Friday evening had all the markings of being perfect, and had started with me heading to my favourite wine store to pick out the perfect bottle of Chardonnay, which currently sat chilling on an ice bucket on my kitchen counter. I had also spent the better part of half an hour making Gordon Ramsay’s mushroom, leek and tarragon pasta following a video on his Youtube channel, and was just settling down to watch a movie. 10 minutes in, I get a call from my friend Melisa saying she’s heading down to Kisumu that night and asking if I would like to go. Let’s just say that an hour later, she’s picking me up from my apartment and we’re speeding off towards the airport trying not to miss our Jambojet flight.
I have been to Kisumu enough times to consider myself quite the expert on this port city. My first ever Chinese restaurant experience was actually at Oriental on the first floor of Al-Imran plaza. I clearly remember my teenage self almost having a heart attack when the chef began to flambé our chicken at the table. When at the lakeside, eat as the locals do, and that means a variety of fish like tilapia, nile perch and silver cyprinid. With a lot of restaurants being lined up along Lake Victoria, I also have fond memories of Tilapia Beach which used to have some of the biggest tilapia I have ever seen. You get to choose the size of fish and how you want it cooked, and minutes later it gets to your table with a side of indigenous vegetables, ugali and kachumbari. The views were also always breathtaking, although there was the matter of water hyacinth threatening to mar this. International tourists have since discovered Tilapia Beach and I think the price of fish may have shot up because of this.
On my most recent visit, the weather was far too hot to inspire much daytime action . However, after being cooped up indoors all morning, I was ready to crawl out the house and make my way to the West End Shopping Mall, one of the newest additions to Kisumu’s architectural facelift. A sign reading ‘Nairobi Java House’ drew Melisa and me to the familiar, although the ‘Nairobi’ in the brand name struck me as quite odd given the location. Two hot cups of cappuccino later and we were ready to explore the culinary delights of this lakeside city and identify the best place to sit down for a nice leisurely lunch.
As we explored our options, I was pleased to learn that restaurants like Habesha (Ethiopian cuisine) and Haandi (Indian cuisine) have both set up outlets here. Imperial Hotel, located in the Central Business District and one of the oldest establishments in the town, houses the Palms Coffee Shop and Victoria Terrace. The latter offers continental cuisine and is known for its burgers and freshly cooked traditional fish. We briefly considered going to Sunset Hotel in Milimani but given the fact that it was a weekend, it would have been too crowded with families what with kids running wild and jumping in and out of the pool. Instead we ended up having lunch in a serene garden at Clarice Guest House and our choice of Molo lamb racks and fish in thick coconut sauce hit the spot.
The next day we woke up bright and early and headed off to Kiboko Bay Resort in the Dunga area of the city. On the way we passed the Impala Park Sanctuary, and regretted not deciding to spend a peaceful and relaxing day taking in the park’s natural beauty and trying to spot impalas, Situnga antelopes, giraffes, buffaloes, big cats and more. The sanctuary has five campsites and activities include nature walks, bird watching or taking a glass bottomed boat ride on the lake. I hear there is now an eco-lodge with a spectacular floating restaurant which I am dying to see next time I’m around.
As we approached Kiboko Bay Resort, we could hear Benga music blasting from a nearby restaurant. This was Dunga Hill Camp which looked sweet and very child friendly. Next we made a pitstop at La Pearl Breeze Point, a new lakeside establishment . The owner took pains to explain that the wall separating the lake from the restaurant was a necessity as the waves would sometimes get so strong that the water would come right up to the tables. Still, she told us, one can choose to have a table set up right on the water line. Eventually we managed to pass Hippo Point and, too famished to even make conversation, reached Kiboko Bay.
Kiboko Bay is the one spot you should definitely check out when in Kisumu. Stay at one of their cottages if you can. It hits all the key spots: stunning views – especially of the sun as it sets over the lake, fresh fish as well as a variety of other options on their continental menu, a swimming pool (because you might get swallowed by a hippo should you decide to go dip in the lake), indoor and outdoor seating, activities like boat rides and bird watching for enthusiasts. Last year they had a dining area set up on a pier so patrons could enjoy their meal over the lake. I can imagine heading there and casting your fishing rod over breakfast, and as you leaned forward to take a sip of your virgin sunrise, feeling the gentle tug of the fish that the chefs would then be frying up for your lunch. Unfortunately on this occasion the pier had collapsed, so we hope they refurbish it as it was a really cool addition. Intact however was the jetty with little lanterns lined up along it. This is the perfect spot to view the sunset or just take pictures to remember your time at the lakeside.