Susan Wong returns to the site of a past breakup and finds that The Arbor is still brimming with love and comfort food.
People move on, sometimes without you. Time changes everything and dictates the paths that we will all eventually take. For a few years, Derek’s path and mine intertwined like a beautiful woven lattice pie crust. But intertwining was not enough anymore. In fact, it was never enough to begin with. On his next visit to Nairobi, I knew I needed to start thinking about a “breakup restaurant.” Derek called to set up our imminent breakup date. “Wong, you were always better at this food thing. You choose.” “How about The Arbor, Saturday at 1pm?”
Set in a tranquil garden, The Arbor is an eco-friendly cafe with an eclectic selection of food and also home to a marketplace of organic growers, local fashion brands, a luxury skin and bodycare company, and handmade furniture specialists. This charming garden eatery is also my breakup restaurant of choice because I know regardless of how terribly a date may go, I will still enjoy it because of the food and restaurant experience.
The food is abundant, comforting and bound to make you forget your sorrows (well, at least the Deep Fried Wontons will). The familiar staff welcomes regulars, such as myself, like family; and they’re also willing to leave you alone. Deep conversations or even arguments will be easily absorbed into the animated crowd’s buzz. The gentle rustling of leaves in the trees and the sun’s rays descend to remind you that it’s a better day than you think.
I often return to this spot and remember that day when I felt absolutely and unequivocally gutted. The finality of the conversation happened as I was mid-bite. Biting into a golf ball-sized Deep Fried Wonton was hard enough when I was emotionally stable. Heartbroken? I was lucky that it didn’t fall on my lap drenched in that delicious homemade fresh Bullet Chilli and Sesame Oil sauce.
This weekend I returned with another companion. We first started with stellar his and hers Strawberry and Cucumber Lemonades, colourful tall glasses of refreshing goodness that easily quenched Nairobi’s heat. Then, a familiar whiff of golden crispy parcels of minced chicken and prawn, and finely diced carrots and mushrooms drifted my way from the 20 foot shipping container turned kitchen – the Deep Fried Asian Wontons still looked as sumptuous as ever!
Both of us wanted to sample the popular Avocado Toast with Smoked Salmon and Feta but with one of us being vegetarian, the staff were kind enough to indulge us with a compromise – half with salmon and the other without. Compromises are not an act of weakness; they’re as much an inherent part of great service as they are of relationships!
A hot bowl of Vegetarian Laksa Noodles soon followed, but its special broth tasted less entrancing than the last time I revelled in Malaysian comfort food at The Arbor. This time round, the Laksa broth didn’t resonate in authenticity, lacking in fragrance and creaminess – it was watery.
If you have a beautiful and flavourful cut of meat grilled to your liking, sometimes simple seasoning is best; so don’t let a gravy boat filled with glistening peppercorn sauce tempt you. In this case, I really wished I had left the elegant porcelain alone because its contents were strangely sweet. An honest mishap in the kitchen I imagine.
Finally a dense slice of Chocolate Zucchini Cake arrived moist, soft and rich. Who thought this was a good idea? This is a rhetorical question. Almost invisible when combined with chocolate, the zucchini lends moisture and in some recipes, also replaces some of the fat from your ingredients. Guilt is definitely not something you have to worry about with this dessert.
The Arbor just celebrated its second anniversary and from its days as a modest garden cafe that closed at 5 o’clock every afternoon, the eatery now offers dinner service Tuesdays to Saturdays too, thanks to public demand.
Its charm is unassuming and undeniable. Every time I visit, at least on the weekends, this Lavington neighbourhood favourite is packed to the brim If you plan on dining there during peak hours, call in advance to make a reservation.
If it’s your first time, wandering through the garden aimlessly is quite normal. Without an actual welcoming area or “Please Wait To Be Seated” signage, guests usually end-up strolling around in search of a table before the busy staff assist them. Perhaps that’s all part of a strategy because you’ll often find yourself in one of the great shops swiping your bank card.
From the eco-friendly vibes, to all of the furniture made from reclaimed wood, the candles with sprigs of rosemary, delicious classics, and the recycled glass bottles hanging from a pergola; there’s a lot of love at The Arbor, and it’s this love that makes overcoming heartbreak, bearable.