On a quiet Monday afternoon, Susan Wong discovers her go to place when it comes to that hearty platter of meat dishes.
On the eve of Kenya’s elections, it seemed fitting to have a Kenyan meal, stripped down to the basics, at a place where the cooking doesn’t showcase dreary clichés and posturing, where the chef knows their clientele, and where you feel like you’ve found the perfect local watering hole – affordable pints and flavourful comfort food.
As with any serious bar, it’s the kind of place where you could easily misplace an entire afternoon, and where patrons automatically assume you’re taking photos of them when you walk-in with a photographer in broad daylight. And as with any serious restaurant, it’s the kind of place that you miss. You crave for that Mixed Choma Platter that arrives on a sizzling plate, which garners almost just as much attention as when someone orders a couple of bottles of alcohol with all the trimmings. The best thing about it? You don’t have to wade into Westlands and brave the Electric Avenue crowds. Jiweke Tavern is just off of Ngong Road on Kibera Road.
Jiweke Tavern is certainly not a stuck-up restaurant, club or bar. In fact, the owners did well by dispensing with the word ‘restaurant’. No need for linens or any gloss. Instead, why not draw on a little bit of history, tradition, and something humble? Seemed obvious since it was located on the grounds of an old, stone manor built in 1935. In short, you need the word ‘tavern’ to give it that vibe.
Despite Jiweke Tavern being situated in such a stately estate, the bar and restaurant have overtaken the gardens with tents, couches, pillows, tables, bar stools, water features, parking, a long bar, and a children’s playground. The original manor only houses private meeting and conference rooms, and lounges. To be frank, it looked a bit cluttered during the day, but by night the ambience is the perfect backdrop for a guaranteed fun evening on the weekends. You’ll be lucky to get a table on one of their most popular days and nights, dubbed ‘Jiweke Sundays’, which runs until late or early, depending on if you’re still on today or the day after.
There is a starter of salads, the julienned vegetables, fresh and crisp, carefully arranged in a circular wheel that had us rethinking if overpowering salad dressings should be abolished. Lightly dressed with vinegar and salt, I’ve never had a salad so stripped-down before. It was surprisingly refreshing and bare. The grilled chunks of chicken were succulent and laced with the subtle smokiness from the grill. There is a plate of Chicken Wings tossed in a mess of caramelized onions, coriander, and green bell peppers. Aromatic and most importantly, the skin of the wings had a nice sear on it, this starter had us licking our fingers and wondering would we be judged if I ordered more.
For the mains, there is whole tilapia cooked to your liking. We chose one to be served with a coconut sauce, while another, ‘steamed’, but I came to learn it was actually boiled whole with the ingredients. Technicality aside, the boiled tilapia was perfectly cooked. I could easily debone the whole fish in one swift movement, the meat of the fish was moist and firm, and the taste was clean and subtle. The runny sauce was more of a broth, and it was utterly delicious! No wonder it’s one of the owner’s favourite. The other tilapia was first deep fried and then finished in a coconut gravy. I’ll gladly go back just for the fish.
But the Tavern’s heart lies in it’s grilled meat platters! Moist goat meat, beef shish kebabs, seasoned flour-dusted chicken, and juicy sausages – all delivered on a hot sizzling plate. This was your elevated version of a typical Choma with caramelized sweet onions adding great flavour. Every time I look at my Instagram post of this platter, it makes my mouth salivate.
Service is dependent on how busy the place is. The staff at Jiweke Tavern is limited, and the kitchen is a short walk away, so don’t expect mind-blowing service. This is not the Georges Baptiste Cup where the world’s best waiter is crowned. Jiweke Tavern is a humble place with quiet ambition, including growing their outside catering arm. Think wings, stews, whole fish, chops and grilled meat served with traditional Kenyan sides. The food is straightforward and there’s nothing wrong with that; the food, is done right and sold at the right price, and is an absolute pleasure. What more can you ask for?