The Kenyan Nomad

The Kenyan Nomad

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Fonda Nairobi: Restaurant Review

You may remember a series of posts I did last year about the top dishes, drinks and desserts one must try in Nairobi - well, I'd mentioned a Mexican restaurant, Fonda, and decided it was finally time to go do a full tasting! I'm incredibly nostalgic about Mexican food (#MiCasa #YSR), and so any experience that gives me a chance to recreate those memories is welcome.

I'd been in touch with the managing director, so I grabbed a good friend, told them we were coming, and off we went!

(In retrospect, maybe we should have gone unannounced - we got to try the tasting menu and couldn't move once we finished!) 

I honestly have to say that this may be the best Mexican I've had in a LONG time. Fonda has definitely moved up into my top 10 restaurants in Nairobi. We had an AMAZING time. Great company + great food + great ambience + great location = always a win, right?

Fonda is located in the Rosslyn Riviera mall - a little removed from my usual Westlands haunts, but I liked where it was - and I don't think there was any construction in sight! 

To start off, we got a salsa platter (with 6 different signature salsas!), guacamole, and tortilla chips. The salsas all had varying levels of spice - and let me tell you, they varied from good-for-a-5-year-old to make-you-cry-like-a-maniac! Salsa has been around for thousands of years, being used as a condiment to give different foods more flavour. You can find out more about the history of salsa here.

I apologise in advance for forgetting the names, but I'm sure if you take this picture to anyone who works there, they'll tell you which salsa is which! My favourites would have to be the two darker red ones - but don't let my tastes influence yours! The thing I loved about these salsas - apart from the fact that they're made with ingredients grown by the restaurant! - was that there was such complexity of flavour and multidimensionality! Try the roasted pineapple habanero, and try tell me that you're not in love. I can easily see a world where I go to Fonda for an evening of margaritas, tortilla chips and these salsas.

The guacamole was good, too, but as you can tell, I was so excited about the salsa that I forgot to have as much of this!

From Fonda:

Guacamole was originally made by the Aztecs as early as 15th century. Traditionally, it was prepared by mashing ripe avocados with the use of a molcajete, sprinkled with salt and some hot peppers for finishing touches. This ancient avocado-based dip was a prized delicacy not just of the commoners in the Aztec empire, but reportedly a favourite of Emperor Montezuma.
The Aztecs originally called the now famous Guacamole “ahuacamolli” or “ahuaca-mulli”, which literally means avocado sauce. The name was a combination of two Nahuatl words, ─ühuacatl which means avocado and molli, which means sauce.
When the Spaniards came to Mexico, they too fell in love with this beautiful dip and brought it back to Spain modifying the the original recipe by introducing onions, cilantro and lime juice and calling it Guacamole.

Speaking of margaritas - over the course of the evening, we tried five different ones, and I loved them all! These were the margarita clasico (original), tamarindo (tamarind paste - not something that I would have thought would go in a margarita, but it was a perfect marriage), maracuya (passion fruit variation of the original), hibiscus, and mango y habanero (yes, it was spicy). It'd be hard to choose a favourite, as they were all amazing! Maybe these could come in a 'tasting' size too? ;)

Fun fact - no one really knows who invented the Margarita, and whether it truly is Mexican or not! There are multiple stories about its origin, with the most common claiming that it was a "happy accident" resulting from a Tijuana bartender named Henry Madden grabbing the tequila instead of gin to make a "Daisy" which coincidentally is Margarita in Spanish.

Margarita Maracuya
Tell me these don't tempt you?!

Margarita Tamarindo
Next up, we had the uchepo (tamale), which was served with two salsas (salsa verde and salsa rojo). I really enjoyed this, as it had a comfort food feel - and the salsa verde would have to be a winner for me! Uchepos are a regional tamale from Michoacan made with fresh, rather than dried, corn and served bathed with cream or as an accompaniment to stews. At Fonda, these classics are served with red/green salsa and crema. But the history of tamales is a long one and actually related to war - read more about it here.

