The Kenyan Nomad

The Kenyan Nomad

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Restaurant Review: Christmas at the Arbor

Happy holidays, everyone! As I write this, I'm sitting in the U.S., having travelled here to spend time with family (and see friends if I get lucky).

Saturday the 17th of December, however, found me in a food coma after a delicious Christmas meal with Darshani (of Cupcakes to Curry) at the Arbor in Lavington, Nairobi. The Arbor has a very laid-back, chic outdoor ambiance, well-suited to Saturday brunch or a dinner out with friends. Darshani and I were there to do a review for a podcast, and thus ended up having a multi-course meal at 10 am on a Saturday morning (accompanied by various cocktails, of course, much to the envy of the other diners)! The weather was perfect December weather - warm and sunny, forbidding any sort of indoor seating at all. For my non-Southern hemisphere readers, you'll just have to visit Kenya to know what I mean when I say 'perfect December weather' and 'warm' in the same sentence.

It was started about two years ago by Shamini, originally from Malaysia. She moved to Kenya after getting married to a Kenyan, and the Arbor was born out of a desire to do something with her time, and to efficiently use the space of a property that's being rented by her sister-in-law to make skincare products. At the moment, the Arbor has about 20 tables and can seat around 60 people, and this growth has been entirely due to word-of-mouth.

To start us off, Darshani and I had some eggnog. Now, I'll be absolutely honest with you all - the thought of eggnog was always weird to me, and I couldn't quite fathom why anyone would willingly drink a raw egg. However, after encouragement from Shamini we both decided to give it a go and... Oh. My. Goodness. It was amazing!! Easily my favourite cocktail of the day. It was smooth and creamy, with lovely flavours of Amarula, vanilla and nutmeg coming through. If I was given the eggnog to drink without being told what it was, I'd have had no idea that it had any egg in it at all. I do hope they add it to the regular menu! I could easily see it becoming something I order often.

The first thing we ate was the potato pancakes with eggs, bacon and hollandaise sauce. These were really good, and a combination that I'd actually never had before! I'm one of those weird eaters who likes eggs, but can't have them without toast, so this was a welcome change in my usual breakfast fare. The potato pancakes were lovely and crispy, and the eggs perfectly poached and slightly runny. The crispy bacon accented the flavour of the eggs, and we both decided that we would definitely order it again.

Next up on our list of things to try was the spicy calamari salad - marinated and grilled calamari on a bed of lettuce, avocado, onions, peppers and cherry tomatoes with homemade vinaigrette. Now, I'll be the first to admit that I am NOT a salad person by any means (unless it's from Stirling's). If salad is there, I'll eat it, but not as a meal on its own, and probably not as something that would be my first choice. If Darshani hadn't chosen this to try, I may never have ordered it at all!

To my surprise, I actually really liked it! The calamari was lovely and spicy, and was perfectly accompanied by the cool creaminess of the avocado. Avocado, again, is another thing that's not on the top of my list of favourites (unless it's guac), but I really loved the combination! Plus, it didn't hurt that the presentation was amazing - the salad looked like a work of art and I was almost afraid to touch it.

After this came cocktail number two (as you can tell, it was a very productive morning!) - the Arbor Christmas Punch. It had some (well, more than some...) Captain Morgan Spiced Rum, honey, lemon juice, orange juice, and a fizzy drink (couldn't tell which one, sorry!) To be perfectly honest, this wasn't one of my favourites, although I can see why others would like it. Darshani hit the nail on the head when she likened the punch to a cold hot-toddy - something you'd have as a comfort drink rather than as a party punch. 

Next up was the bowl of Laksa noodles - my first time having these, and I was hooked! Laksa noodles are a dish of Malaysian origin, and it's my understanding that the Arbor is the only place in Nairobi (maybe Kenya even that does them). I've never had them before, so I'll do my best to explain my experience - but I highly recommend you go try a bowl yourself! They were so good that Darshani and I had to fight over who would take what was left home. I'm happy to report that I won!

The noodles were in a big, steaming bowl of green, fragrant broth. We had ordered the vegetarian ones, and these came with a medley of veggies including carrots, onions and mushrooms. I'm probably committing Laksa blasphemy here, but to me it tasted like a delicious mix of Thai green curry and Indian lentil curry with a coconut milk base.

After the noodles (yes, there's more), we tried the chicken sambal sandwich. Cheese lovers, rejoice! As this sandwich was brought to us, both Darshani and I thought we were looking at a deliciously gooey heap of cheese - luckily, we realised that there was a sandwich under this. The chicken had been marinated in homemade sambal sauce and grilled, and was served on bread with chilli mayo and mozzarella, with a side of fries. The chicken was perfectly spicy and sweet, and the bread was fresh and flavourful. We were extremely pleased that the fries were fresh and crispy - it's unfortunately the case in many Nairobi restaurants, no matter how amazing they are, that you get soggy fries (not that I won't eat them anyway)!

We then proceeded to try cocktails three and four - the mulled wine and the cranberry champagne. The mulled wine was absolutely delicious! The danger of mulled wine is that sometimes it can taste like someone just took sangria and heated it up. While the flavours were reminiscent, the mulled wine definitely had personality of its own, with orange, cloves, cardamom, and some spice - cinnamon or nutmeg perhaps? The mulled wine was also sweet, but not in a way that made me want to grimace. Another one of my favourites from this tasting, and another drink I hope they add to their regular, non-Christmas-special menu!

After having the mulled wine, the cranberry champagne seemed to almost pale in comparison, and it was a little hard to detect the cranberry flavour. However, it was definitely refreshing, and something I would order before the meal or as a palate-cleanser (heathen, I know) before dessert.

Yes, all the drinks in this picture were mine. Glad I wasn't driving that day!
The final food item before dessert was the Christmas special of that weekend, the roasted leg of lamb with mint gravy, potatoes and vegetables.

That gravy was really good!! I wish I could  bottle it up and try it with multiple things. The lamb was crispy around the edges and melt-in-your-mouth tender on the inside. It worked so well with the potatoes and the gravy, we almost didn't need the vegetables. While I'm not the biggest fan of lamb that hasn't been marinated because of the- well, lamby flavour- I can see why this was such a huge hit. The portion was also HUGE and it's a wonder I was able to walk that day. The things we do, dear readers, to ensure your entertainment...

All the food was absolutely amazing, and if I had to pick favourites, they'd probably be the Laksa noodles and the chicken sambal sandwich. Although a multi-course meal like we had that day would work just as well ;)

Finally, just as we're about to pass out from all the food, Darshani and I had the Arbor cassata. With raspberry sorbet, vanilla ice cream and glazed fruits, we were in HEAVEN. The sorbet was absolutely delicious and just the right amount of sharp and tangy, which perfectly complemented the sweet creaminess of the vanilla ice cream. It was also amazing beautiful to look at! 

A photo posted by Roshni Walia (@rwalia) on

I really enjoyed my Arbor experience, and I'm definitely looking forward to going back. Had a visit yet? I'd love to hear all about it! And if you haven't - what're you waiting for? Happy holidays!

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