Less is more, discovers Winnie Wangui, when she interviews four new and upcoming food and beverage entrepreneurs who are determined that doing one thing and doing it well, will make them stand out more than those who try to please everyone at the same time.
Growing up back in the 90s, I remember eating out involved going to Wimpy for some chips and chicken on a weekend afternoon – it was either there or an eatery in Karen that had a playground, some nyama choma and beers for dad to enjoy. When it came to eating out in those days, there really weren’t so many different places to choose from and whether or not a meal was good, was judged by the tenderness of the meat and not much else.
Fast forward to now and the restaurant scene in Nairobi is constantly changing and evolving. More than ever before people are well-travelled and have high standards when it comes to what they expect from a dining experience. As a result, restaurant owners bear the pressure of keeping up with Nairobians’ demand for more variety. So much so, that over the past few years, it has become normal for new restaurants to open up every month. Some of these restaurants experiment with menus they have seen abroad and a few even try to offer up local dishes with a twist.
To keep up with the trend, longstanding restaurants that have been on the scene for a while, have tried to rebrand by some reinventing some of their menus in a bid to stay relevant, retain their traditional customers who might be looking elsewhere and appealing to the new crop of food lovers who are more discerning and adventurous to trying new cuisines. In this stride, restaurants have been introducing speciality dishes, vegan menus, as well as improving on the dining out experience which is now considered a major component when going out. Restaurants are no longer expected to just sell food but an experience as well.
The downside to this desire to please everyone, can be symptomised by extensive menus that seem to be suffering from an identity crisis. When a menu tries to combine Continental dishes, pizzas, grilled meats and Indian foods, you know it has begun to lose its way. This is why Nairobi Restaurant Week is so important for keeping restaurants on their toes by encouraging people to vote with their mouths and ensuring restaurateurs try their absolute best. Increasingly, restaurateurs are beginning to wise up to the fact that in order to stand out, it benefits to do one thing and do that thing really well. Concept restaurants and establishments use one thing and one thing alone to stand out. So we find that entrepreneurs like Sajan and Jessel Dhanani have decided to launch into opening speciality coffee shops like Spring Valley Artisan Coffee, which excels in churning out freshly roasted coffee blends and pastries and not much else. Why try your hand at unoriginal wraps and fried breakfasts, when you can just do two things sublimely?
In that vein we find the newly opened BaoBox, which is run by a mixed group of investors, who decided to make theirs a concept restaurant by creating a play space complete with 100 board games for patrons to enjoy on their own (but who would want to do that) or in large groups of friends. Or Abby MacAndrew, who opened the first Tin Roof Cafe in 2013 at The Souk in Karen and the second in Langata and decided that her beautifully decorated and environmentally conscious lunch spots, would focus exclusively on serving up speciality salads, superfoods and healthy treats. Tin Roof Cafe’s wide range of Yotam Ottolenghi-inspired salads, are packed with pulses, grilled vegetables and a wide array of beautiful and delicious fresh and nutritious ingredients.
And that’s not all, now diners can discover the experience of eating their food off a conveyor belt at the Sushi Soo Food Train at Kenrail towers, dine at one of the diverse highly-specialised food trucks at the Alchemist Yard, or enjoy a unique waffle menu at D’s place at the Hub in Karen.
We may not yet be at the stage of opening up restaurants which only sell Lobster and Burgers (or half of each), as an immensely popular restaurant in London’s Knightsbridge started doing a few years back, but who knows where this trend will take us. Omena bar, anyone?