Hi friends. My home city is now Nairobi, Kenya. I know I know. This is so sudden! I haven’t completely filled you in on Lagos life. But here we are. I am eating my way through Nairobi, my new home. And so far here is what I have got up to on the restaurant scene.
I have been to Shamba Cafe so many times already, and it has only been 2 months so far. I spent my first month alone with the kids whilst my Shona Warrior flew back to pack up shop in Lagos. Being alone with 4 kids in a new city, right after a 4-week long
summer holiday, sorry, vacation, no... trip in California; cooking, cleaning, caring for kids, and trying to avoid 100% take-out life, followed by a continental move, was daunting. I had many moments where I felt so fragile in the aftermath, but I gave myself space and time when I could. Shamba Cafe has so much space that the kids just disappear to play, walk the tight rope, roam the herb garden, feed the chickens, or cook pizza in the kitchen. Wow!
Aside from pizza they have a great selection from cheeseboards to nyama choma (assorted meats from the grill), a Kenyan favourite.
I have also been there for solo coffee trips, or to meet up for coffee (no kids), parent’s coffee, and sundowners with jazz that goes into the night. The scones are truly amazing. They are soft, buttery, and melt in your mouth like wafers all in one. I don’t even know how that is possible. But it is. And I am grateful. I asked Shambe cafe owner, Michelle, about her recipe and she said it was from a San Francisco-based restaurant called Zuni Cafe. The recipe is so famous that it is featured in the New York Times and many other blogs with a reference to the Zuni Cafe recipe book.
Early Friday evenings with the kids are also lovely. We have an early dinner, they play, get fresh air, and I get to sip a lovely drink or two of my choice before we head home (not driving 😉).
Read here for a full review of my several experiences.
Friends, by week 3 I felt like a hero because I actually managed to plan a party for my little 2 year old, complete with a bouncy castle I didn’t have to pay for. Haha, it was a family coffee morning on a Saturday, organized by our wonderful school parents. I simply brought some candles and a birthday cake to share. Much to my surprise, another party had been set up for later, so all the kids had a good bounce for free.
This was at Zen Gardens. It is fairly family-centered with vast green gardens and an on-site playground in the red sand. Yes, your kids will get very messy. But we are in red sand African central, and it gives them so much pleasure to play uninhibited. From coffee and hot chocolate to pizza for the kids, plus a selection of options from sushi to Thai and Chinese-inspired dishes, it is a one-stop-shop. In terms of Covid19 friendliness, it is fairly quiet on a Saturday morning, which was more than ideal for us with a whole bunch of kids running around in these pandemic times.
Sigiria Coffee House (Karura Forest Gate F)
Karura Forest is likely my most visited place in Kenya, with beautiful five to ten-kilometre hikes to enjoy in the morning. I am not talking about far away near the Mara, this forest is smack bang in the residential area of Nairobi. I have been here countless times already for my 5km morning walks. When there are no afterschool activities I bring the kids here for a little post-lunch stroll and some cake. Tuesday morning walks are fat Tuesdays because I can never resist a carrot cake, or freshly baked apple crumble muffin. Their chocolate chip cookies aren’t bad either. I haven’t done anything beyond lunchtime here, however, they offer a selection of sandwiches too. Get there early because when the weather is great, they sell out of lunch choices by 12 pm, unless you want the sweet options.
River Cafe (Karura Forest Gate A)
This is definitely set up as more of a restaurant than just a small cafe, surrounded by lush greenery. Imagine yourself in an elevated pavilion in the middle of the forest and you get an accurate picture of the River Cafe. The menu offers coffee that is served faster than you can warm your seat. It is a great place for lunch, with options ranging from fresh salads to soup and heftier main meals and desserts. It is also a place that offers mimosas and a variety of cocktails and cool drinks. Heading there during the week does not require planning in advance because it is fairly quiet. On the other hand, making reservations on the weekends is an absolute must.
Chez Sonia is fast becoming one of my regular go-to places in Nairobi, especially on a Friday evening. Aside from the sizeable menu that offers classic French choices, there are also Kenyan, Zanzibari, Italian, and Swahili style options to choose from. The unique selling point of Chez Sonia, however, is the extensive wine list. If you are a wine lover, this place will not disappoint. Friday nights are a highlight due to the live band that comes on at about 8 pm. They play all kinds of music from classic rock n roll, pop and Afro beats. Booking for a table on a Friday night is absolutely essential. Ask for a table outside, it will not disappoint. Chez Sonia is also a great go-to place on any day of the week, at any time of the day.
If a booking is a necessity for other restaurants, then advance booking, two to three weeks ahead is an absolute necessity for a Friday night spot at Ankole grill in Kitisuru.
The menu at Ankole Grill promises to offer a Pan African experience with dishes from across the continent, and so far it doesn’t disappoint. If you are a meat lover then the mixed grill platter, including cuts of beef, pork ribs, chicken, Italian sausage, and Kenyan blood sausage (mutura) will satisfy your cravings. A side of kelewele (fried plantains) served with a trio of sauces, including smooth mango chutney is to die for. Twelve-hour smoked meats and boneless chilli goat bites (kauka), reminiscent of Nigerian asun, are also offered. Aside from choices for meat lovers, the menu includes vegetarian options such as coconut curry, Moroccan roasted eggplant stew, pizza (Kitisuru only), and sweet potato peanut butter uji (porridge).
