standard food.

But I guess the third time's a charm, because on this trip, the service and food was anything but lacklustre. Our waitress, Nyambura, was present and effective – which is my favourite type of wait-staff, in that she is there, but not smothering you with undivided devotion – and the food was so much better than what I've eaten there before.

Mood lighting at Ali Barbour's Cave Restaurant. PHOTO | ABIGAIL ARUNGA

I recommend the chilli crab, because it's exciting and tasty. I had the lemon chicken, also tasty, and obviously tasted everyone else's food as well, including their surf platter – which is huge – and a vegetarian friend's falafel.

I'm not the biggest fan of falafel, but theirs was decent. All the seafood around me – which I ironically didn't order at a seaside restaurant, you would think – was fresh and well-flavoured.

I'm glad I was proved wrong, or this review would have gone a completely different way.

I had initially wanted to swing by Swahili Beach Hotel as well. Now that's a gorgeous group of buildings.

The last time I paid a quick visit, the décor was awesome and the infinity pools blew my mind, for some reason. The food, as I recall, was ok, and I wanted to confirm that perception with this visit, seeing as clearly I like to give chances. But I ran out of time and money. The best laid plans, etc. You know what they say.


Wondering where to get the 411 on what's happening in Nairobi's foodie scene? There's a lot of places you could go, but here's where we want you to be – getting the dish on the dish. Get it? We knew you would.