Written by Jane Staley
The Swahili word ‘mandhari’ translates as ‘scene’. No surprise then, that the scene is set to perfection at the Nairobi Serena Hotel’s Mandhari Restaurant, which is rated by many as the city’s finest. The theatre, which is so inherent in fine-dining, begins at the door. Overlooking the pool and shaded by palm trees, the restaurant is presented in shades of deep burgundy. The drama is then accented by an exquisite hand-carved soapstone fresco, which runs the entire length of its walls. The effect is extraordinary: African art meets Venetian palace.
As for the menu, it is founded on pure cordon bleu but styled to reflect the best of Kenya. ‘Ask anybody,’ says Chef, Roy Kinyua, ‘and they’ll tell you that our lamb is the best in town’. A chef at the top of his game with 27 years of experience in his wake, Roy attributes the success of his restaurant to the rigorous adherence of his team to the disciplines of classic gourmet cuisine; and to the fine art of sourcing your ingredients from the best of the best.
It’s all about boutique-buying.
The lamb comes from Kenya’s Molo region; the beef (which is similarly praised by those in the know) from Laikipia where the native Boran cattle have been interbred with the ‘king of cows’, the Aberdeen Angus. The herbs, fruit and vegetables are grown on local farms to Roy’s express instructions. And the seafood is couriered from Mombasa in Roy’s specially-designed chiller boxes. The result is a freshness so ocean-sharp that elaborate sauces are hardly required.
But sauces are Roy’s obsession.
Best, then, to let him choose what we will eat.
He does not disappoint. We begin, in true gourmet tradition, with a bottle of French Taittinger champagne. And, because it is so magnificent, we drink nothing else. Then come seared king scallops with seaweed, ginger and lime; and a simple but sublime prawn cocktail. We move on to a piquant salmon chowder soup; and a prawn soup lavish on prawns and gossamer-spiced with lemon grass. Then comes the Rack of Molo Lamb. And in this, the experts were not wrong: this is the Lamborghini of lamb, gently smoked and infused with rosemary. Finally, comes the epitome of culinary scene-setting: Lobster Thermidor.
The embodiment of ‘special occasion’ this is one of those dishes that you experience all too rarely in life. Lobster, cut into chunks, cloaked in a creamy cognac-flamed sauce and returned to its shell, it is pure gastronomic theatre. It’s also precisely the showstopper its inventor intended it to be.
A hard act to follow?
Indeed, but Chef Roy is a dedicated culinary disciple. And he rises to the challenge with the presentation of a raspberry tart brûlée; and a white chocolate parfait tinged with pistachio.
As endings go, this one is a scene stealer.
The Mandhari Restaurant overlooks the tropical pool terrace at the Nairobi Serena Hotel. For further information visit: https://www.serenahotels.com/nairobi/dining/mandhari-fine-dining-restaurant