My experience at AAnkole Grill has only been from an adult time perspective where I have been on a Friday or Saturday night. I have had a coffee there during the day as well, however daytime at Ankole Grill promises a fairly lonely experience in a vast space that only comes alive once the sun sets. I have never been here with kids however they have a kids menu.
They have a branch in Kilimani which I am yet to have the pleasure of visiting. All in all, if you are wondering whether Ankole Grill is worth a visit, it has one very big green tick of approval from me.
Spinners Web is an interesting destination if you are looking for a one-stop-shop and eat experience. The sheer scale of it from a retail perspective is incredible. No wonder it is known as Kenya’s biggest arts and crafts shop. Imagine one place filled with locally made furniture, fashion, art, and home decor the size of a small shopping centre. Spinners Web also runs a weekly farmers market on Thursdays, and a monthly fashion pop-up. I attended one pop-up and was pleasantly surprised by the presence of food and drinks vendors. One of them was Mama Rocks, a burger and grill with a lot of local and African inspirations intertwined within its menu. Check out what I experience in the next paragraph.
Mama Rocks has several outlets across Nairobi. I was lucky enough to come across their pop-up kitchen at Spinners Web on Kitisuru road. I sampled their Sweet Mother (West Africa) beef burger with bacon, creamy sweet potato sauce, “only the brave” hot sauce, pan-fried rocket, and cheddar cheese. Honestly, when I looked at the menu, all I wanted to know was how a creamy sweet potato sauce would taste. It did not disappoint.
If you really want to experience a local franchise offering a bush bar style ambience, then Coco Jambo is your go to place. It is a nyama choma spot, usually co located with a car wash. People from all walks of life enjoy an evening of conversation or football over some drinks and nyama choma. Nyama choma is a classic East African meat dish you will find in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. No frills, just deliciously roasted meat with a variety of local sides such as ugali (stiff maize porridge), sukumawiki (braised greens), mukimo (irio, a mashed potatoes and peas dish), kachumbari (side salsa-like salad), chips, masala chips and chapatis. A tip we got from our friends, Rumbie, was to order 2 hours in advance. We went for 2.5 kg of goat choma. Guys, it was delish.
Under The Radar
Here is a family friendly spot located on Argwings Kodhek in Kilimani. It has a good sized play area, plenty of hand washing stations and a host of covered gazebos where you can dine. We met uo with friends there and it was well attended. It also looked like there was a party going on. From the menu we ordered Hawaian and margherita pizza, lamb chops and pork ribs. The pizzas were impressive with their thin pizza crust and flavourful toppings. The lamb chops and ribs were very tasty and well made. If you are looking for a restaurant where you can order a medium to medium well chop, this is probably not the place you want. However their meat is always served tasty and well cooked.
Honey and Dough
I hit Honey and Dough for a lunch date with my Shona Warrior once. Their menu was fresh and inviting. When our order of the buddha bowls arrived, one salmon and the other Thai chicken, our eyes brightened up towards the vibrant selection set before us. They looked so fresh and nourishing and indeed were very satisfying.
Art Caffe spots are strewn across Nairobi’s suburbs with nearly 30 outlets in the city. It is a quintessential cafe/coffee shop and patisseries offering a broad range of cakes and pastries that will entice you upon viewing them. I come to Art Caffe occasionally for hot desking and coffee. The wifi connection is good enough to support meetings and any work you need to catch up on for a couple of hours. I have had lunch there a couple of times. Their salads are impressive as are their pies and quiches.
Ballpoint Social Club
Getting the kids out on Saturday or Sunday morning, prior to crowds, is a piece of cake when it comes to recreation spots. The Village Market is just perfect for my bunch, ranging from preteen to terrific twos. Ozone is an absolute favourite for them. It is a trampoline park with a rock climbing area. It is very spacious. I booked
I first came across the Library when I decided to explore the new wing of Sarit Centre. What drew me in was the eclectic seating style. The Library offers multi-story window seating and a diverse menu. It oversees the open-air food court as well as a few high-rise views of the car park and beyond.
It definitely feels like the sort of place you would visit with a friend in the daytime. I am not yet sure what nightlife would feel like here, perhaps an early dinner before watching a movie would suit. It is a fairly intimate place, but watch this space, just a few metres at the other end of the food court, a much larger “The Library” experience awaits.
Nairobi offers a coffee shop on every corner if you look hard enough. What enhances the experience is the community factor and desire to give back. The Pallet cafe is just one of these places. Every single waiter is deaf, so ordering has to occur based on the sign language you can. pull together, or simply point to what you want on the menu. What a great cause indeed.
They have a menu that offers a variety of pastries. I can recommend their gluten-free cassava pancakes. However, I don’t recommend any of their pastries. I ordered a croissant once. I asked for it warm. It was as hard as a rock, dry as sawdust and as stale as week-old bread. There really isn’t much that should go wrong with a croissant but perhaps their supplier is to blame. I have also sampled their brownie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream… for breakfast after my morning walk around the corner at Jaffery Sports Ground. I don’t know about you but I think that fits the bill in terms of a suitable post walk jentacular.
