For the past three years, Alexandra Polier has been reporting for NEWSWEEK from Nairobi, Kenya. Nestled between the Indian Ocean and Africa’s Great Rift Valley, this multicultural city blends rich colonial history with contemporary African culture. From fresh seafood to wild game, Nairobi is full of good restaurants, if you know where to go. Here’s an insiders' guide to a good meal and a good time:
Tamarind (+254 020 251811) One of Nairobi’s oldest restaurants and finest dining experiences, the Tamarind is known for its seafood. Its sister restaurant in Mombasa, the Swahili port town, transports fresh catch every day to the city. The extensive menu offers everything from fresh tuna sashimi arranged as rose pedals, to a caldron of boiled ginger crab. The shared seafood platter is not for the faint of heart. One of the few restaurants still in downtown, Tamarind has a unique charm, one of the best wine lists in town and great service. Make sure you don’t skip dessert.
Carnivore (+254 020 605933) In a country full of wild game, this restaurant is well known for serving it up. From zebra to ostrich, to eland and crocodile, Carnivore gives you a chance to taste most of the animals you see on safari. Popular with tourists and locals alike, a trip to Carnivore always feels like an event and usually requires a bit of preparation-you must come with an empty stomach to this all-you-can-eat affair. Waiters walk around with large skewers of barbequed meats, similar to Brazilian churrascaria (steakhouses). Carnivore also boasts one of Nairobi’s best nightlife scenes, with multiple bars, a dance floor and great DJs to help you burn off dinner.
Talisman (+254 020 883213) Cozy up by the giant fireplace for after-dinner drinks, or relax in the lush garden for lunch at the favorite local watering hole in Karen, a neighborhood named after Kenya’s favorite female pioneer, Karen Blixen (of ‘‘Out of Africa” fame). Multiple fireplaces, plush pillows, and large wooden tables topped with comfort food like the feta-and- coriander samosas, and steak in Guinness with mashed potatoes, give this charming converted house its home-away-from-home feel, while the boisterous bar, filled with British expatriates imbibing bottles of Tusker, Kenya’s national beer, makes you feel like you are in a British pub.
Mercury Lounge (+254204451875) Thanks to Spanish chef Gabriel Ferrer, Nairobi has a hip tapas bar filled with swanky furnishings, spicy appetizers and entrees, and top-shelf liquor (a rarity in these parts). Always referred to as “very New York,” after a few days in the bush this European-style lounge may be just what you need. Popular with both expatriates and Kenya’s swelling middle class, the kitchen is open late and the place is always packed. Try the Solomillo al Oporto (beef fillet in port wine sauce on baguette) or sautéed calamari--you can’t go wrong with the menu.
Haandi (+254 020 4448294) With a population of over 100,000 Indians, Nairobi is filled with Asian influences, from the massive Hindu temples to the dozens of chicken tikka houses. No one does it better than Haandi. The lime carpet and chunky bamboo furniture leaves a bit to be desired in the ambiance department, but the food is amazing. And the glassed-in kitchen allows you to see your food being made. For those in search of a good chicken tikka masala, you won’t be disappointed.