Susan Wong heads out to indulge in the Spanish cuisine at the chic and stylish Tapas Ceviche Bar at Westgate Mall, and in turn discovers that love does indeed exists!
Love is in the air this month and February should be a celebration of all the things we love, including food. So what does love mean to you? Trust, forgiveness, yearning, loss, second chances or perhaps Etta James’ “Sunday Kind Of Love?”
As I sipped on a half salt-rimmed Margarita, I quietly hoped that this month would be filled with many opportunities to return back to places that I used to love, such as Tapas Ceviche Bar. Their food effort is full of thought, respect for taste, heritage and common sense – just as I had remembered from my experiences when it was one of my favourite waterholes in 2013. It was common to find me asking the manager why the delicious Churros were already finished, with my head buried in a dish of tender Octopus, or sipping on a perfectly balanced, mildly peppery and citrus-hinted Margarita.
This was my first visit to the Westgate Shopping Mall since it reopened last July. People asked me if I was worried about the security to which I would answer firmly, “No.” In fact, the mall is probably the most secured shopping center in the city at the moment. Everyone has a Westgate story, and what happened profoundly affected this community. Whatever the story may be, it is these deeply personal experiences that have prevented many from rediscovering the great retail spaces and restaurants at Westgate. But it was time to come back.
Indeed, dining at Westgate’s Tapas Ceviche Bar this time was a celebratory experience in many ways. Who was I kidding? I could only stay away from good food for so long and it seems befitting that it would be my ferocious appetite that would bring me back to this foodie hub that first brought Nairobians the café concept of Artcaffe, the fusion Japanese of Onami, a burger-centric restaurant, Spanish-style tapas and more recently, the city’s first noodle bar.
The interior of the restaurant has not changed much – striking wall tiles are cast into the wood-paneled walls; and the space is still intimate, charming and lively with daily specials sketched out on the blackboard above the kitchen pass. The spacious al fresco dining area subtly receives a new look with charcoal-coloured table tops, French-style bistro chairs, and a small garden that shields diners from the road.
The kitchen serves-up resonant miniature dishes designed with an emphasis on freshness – earning Tapas a legion of devout fans. Tender octopus, sautéed mushrooms with parsley and garlic, grilled prawns with sea salt, and cauliflower with anchovy sauce all arrived in bold and colourful earthen plates. The roasted cauliflower flowerets laced with the zesty sauce was our surprising favourite with the octopus a close second thanks to its tender and flavourful execution. The sweet and familiar aromas of grilled prawns filled the air as a butterflied pair, beautifully charred on the edges, arrived to the table with sea salt and a wedge of lemon. Sporting perfect grill marks, there was the seared salmon – moist and permeated with flavour – that rested atop a black bean and avocado salsa. Bright in flavour and at times abrupt thanks to the lime juice, the salsa complimented the savoury salmon quite well. The Peruvian-style ceviche – fresh fish marinated with light citrus vinaigrette, cherry tomatoes and fresh herbs – was subtle in flavour and incredibly well-balanced without being drenched in liquid. On the starch side, of course, the Paella Classic with spring chicken, sausage, prawns and vegetables showed-off great rice that was rich with flavour, caramelized ever so slightly and still a little firm. We finished with Churros – long golden-brown logs of donuts, fresh from the deep fryer and coated in sugar. Best of all was the pair of dipping sauces – chocolate and Dulce De Leche (a combination of caramelized milk and sugar).
A few weeks ago I craved familiar experiences and returning to places that I once had loved. Tapas not only showcases the flavours of Spain, but also the spirit of a beloved neighbourhood. Love does exist, and it created Spanish-style tapas and brought them to our city, Nairobi, so that you could give Westgate a second chance.
Average Price for mains is Kshs. 1500 and for cocktails it’s Kshs 650 .