Saturday, 11 February 2012

Jiffler Tastes...

The idea behind “Jiffler tastes...” is that I’ll test and taste some of the more interesting food and ingredients I find around Nairobi. They might be everyday store cupboard ingredients, treats for the homesick ex-pat, or something more unusual; the only criteria is that they are made in Kenya – as Jeff Koinange would say: “All Kenyan, all the time”.

Jiffler Tastes... Hummus
These days the average British supermarket stocks over 700 varieties of hummus. It’s the ultimate middle-class comfort food – just open the little plastic pot and shovel it directly into your face with your fingers.  Food jifflers like me tend to prefer the home made option (click here for the recipe for Jiffler’s mint, lime and butterbean hummus), but there is a lot to be said for the potted variety. I think it may be something to do with the combination of salt and preservatives which gives it a certain addictive tang.

Most decent Nairobi supermarkets stock a variety of potted dips manufactured by Green Garden Deli. I get mine from Zucchini at the Junction, where it is generally about 10 bob cheaper than at Nakumatt.

It’s good stuff too, straddling the line between ‘made it myself’ and mass-produced.  Mrs Jiffler and I almost polished off the whole pot while dipping pita bread and steamed asparagus as an appetiser one evening. I finished it off by running my finger around the pot the following lunchtime. You could even conceivably pass this off as home-made – just add a few crushed chickpeas from a tin, a quick slick of olive oil and the gentlest squeeze of a lemon on top. No-one would ever know.

Jiffler Tastes... Pies
While we’re buying ready-made, I’ve been mildly impressed by the bakery section at the larger branches of Nakumatt lately.  Over the Christmas period I regularly picked up one of their mince pies (80 KSHs) for a sneaky afternoon nibble.

Mrs Jiffler makes fantastic mince pies with a delicate pastry, so these shop-bought efforts are very much a ‘quick mince pie for one’ or ‘emergency mince pie’.  I’m holding them responsible as the gateway pie to the real hard stuff. Yes, I have to admit, the meat pies from the hot cabinet (3 for the price of 2) have become something of a guilty pleasure... I know, I know...

Please submit your suggestions for ‘Jiffler tastes...’ in the comments below.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Sign of the Dragon

Double Dragon, Junction, Ngong Road

"Feck it, shall we try that new Chinese place at the Junction?"

The power has been off for hours, and the pork loin I'd been planning to roast is still sitting cold and raw in the oven.  

My foul mood is going to take some serious wine to shift, but unfortunately a flick through the wine list at Double Dragon reveals a general lack of seriousness and is insultingly overpriced. We opt for a litre carafe of anonymous South African white wine, figuring that we might as well just glug on the cheapest stuff and find a quick way to oblivion.

This is where things start to go wrong. After waiting what seems like far too long for our wine, I look up to see the waiter arguing with a Chinese lady behind the bar. She is pointing in our direction and shouting. I stroll over to the bar, faking a smile.

"Is there a problem?". I notice a half litre carafe full of wine on the bar.

Our waiter replies:
"She is saying that this is one litre."

"Madam, we ordered one litre of cheap white wine. This is not one litre." I point at the measurement on the side of the carafe.

She refuses to speak or even look at me. I learn from the waiter that she is the manager.

The waiter starts up again:
"We only have half-litre carafes, so I suggested we use two".

A sensible man.

The Chinese boss starts shouting at another Chinese lady in Chinese. Together they examine the menu carefully. I point out the 1 litre carafe and the price while she shakes her head. The waiter tries to help. This cycle repeats itself four or five times until I finally give in and raise my voice:

"Madam. This problem is your problem, not my problem. You have 2 minutes to bring the wine to my table or we shall leave your restaurant and never return".

The wine comes. It is utter pish. We drink it anyway.

Our waiter is polite, and very apologetic, but this doesn't make up for the earlier scene, and the continuous, steady, cold death-stare I receive from the manager throughout my meal. The bill comes. They've overcharged for the wine. It goes back. I shout at the manager again, point at the menu again. Other diners are staring. The final bill comes - 16% tax is added to the price on the menu. It doesn't mention this on the menu. Those prawn crackers that you didn't ask for and thought were free? They'll be 440 KShs f*ckyouverymuch. 

I tell the waiter that he deserves to work in a better establishment.

The food? I take a few notes but rapidly lose the will. After all - why would you come here? To be fair, the food isn’t that bad, and the portions are decent. Sichuan shredded pork and chilli-garlic chicken are highlights that don't lean too heavily on the MSG.  Pork spare ribs have plenty of meat and crispy fat, but at 800 bob after tax I'd expect them to do a little dance for me .

As we leave my wife doesn't see me giving the manager a lingering one-fingered salute.

Johnny Bahati

Double Dragon – the lowdown
Parking: Junction mall, secure but congested

Clientele: large groups of Indians. Chinese customers notable by their absence.

Dress: Casual

Vibe: Frosty

Go for: A fight

What the others say: Blogger - ‘MrsBabes’
The damage: Dinner for two with the cheapest wine racked up a bill of nearly 6000 KShs

Contact: Don't bother. If you must:
Double Dragon
Junction, 4th Floor
Ngong Road
Tel: 0713 328 688, 0734 328 688

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Sven? Is that a Swedish Restaurant?

Seven, ABC Place, Waiyaki Way

Let's kick things off with a gem shall we? 

