We arrived at Asmara Karen just as the sun was setting on Nairobi. After a full day of intermittent drizzles, the fresh air smelt of soil and the atmosphere was cool. The staff put out hot coals to keep us toasty as we began our evening under a shade in case it started to rain again. To get to our table, we were guided down past the entrance and through the building towards the spacious yard at the back. All the way, candles lit the way, their sparkling lights lead us to our seating spot.
Our meal started off with an assortment of canapés and passion mojitos. The menu of canapés included mini tomato and basil bruschetta, vegetable samosas, vol au vents with mushroom fillings, and al pollo pizza. It would be difficult to pick a personal favorite of these four, but I would have to say that the al pollo pizza, which broke off in hot and cheesy bites was my favourite. That said, I am also biased as a meat lover, and imagine that vegetarians would delight in any of the other three, especially the pesto sauce and garlic that made the bruschetta so delicious, or the hot and soft, yet crunchy, samosas.
As we moved into the main course, we traded off our mojitos for soft drinks and glasses of the house red and white wines- a Douglas Green merlot and chardonnay respectively. Meanwhile, the Asmara staff laid out steaming platters of traditional Ethiopian meals: a centerpiece of white injera upon which the different sauces were laid out with rolls of brown and white injera on the side for us to scoop up the sauces. Here, I must admit, my meat-loving biases were helpless when pitted against the salad, and the shiro tegamino (a spicy orange chickpea sauce). The simple salad made use of icing sugar instead of brown sugar in the dressing, a choice that tempered the sourness of the vinegar, making the entire dish smooth. The meat platter contained: tsebhi derho, a brown saucy mixture made of boneless chicken, an egg and cottage cheese, and the khey tibsi and tsahli tibsi, pan-fried beef and goat fillet respectively. Most of the sauces contained the characteristic berbere spice, which always couples wonderfully with the slightly sour, fermented taste of the injera. While the platter is not overwhelming at first glance, do not be fooled: we shared a single platter amongst four people and ultimately found that the seemingly small portions ended up being more than we could finish.
Stomachs stuffed with injera and mouths oiled with berbere sauce, there was just enough room for dessert: a lime cake with vanilla ice cream on the side. The lime cake was perhaps the best way to clean out one’s palate after the flavour of the rest of the meal, and Asmara made it even more special by writing out a thank you message in chocolate to all of us. Bonus: they got all our names right.
The recently opened Asmara Karen promises to bring the same delicious fare and beguiling decor that have made the Pangani and Westlands branches so beloved. Keep this charming venue in mind if looking for a new spot for anything from a candlelit romantic dinner or an outing with friends or with your kids; you will find that the new venue has something for everyone. Come prepared to share a messy spicy platter intimately while sampling a taste of Eritrea right in our very backyard.