Personal space is important to me. I value the space that surrounds me as a buffer zone but also as an intimate area that can almost be considered an extension of my body.
Often, in a queue, prompted by the smell and feeling of someone’s breath tickling the nape of my neck or the sudden touch of one’s protruding belly, I find myself turning back serving a deathly stare. It’s not that I’m a precious, neurotic, overindulged, or demanding person. The idea that I might be touched by a stranger during precarious situations where I cannot escape, like in a bank queue when I’ve already invested an hour of my time or when a senior colleague pets my hair, sends me into a panic.
I have long hair, which often gets caught in the zipper when I put on a jacket and it takes a second for me to free my mane. At a recent dinner at Pango Gourmet Brasserie at The Fairview Hotel, I experienced an unexpected session of panic, which was surprisingly short-lived. As my companion and I were leaving their impressive underground wine cellar and I was helped into my jacket, our waiter freed my mane in one smooth and discerning swoop. Great service is about being obsessive about hospitality and anticipating guests’ needs. I left confused, knowing I should have felt disgusted, but somehow I found myself feeling more amused by his precision and expert anticipation than anything else.
Yet here I am again, and how could I not? Pango is a culinary destination in Nairobi that was crowned Restaurant of the Year at the 2011 Taste Bar and Restaurant Awards and winner of a Prestige Award in 2013. At Pango, when it comes to the food and service, it gets personal. The hostess fumbles through the reservation book in search of my companion’s name. I glance over at the rustic contemporary dining room of beautifully set tables and a table for two by the crackling fireplace catches my eye. Managing my expectation, I secretly hope that it’s ours. Turns out, it is! Was this another incredible act of anticipation? Did the staff notice my magnetism to it? After all, there were other tables available.
A high vaulted ceiling with exposed timber rafters and beams is the venue’s stand-out feature, complete with a room-anchoring fireplace and classic silver 5-point candelabras. Formal dining rooms can sometimes come off as stiff and uncomfortable, but at Pango, a splash of yellow on the walls and the soft glow from candles are cheer-giving anecdotes. The menu is filled with French influences mixed with a bit of Moroccan flair, a tribute to Executive Chef Mohsine Korich’s heritage, with an obsessive commitment to quality fresh produce and some of the finest ingredients that I have come across in a while. At the beginning, there is a palate-refreshing and zesty amuse-bouche. Then there is the goose liver bavarois with apple jelly, which arrives slightly chilled and quickly warms to room temperature. Its smooth texture and full taste gets better and richer with every morsel. I try the filet of smoked duck; naturally a great bird for smoking thanks to the duck’s bolder flavour and fattiness. Beautifully earthy, juicy and aromatic – the caramelised layer of skin is seared until crispy and helps keep the smoky flavour lingering in the meat, permeating every part of the duck. Less a French agenda and altogether more Moroccan, the Lamb rack wrapped with minced lamb meat resembling a Kefta Kebab, seasoned with herbs and spices, keeps the rack of lamb juicy and succulent. To finish, there is a sphere of decadent caramelised apples and what looks like a box of edible chocolate dirt disguised as a garden with dramatic settling fog thanks to the theatrics of dry ice.
At the end of this dinner of hushed brilliance, I reflect on the classic, sophisticated and alluring menu. The food at Pango is comforting and most importantly, personal. It tastes of Chef Mohsine’s unique experiences and diverse interactions with balanc- ing cultures, coupled with superb execution. With that, we slip from our table and once again I’m helped into my jacket, but this time I’ve pulled my hair up into a ponytail.