Welcome to Freda’s Reviews: Shamba Cafe and Shop, Nairobi. I have never thought of myself as a food critic, however as more and more people have come to know me as a food blogger, writer, author, and reluctant chef, I have been entrusted with the responsibility of restaurant recommendations and being the food expert of virtually every cuisine. Thankfully, I am not. All I know is my mother’s cooking and a little bit more than that. But here we are as I gather more and more hats in my food adventures. Therefore I welcome you to my very first restaurant review, Freda’s Reviews: Shamba Cafe.
In this post you can expect an honest debrief of my experience. I would advise you to take it with a pinch of salt, I am barely a critical person, although I can be candid, without thinking, which makes me very wary of hurting people’s feelings. So I end up being too polite at times. As a consequence you will not see much criticism here, hopefully, I can be honest either way. Without further ado, here is the launch of Freda’s Reviews: Shamba Cafe and Shop, Nairobi. I keep writing it that way because for some reason, repeating a blog title in the blog text improves SEO. Indulge me.
Shamba Cafe Adding Value to My Life
I have been to Shamba Cafe so many times already, and it has only been 3 months so far of living in my new city (November 2021). This definitely means they are doing something right, in stark contrast to the reception they got in their early days of opening in 2019. You can consult Tripadvisor to read more on that. But things have moved on in a very good way.
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. There were many moments where I felt so fragile in the aftermath, but I gave myself breaks 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!
Welcome to Shamba Cafe
My first encounter with Shamba cafe was for a coffee morning with a group of parents from my school. Driving up to Shamba Cafe through Loresho literally feels like driving on a narrow lane in the Engish countryside. Except instead of roadside hedges we have roadside coffee and banana micro plantations. It is so surreal. Even the morning weather in Nairobi can feel as crisp and dreary as it gets in England until about 9:37 am when the sun comes out if we are lucky.
Ms Orange, The Land Rover Defender
Driving into Shamba Cafe’s car park feels like entering a world far far away from one of Africa’s largest cities. An orange 1990’s style Land Rover Defender sits right up the driveway next to the massive red barn, which is an iconic symbol of Shamba Cafe. In fact, Ms Orange herself is iconic, she says Shamba Cafe all over her, even if there isn’t a single word written on her body to indicate that she is associated with Shamba Cafe. The fact that she is always there probably means she belongs to Michelle, the best friend and owner of both Ms Orange and the red barn.
The Red Retail Barn
Walking up to the red barn, I notice seedlings of herbs, roses, guava and cassava of all things before washing my hands at the washing station with the most glorious ginger laced handmade cleanser I have ever come across. It is made by a co-op called Grounded that specialises in making castille soap from all natural Kenyan grown ingredients. There are no artificial fragrances or additives in this all purpose soap. It just eludes me how I can’t seem to find the ginger flavour, as it is not offered or seen anywhere else but at the Shamba Cafe hand washing station. I know it is different, it even looks slightly darker than all the other soaps on the shelf from the lavendar to lemon grass. Somebody help me find this flavour. It is driving me crazy.
The red barn is a shop retailing products, mainly from local independent producers. It feels so inviting and the cause to support local producers is commendable; I start shopping for the hell of it. Organic and handmade handwash, soaps, lotions, and essential oils are among the offerings. There are also a few grocery items such as polenta, various flours, and a selection of farmer’s market produce, especially greens. You will find over 15 choices of green leafy vegetables here on any given day. Once in the shop, on the left side, there is an entire wall of fridges filled with cheese. Brown’s food company, a homegrown Kenyan food manufacturer, certainly dominates in these parts. A few rustic home furnishings are also available.
Grounded handwash, polenta and gluten free tapioca flour for making boba, and my shopping is done.
Towards The Greenhouse
I walk out of the retail barn, through a patio with an outdoor bar and grill, and a wood-fired pizza oven on the right. I notice raw carrots and beetroot at the bar. Perhaps they are for juicing. On the left is an open seating area with an outdoor fire pit that seems to be popular in Nairobi. Nights sat around this fire would be cozy. I can understand why these are popular, after living here for 3 months. The weather is quite temperate and unless we are currently experiencing an extended winter, days often start with a crisp 15 degrees celsius low that reaches a 26 degrees celsius high in a matter of hours. It is perfect. I have no complaints. An additional fireplace on the external wall greets me just before I enter the glass house.