Pallet Cafe has two locations. One in Gigiri (where I sampled the dry crust) and a second location in Lavington. There was a third location at one point, however either due to the pandemic or other technicalities, it has shut down… probably temporarily.
The Spring Noshery
This is a fairly new establishment in the Sarit Centre, and it sounds like it is a partner to Spring Valley Coffee. I had seen it right from fit-out and set up to the opening. At one point I actually thought it was called the Nosh Eatery, but the Spring Noshery it is. Doors opened on 2 October 2021, it is very early days.
I have only ever been there for coffee and water, but my kids have sampled their pancakes and milkshakes. The milkshakes were a miss. I have never seen my kids drink only half due to over sweetness. How can milkshakes ever be too sweet to children? This was a first.
The Social House
There is no reason why The social House is not at the top of my list. It is the first place I had ever been out to in Nairobi… after Art Caffe. I have been there for coffee in the morning, with my rambunctious two-year-old. The sugar and sweetener packs kept him entertained, along with a big bowl of fresh fruit.
I have also been out to Social House on Friday evening, my first in Nairobi. It was a lively experience just a month before the 10 pm curfew was done away with. I must say I enjoyed the experience and the company. For a new person in a new city, adult company is welcomed, and the company was superb.
Hob House Hotel and Restaurant
Hob House is a boutique and intimate hotel that does not feel like a hotel at all. It also offers a Lebanese-style restaurant and cafe and is tucked away in the wide-open spaces of the hills, valleys, and red roads of Kitisuru. I believe there is a plantation community and Masaai cattle grazers close by. I have only been here a couple of times. Once for my weekly Swahili lessons, and the other time was for a parent meeting on mental health and anxiety. I had coffee and ate a chicken wrap. The chicken wrap was slightly dry to memory and came in enormous portions. My fellow Swahili students had falafel wraps which were equally generous in serving size.
It is fairly quiet in the mornings however it begins to get busier towards lunchtime. People from all walks of life frequent this place, which is very nice to see. With choices such as grilled halloumi on Persian rice, it is easy to see why this place has more to offer. I must go back to sample this dish. When I do, I will update this post.
The seating spaces available are outside in the courtyard and garden, which makes it a perfectly Covid19 friendly space with ample natural ventilation. Wifi is available for coffee shop hotspot seekers. Before I knew it was a hotel, I gathered the Hob House was part residence, part restaurant, as even though there is a dining area in the house, it is not available to customers. As a hotel, this would provide an intimate dining experience for their guests. I have not tried it, so I don’t know for sure.
The Hob House occasionally offers evening events. An evening of traditional Lebanese Arabic Oud with rebounded musician Mazed Salha was one of the recent events offered in late November 2021.
Lavendar Gardens at New Muthaiga Stables
Nairobi life gives access to many things for families and children. I have taken my children for horse riding at New Muthaiga stables. I have coffee, my Matimoo has waffles, and I order freshly made french fries and hot dog sausages for the older kids.
The experience is reminiscent of a traditional family-run English cafe. Completely unpretentious and ready to serve up breakfast, coffee, milkshakes or lunch. Muffins and cakes usually sell out by 11 am most days. However, snacks such as fried samosas are usually available any time of the day.
This is a tiny cafe located in the Craft Centre, a cozy container park where you can get anything from Crossfit to Japanese, books, and art. It is also right in the middle of the UN and World Food programme. district of offices.
The cafe itself has both indoor and outdoor seating, set intimately at a corner of the retail pop-up park. In terms of capacity for rainy and chilly mornings, there is enough room to seat six to seven people inside, where sharing is caring on one of the 4 seater tables. Right outside in the plant-filled covered patio, there are two four to six-seater tables, and wifi is available for patrons. There is a foodcourt-style gravel courtyard that provides ample seating under parasols for over fifty people. Come rain or shine, you will be covered.
Choose any coffee you like from their list of 12 varieties and hot chocolate. There is also home-baked lemon and zucchini, which is to die for. For anyone interested in sundowners, a list of ten coffee-filled cocktails might do the trick.
I had the pleasure of discovering that Zucchini is not just a greengrocer, but its Westland branch at The Place @ 67 General Mathenge Road also has a deli. Other locations might offer deli options. The kids (and adults) can have pizza whilst the rest can have a variety of wraps, salads, sandwiches, and coffee.
I ordered a chicken wrap. Unfortunately, I did not bother to take a photograph that day, which seems to be happening more often of late. But this was the mother of all wraps. It was juicy with sauce and had a large topping of sauerkraut to top it off. It was quite an adventure trying to decide which way I was going to succeed in eating it. I ate it all, licking my lips with every bite.
Thanks for Reading
I hope you have found this post useful and enriching to your experience in Nairobi. Come back soon for updates as I provide more in-depth reviews of what Nairobi has to offer. Deeper restaurant reviews will be linked under each subheading.
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