We also had a tostada pescado, with fresh shrimp marinated in chillies and lime, served with tomatoes, onions, capsicum, coriander and avocado salsa. I loved the flavour in this! The different ingredients blended together really well, and I may have to declare this my favourite dish of the night. From Fonda, about the birth of the dish:

Almost 2000 years ago, somewhere in Mexico, someone decided that they needed to extend the shelf-life of a tortilla. And so was born the "Tostada". Tostada literally means toasted in Spanish - and is generally a day old tortilla fried to crispy brown. You can sometimes get baked or roasted options, but mostly these fried tortillas are then loaded with a bean puree and other meat or vegetable toppings.

One thing I really love about Mexican food - if you're expecting to make do with a fork and knife, you may have to adjust your expectations a little bit! It really does engage ALL your senses, and having to use your hands only makes the experience better. 

The queso fundido was essentially a plate of melted cheese (my mouth is watering again...) topped with sauteed mushrooms, onions and coriander, served with tortillas and a salsa (the salsa de morito). Another amazing attention to detail here - the cheeses are created specially for Fonda at Brown's cheese in Tigoni (another must visit if you haven't yet been!) Who doesn't love cheese?!

By this point, we were starting to get full, but bravely soldiered through. Next up, we had a plate of three tacos, all with different fillings - one with pescado a la baja (beer battered fish served on  a bed of radish-lettuce salad with chipotle mayonnaise), hongos y quelites (wild earthy mushrooms sauteed with fresh leafy greens topped with queso fresco) and the conchinita pibil (shredded pork marinated in oranges, annatto paste and spices). 

While I liked all three, the hongos y quelites was a definite favourite, followed by the pescado a la baja. The next time I try this one, I may try another filling instead of the pork. The hongos y queltes was a perfectly earthy blend - the leafy greens really brought out the flavours of the mushrooms, and the queso was a delightful complement to the whole thing! 

Can you tell that by this point, even my picture taking was affected?? For the main course (yes, we hadn't even made it there yet...), we had the mole poblano (also known as Mexico's national food dish) with chicken. This is an extremely complex dish, made with more than 30 ingredients, and it was served with rice, beans and tortillas. More about its history here. Did you know that one version of the legend about its origin says that it was inspired by an angel?

To be absolutely honest, this dish wasn't my favourite, and I may not give it another try. I feel that it lacked multidimensionality, and the complexity didn't come through very well. 

Now, it was FINALLY time for dessert! We did ask for a meanwhile in between, which thankfully was taken into consideration. Dessert for us that day included the pastel de tres leches - the traditional tres leches cake, but with a chocolate twist - and the coffee flan. Tres leches has a fascinating history - read more here

I think these two were the perfect ending to a great evening, with the tres leches being my personal favourite. 

To finish off, we got these delicious tamarind sweets - if you love sweet and sour (emphasis) on the sour, you need to try these! But do NOT eat them in one bite. You'll have goosebumps on your scalp!

If you haven't checked out Fonda yet, I have NO idea what you're waiting for! Aside from superb food and amazing service, their ambience is great and well thought out, with amazing attention to detail, and most things being locally made or sourced. Stepping into Fonda, it may be easy to forget that you're in Kenya (or even Africa), as the decor has been thoughtfully done to make one feel as though they could be in a marketplace, a veranda, or a cultural centre somewhere in Mexico. 

Every piece has a story, every space has a feeling, and every nook and corner has a touch of a cultural experience that you'll be sure to enjoy. The ambience has a strange way of making you feel like you've come home after a while - not sure I can do the feeling justice in words, so I'll let the pictures do the talking here!

Liked this post? Do make sure to let us know - and if you visit Fonda, I'd love to hear about your experience!

Special thanks to Fonda for some of the pics and the history behind the dishes, and to my co-reviewer for the night!

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