How much fun can you have in an underground cave? A lot more than you’d think if you head for Ali Barbour’s Cave Restaurant in Diani, Kenya.
Located just behind the popular beach bar, Forty Thieves, a staple along the Diani coast where waves will lap your toes, Ali Barbour’s is currently ranked second on TripAdvisor’s list of restaurants in Kenya’s south coast.
A winding staircase leads you underground, where the restaurant is nestled 10 metres below sea level, nestled in an ancient natural coral cave.
Open to the elements, the cave walls rise and gently curve towards the moon-lit sky. A calm ocean breeze sweeps in, tenderly flickering the candles in the alcoves, hanging from the walls and on the white linen tables.
The ambiance is unmatched anywhere else, and easily, Ali Barbour’s is the most romantic eatery in Kenya. The natural alcoves and imperfections of the cave reflect and capture light marvelously. Its sense of whimsical mystery, warmth and romance – the ambiance is beyond incredible, it’s magical. And if you’re lucky, a shooting star might just momentarily light up above you, shooting across the sky.
But if a place looks good, does that mean the food will also taste the same?
Tonight, Ali Barbour’s is packed. I hear that’s the case on most nights, so making a reservation is a must. Thankfully, there’s enough space between the tables – don’t worry, your neighbor won’t be able to hear you whisper sweet-nothings into your date’s ear.
The lengthy à la carte menu reads like a seafood-junkie’s dream. Sweet oysters from Kilifi, harvested just north of Diani. It seems like a Seafood Platter is a regular on most menus in this neighbourhood: fresh calamari, lobster, prawns, fish and crab from the mangrove. The Jumbo Prawns with Soft Cheese Tortellini (Ksh 950) arrived with an impressive mound of wafer-thin crispy potato garnish. The curry sauce was an unexpected addition. There was the Chili Crab (Kshs 1, 650) served in its shell, its meat delicately picked and tossed in a light cream sauce with fresh chilies, garlic and ginger – I still wish I had ordered seconds. Slightly overcooked, the massive Lobster Classic (Kshs 3,950) arrived simply grilled, halved, in garlic butter – luscious.
To follow, dessert was Ali Barbour’s Chocolate Orange Mousse (Kshs 650). Aside from the throwback lace doilies that decorated the plate, the mousse was light, airy and the perfect conclusion to a seafood-rich meal.
The service was quite slow, coastal-slow; but with the extra time one could definitely enjoy the ambiance more, I suppose.
I’m tickled by the idea that only homegrown Kenyan chefs are delivering this fresh and delectable food. There’s no question why people keep filing into Ali Barbour’s, its kitchen team has contagious smiles and their passion for anything edible is unquestionable.
You don’t have to take my word for it, but when even the neighbouring hoteliers recommend this unique restaurant built below ground, Ali Barbour’s must be good.