I now walk through an enormous greenhouse style cafe, with an inviting indoor fireplace, bar, and tables. The glasshouse is beautiful. It is light, airy, spacious, and cozy all in one. I spot yet another fireplace to warm an intimate seating corner. Soft acoustic guitar music plays in the background on the sound system. The furniture is unpretentious and I get the feeling that something recycled and previously loved has gone into it. Once I get through the glasshouse I go outside and find more tables and seating on the veranda and grounds, under the Albizia trees and parasols. Here are the school mums, no dads came along this time around. I sit down, set my leather jacket on my chair, and begin to make introductions.
What Shamba Cafe Is Like, from Ambiance to Coffee
Having been in Nairobi a mere two weeks at the time, I am so grateful for the opportunity to meet up with other adults, without the kids, and just chat about our experiences with country moves, ex-pat life, and managing school-age children. By then I have already managed to miss out on reading the weekly newsletter.
I now have four kids, three of whom are school age, and I get lost in the number of newsletters I have to read on a weekly basis. Let’s just say I have learned to be very forgiving of myself to the point of being completely oblivious of what I need to prepare for my little ones until I do it just in the nick of time. Planning ahead is for pansies. Looking for crafts and uniforms in a panic is where the real adventure begins. And such is the way the conversation would have gone that morning, over a single or a double cappuccino, masala tea, or something in between.
It is not exceptionally busy in the mornings, however, it has the vibe of being an eclectic hot desking coffee house for any workers from home who need a regular change of scenery and reliable wifi.
The very next day I met up with a new friend with whom I had not had the pleasure of crossing paths until my move to Nairobi. We had both lived in Lagos but had never met. Our meeting came about because her sister-in-law, who I was coaching about her recent move to Lagos, had connected us. Lo and behold I move to the same city and end up having my kids in the same grades as two of her own children.
I got to our table and as we exchanged horrific stories of finding rentals, nannies, and other forms of domestic help, I ordered my double cappuccino and a trio of scones. As I bit into the scones, all my seemingly big problems began to melt away with every bite. Damn! Those scones were so good, they were crip, buttery, and melted in my mouth like wafers. I ordered another box to take home and share with the kids, only to eat them all by myself with copious amounts of butter and jam. (There is a reason why ten kilometre walk days are a necessity in my life 😬).
Those scones were just to die for. They come with bites of dried fruit every now and again. The scones are truly amazing with soft, butteryness, and melt in your mouth like wafers qualities all in one. I don’t even know how that is possible. But it is. And I am grateful. I asked Shamba cafe manager/owner, Michelle, about her recipe and she said it is 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. I love that level of detail and story telling. Those scones are truly special.
Freda’s Review: Shamba Cafe With Kids
I felt like I was on a roll with Shamba cafe. The next time I visited was with the kids right after school pick up. The three older warriors went about exploring the vast cafe grounds. A little high friction wooden slide and a tight rope kept them well entertained before and after having thin-crust Margherita pizza. I enjoy their leftovers and a sip or two of a cosmopolitan cocktail. Weekend visits are guaranteed to entertain children with a set of classes from drawing to pottery available.
The Chicken Coop
We happened to visit as an entire family on Utamaduni day, a public holiday in Kenya. Utamaduni day fell on 11 October 2021 this year and is a day set aside to celebrate cultural diversity and heritage in Kenya. This was when I met Michelle, owner, and manager of Shamba Cafe, for the very first time. It was as if the kids had walked into long lost aunty’s house. I don’t know what it was or whether it was just by chance, but Michelle was right by the entrance when we got there. She quickly showed us to an outdoor table then ushered the kids away to feed the chickens. Chickens? I hadn’t noticed them before that day. But there is a chicken coop to the right of the herb garden filled with aloes, fennel, and other fresh herbs.
