“Go to Double Dragon” is my answer to anybody who asks for a good “authentic” Chinese place to eat in Nairobi. It has remained my answer for some time. The recommendation is the same for the Dim Sum fetishists who love those delicately folded steamed packages of soupoozing meat filling, as it is for the Scoville Scale purists who love a bit of Szechuan pepper to excite their taste buds. It also holds for amateur singers who are on the lookout for unexplored private karaoke venues that come with fully automatic song selection computers and laser lights. The only diners I would not send to Double Dragon are the ones who believe Chinese cuisine only comprises of a dish prepared in a wok with soy sauce, garlic and ginger. Their loss.
Double Dragon first opened its doors in late 2011 and since then the Junction Shopping Center fourth floor restaurant has been a favourite of Chinese expatriates, including the staff at the Chinese Embassy in Kenya. So much so that I recently had to make way for them since they reserved the entire restaurant and I was relegated to dining in the fringes of the food court. I was told an important government official was in town – I think they just wanted to keep their karaoke skills or lack thereof to themselves.
Incredibly, Double Dragon’s food court outlet, which was recently refurbished, serves a far more sophisticated menu than any other Chinese food court restaurant I’ve seen in Nairobi. The chef there managed to whip up some Chinese comfort food for us – far from the usual Sweet and Sour Pork or Egg Fried Rice. Can’t say I’ve dined at a food court with a brocade table cloth before but there’s always a first time for everything, right?
We began with a plate of Chilled Spiced Wood Ear Mushrooms tossed in a vinaigrette, delivered together with a fallen wine glass. This is often one of those dishes that starts off suspicious and becomes increasingly irresistible. The vinaigrette was not tooth-achingly acidic – a lovely way to get the taste buds salivating. Bamboo steamers of Soup-filled Pork Dumplings followed on a bed of lettuce. The delicate dough was acceptably thin though unfortunately not translucent, however the broth from the filling was bursting with flavour. The Pot Stickers, crescentshaped dumplings, were pan-fried until golden brown and featured a crispy bottom. The showstopper was the classic Fried Whole Snapper in Spicy Sweet and Sour Sauce, served dramatically deboned with its fillets of meat scored to reveal an intricate pattern when flash-fried. The snapper was still juicy and moist to the palate and the spicy sweet and sour sauce – a signature of Szechuan cuisine – was well-balanced and a plate of this alone would be a proper dinner.
The great thing about Nairobi is that we’re spoiled with a wide variety of Chinese food – be it fusion or traditional, quality or revolting. Chinese cuisine has long been a favourite of Nairobians and tourists alike, with a myriad of flavours and textures – thanks to the diverse influences of various regions that make up the Chinese ethnic group. Craving for something light? There are thinly sliced braised meats served cold, tossed pickled vegetable salads, and delicately steamed seafood. Feel like something more hearty and substantial? Dig into a bowl of handmade noodles and meaty stews.
Double Dragon’s menu splashes around in classic Chinese cuisine, with special attention to its Shanghainese roots and Northern specialities that are favourites of most Chinese expatriates in Kenya. None of the dishes sound extraordinary. It’s straightforward Chinese stuff where each and every dish gets that elegant and special Double Dragon touch, the one that always has you planning your next visit. It is a menu of simple edible Chinese pleasures done about as well as they could be in Kenya, given the different selection of local produce. The menu goes beyond tired bottomless fried noodles and rice routine – consider your next Chinese plan sorted. All you need now is an open mind and a large appetite.
Double Dragon, The Junction Mall, Ngong Rd. For bookings visit eatout.co.ke