I shouldn't like Seven. On first impressions the place looks like a late nineties wine bar in Chelsea. The sort of place you'd expect to see the least cool people in London: junior bankers, bridge and tunnel types, estate agents, and John Terry.

But once settled in I stop noticing the dreadful aquamarine wall lighting and jellyfish-style chandeliers and Seven starts to make sense. There are very few 'bad' tables, and the music is my favourite kind - that of human voices enjoying the company of others.

Service is sharp and knowledgeable, with cold Tuskers and well made cocktails delivered swiftly. The wine list tours the old and new world and ranges from 1400 KShs to 16000 KShs a bottle (400 KShs by the glass).  A 2009 Simonsvlei Chenin Blanc is an affordable table pleaser that will also handle some of the spicier dishes well. Watch out though - the cheaper bottles can sell out very quickly and before you know it you're forking out 400 bob for rough-around-the-edges Chilean Chardonnay.

Seven have recently revamped their menu, taking off a few of the more gratuitously fancified dishes. The good news is that the star players remain. A 'Duet of Calamari' starter is zinging fresh, with the cooking of the squid timed perfectly. 'Seven Smoked Tuna' is robustly smoked and neatly paired with simple peppery rocket and a spot of horseradish for added punch. 'Lobster Cappuccino' is richer than a Rift Valley MP and despite the ridiculous name, makes for pretty down to earth chowder.

Best to keep it simple with the main courses too, and remember to ask about the catch of the day. The aromatic and wonderfully garlicky 'Pan Seared Smoked Dorado' won't disappoint, despite the somewhat unnecessary presentation (and besides, how else would it be seared, other than in a pan?). The seafood sharing platters are a real treat, with generous portions of Indian Ocean seafood as fresh as it gets in Nairobi. Order your sauce on the side and enjoy the unadulterated grilled prawns, lobster and squid.

Order the crab if you really want to get stuck in. The waiter will bring the correct tools and an apron to protect your finery - I still wouldn't risk wearing my best tie while eating this though. This fiery chilli crab is just about the most satisfying thing you can eat on a rainy Friday night.

Pudding-wise, '7s Chocolate Sensation' is well worth sharing. While not the finest chocolate fondant I've tasted, the Baileys filling twist works well.

Of course I didn't eat all the above in one sitting. Seven is the kind of place that keeps me coming back, be it a quiet dinner on a Tuesday night, or a boozy Friday night with friends. I'll be back for more as well: a reliable source tells me that the sirloin steak is one of the best in town, and the tuna and wasabi burger on the lunch menu looks like a pretty good bet. 

Rumour has it that Seven is looking to open further restaurants in Nairobi, and I hope they can maintain the quality and commitment on display here. In the meantime I suggest you brave the jam and book a table at ABC Place. See you there.

Johnny Bahati

Seven - The Lowdown

Parking: Plentiful and secure. It's handy for residents of both Westlands and the Kileleshwa-Hurlingham sprawl who don't want to spend Friday evening sitting in the jam.

Clientele: well-to-do 40-somethings, expats and the occasional KC.

Dress: Smart casual

Vibe: Relaxed high-end dining

Go for: A seafood platter to share with friends

What the others say: Kenyabuzzreview
The damage: Three course dinner (without wine): 2000-3000 KShs / head

Seven, Ground Floor ABC Place, Waiyaki way, Westlands, Nairobi,
Tel: +254 737 776 677

Welcome to Nairobi Choma - Kenya's Freshest Food Blog.

What is Nairobi Choma?

Food news and restaurant reviews from Nairobi. Nairobi Choma will be your guide to the best (and the worst) the city has to offer.

For the uninitiated, Nairobi Choma is a play on Nyama Choma - delicious roast meat - which many consider to be Kenya's national dish.

Our layout will change over the coming weeks, as we add spice and garnish to the site. In the meantime, let us know what you think in the comments section.

Why Nairobi Choma?

The Nairobi Choma ethos:

Our reviews will always be impartial. Any freebies, junkets or special invites will be declared up-front so that you can make your own minds up.

We'll try our best to respond to comments and to follow-up your recommendations and great places to eat.

All tables will be booked anonymously, ensuring we have the same good or bad experience as anybody else.

We can guarantee bad smartphone photography. Our restaurant photos will be taken discreetly so as not to spoil the enjoyment of other diners.

Who are Nairobi Choma?
The Jiffler is the rambling gourmand behind the strangely popular Experimental Jifflings, Dakar Restaurant Reviews, and Kigali Restaurant Reviews blogs. Jiffler has had food articles and photography published in old-fashioned print and has featured in top restaurant critic Jay Rayner's column in the UK Guardian. Always travelling and always hungry, The Jiffler is not afraid to catch a crab with his bare hands, munch on fried sparrow heads, or steal mangoes from your garden. He is afraid of Kenya Airways' in-flight meals. He is Nairobi Choma's product taster, experimenter, campaigner, idealistic enthusiast, and all round Jiffler.

Johnny Bahati eats out over 300 times a year. He is as happy navigating the menu at the finest Michelin-starred temples of gastronomy as he is arguing over the price of a roasted maize cob. Bahati is not impressed by fashionable 'concept' restaurants, pretentious menus or snobbery; he's looking for quality and passion in equal measures. Bahati is our chief restaurant reviewer, cynic, and gin taster. He thinks 'The Jiffler' is a stupid name.