It was fascinating. The kids just followed Michelle and it was as if they had bumped into an old friend. After feeding the chickens there was a brief discussion about how they had to be sensitive to said chooks in case they had eaten one of their cousins. Cute! Michelle also happened to mention that some of the chickens could be adopted, especially the young rooster who was now under threat from the older one who subjected him to a heavy amount of territorial bullying. That visit was fun. I don’t know whether the kids had seen a chicken coop before but it was possibly their first time.
She whisked the kids away to the wood-fired oven to make their own pizza. This was right after Michelle briefly mentioned they package their own coffee for export to the UAE and were now creating their own gin distillary. How industrious! And all of this was unbooked, unprompted, and free. I can only thank you, Michelle, for welcoming my big family the way you did.
Freda’s Food Review: Shamba Cafe
Aside from pizza they have a great selection from cheeseboards to nyama choma (assorted meats from the grill), a Kenyan favourite. We hosted a set of friends from Lagos one Sunday soon after, (actually South Africa but Lagos is where we met). We ordered the grill, pizza, hummus, and a few other tidbits.
The nyama (meat) platter was huge, four adults could barely finish it. It consisted of rump steak with kachumbari, pork chops, BBQ wings, and German sausages of either beef or pork & cheese krainers. In addition to this, I have had the pleasure of trying out their spare ribs and halloumi salad.
The halloumi salad was more than impressive with a deliciously sweet and tangy dressing. It is filled with greens, kale, brown rice, roasted butternut, avocado, raspberries & grilled halloumi. It was absolutely delightful and the raspberries were a nice touch. The dressing is a delectably sweet mystery.
The Vietnamese salad on the other hand was underwhelmingly under seasoned. I am not too sure what went wrong there but the ingredients were fresh and the noodles were exactly as expected. The flavour was just not present at all. They either must have forgotten to add the dressing or put it on the side, however when we enquired with the waiter, he brought a balsamic, soy, and olive oil vinaigrette but it just didn’t taste right. We hoped in earnest that it must have been an off day for them.
The only poor experience I have had after a visit to Shamba Cafe was after having their garlic and ginger prawns. I woke up in the middle of the night with the worst ever stomach spasms and nausea, however, I thankfully wasn’t sick. After a couple more hours of discomfort, it was all over.
I can’t say entirely that this was all due to the prawn dish from Shamba. Around that time, my daughter had the worst stomach bug I have ever witnessed but it wasn’t contagious. Several other little children in the community were suffering similar illnesses that were very hard to treat and required at least two rounds of antibiotics.
Does my experience stop me from trying this dish again? Absolutely not! And. neither should you.
Nightlife Experience: Sundowners and Jazz
My last type of experience at Shamba Cafe switches from day to night time. This time it was sundowners set up by parents from school. I sampled caipirinhas and snacks from their cheeseboard. The food? I have already spoken about it. What knocked my socks off was the jazz band that came on from about 7 or 8 pm and played well into the night.
So far I have had no issues whatsoever with the service. In fact I could say that what I have experienced goes the extra mile. Mornings are not swarming with people so service is fast and meets expectation. Evenings are however the busiest and sometimes the wait for a drink can be unusually long. It is also a time where things may run out at the grill. One Friday night as I attempted to order the nyama platter, I found out it is only available on weekends. That is very good to know as it helps to manage expectations. Besides, ribs are still available on other days and the Friday night jazz certainly makes up for any shortfalls by a mile.
Overall Experience at Shamba
In terms of a place to catch up for coffee and cake, set up as a hotspot for working, family outing, an evening out, Shamba offers something for everyone, and most often a pleasant experience. I have already been back again and again, and that is not likely to change for a long time. It is a stark contrast from the reviews I have seen on Tripadvisor and I am glad to say the owners and managers have been able to turn it around from their early days.
Thanks for Reading
I hope you have enjoyed the first of my review series, Freda’s reviews: Shamba cafe, Nairobi. Come back soon for more in-depth reviews of what Nairobi has to offer. Are you a restaurant with something to say and would like to sponsor a post or want me to visit, please get in touch at info at myburntorange dot com.
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