- Ordering main meals at Jiko feels like reading through a menu maze.
- Theirs are African dishes from different countries but refined by an executive chef.
- Executive Chef Mohamed Yakat says his food creations were spurred by a combination of culinary restlessness and the easy connectivity to Africa.
Food at Jiko restaurant in Tribe Hotel Nairobi will remind you of African homemade dishes but only if your cook is adventurous, creatively plays with herbs, and tactfully adds a smoky flavor.
I am at Jiko with two friends for a lunch that is supposed to last one hour but lasts three hours.
We start with drinks from the ‘sober minded’ menu section. It’s a hot afternoon, so I pick the nana berry. It tastes like a drink that has a secret.
In it, there is blueberry, mint, lime juice, baobab powder, and ginger. One friend goes for tamu tamu, which is a mix of tamarind (ukwaju), lemongrass, ginger shrub, and lime juice. A tease for the taste buds, it reminds her of her days growing up in Mombasa.
Ordering main meals at Jiko feels like reading through a menu maze. At first, I thought I wanted the ugali saffron or kondoo mchuzi which is a pie with lamb, baked ugali, and sautéed kale. Or perhaps the pork belly served with fried plantain and coconut gravy.
I am not a foodie so food rarely excites me, but Jiko’s adventurous meals did. Theirs are African dishes from different countries but refined by an executive chef. The ambience played a big role too. There are hanging air plants that I imagine the interior design went eccentric in displaying.
I finally pick the coffee-rub cowboy steak which is a slice of 28-days aged meat immersed in coffee for 10 days to absorb the coffee flavor and remove moisture. It is then grilled.
Each time I pour a sauce from a dainty cup onto my steak, my mouth waters in anticipation.
You would assume that at this restaurant upper-class manners rule, but etiquette easily escapes me. I eat up all the 500 grams of meat separately before I start enjoying the French fries seasoned with curry leaves and sesame, one piece after the other.
I even lift the bowl of French fries off the table and eat like I was at home; bowl in one hand, fork on another, leaning on the chair and if it was swinging, I would have swung.
One friend ordered a za’atar beef burger. They have about six types of burgers on the menu but nothing that you have tasted before. There is one burger called Lunatic Express. Jiko’s burger is generous. I can not say big because you might think, ‘too full that you would feel stuffed up.’
Their burger bun is very light because it is made from mashed potatoes and flour. The final product? A light bun that is cut into two and cherry tomatoes, sukumawiki tempura, onions, and a meat patty are stacked in. It comes with sweet potatoes fries, wasabi mayo, and another generous serving of salad garnished with pumpkin seeds.
My other friend ordered a rock codfish served with mukimo and amaranth (terere), curry leaves, and raw mango sauce. It is plated so beautifully, that you cut through the codfish fillet, vegetables, mukimo and raw mango sauce to enjoy a scoop of exciting flavors.
After leaving, I start counting five food items whose taste will whet my palate for some time. Well, before I discover something adventurous in the city.
First, the butter mixed with herbs. It made us dance to the rhythm of the starter. Two, the green ketchup. The chef cooks green unripe tomatoes, mixes it with herbs. Three the codfish. Four, the burger. Five the 28-days aged beef rubbed in coffee.
Executive Chef Mohamed Yakat says his food creations were spurred by a combination of culinary restlessness and the easy connectivity to Africa.
“If you go to Italy, you want to try pizza and pasta. When you come to Kenya, why would you want to try the same pizza and pasta? We took local cuisines and because this is a five-star hotel, we made the food showy, curated to impress, ”he says, adding that“ the kondoo mchuzi, for instance, is your normal ugali-nyama. But we can not serve it in that basic manner. ”
True, the food has razzmatazz. For instance, their ugali is cooked with saffron, one of the world’s most expensive spices.
I ask Chef Mohamed what spice is unlikely to miss in his kitchen and one that easily transforms the flavor of food.
“Thyme,” he says. “It’s versatile. We are adventurous, we even use pureed pumpkin instead of tomatoes. ”
The lunch took almost three hours because we lingered; it felt like sitting outside our beautiful patio, enjoying a good African meal.