Susan Wong’s rave review of Graze Restaurant at Sankara Nairobi can only be described as a poetic ode to good steak, equally good wine and flawless service.
Imagine a world without steak and wine. I mean it: just sit there, glance over the menu to your right and think about a world without a juicy, seasoned, aged, flavourful and well-marbled steak – a steak that has been anointed with olive oil and seared over charcoal to the colour of dark caramel, the warm fat crunching and dissolving all over your tongue. Now try thinking of a world without wine: is there anything that can rival the complexity and pleasure of a glass of the finest expressions of a soil that exudes a sense of place? Awful, isn’t it?
More to the point, think of a world in which everyone chooses to order rubbery well-done steak swimming in sauce for compensation. This is not a world I wish to live in. Recently I was brooding on all this while I plunged into the world of steaks at Graze, a New York-style steakhouse nestled on the first floor of Sankara Nairobi.
Graze is a stunning room which deserves something grand such as a steakhouse experience that rivals those in New York. From its days as a pan-Asian affair, the whole place has now been revamped. There are moody black and white photographs on the walls featuring New York City and its many iconic structures where arguably some of the best steaks in the world can be found.
Graze is a contemporary take on a traditional steakhouse: the starters and sides are less of an afterthought, and excel in both charm and char. At the entrance is a long, glass-fronted contemporary gas fireplace that comes alive once the sun goes down. Beyond the dining area, which features dark oak wood paneling, comfortable banquettes and high-back chairs, is a small terrace perfect for intimate meals. Heavy black oak tables finished with marble continue the modern, sophisticated and straightforward theme – akin to that of the menu. The chef’s table is tucked away in front of an earthy wall of mounted branches to the right of the open kitchen.
First, there was a delicate dish of Hot Smoked Salmon that arrived charred with a carefully rolled-up pickled shaving of cucumber and a fish roe topping. Paired with a glass of Journey’s End Chardonnay 2011 from South Africa, its rich and full body complemented the delicate portion of fatty fish. I watched my companion unknowingly close her eyes and sink into her chair as she enjoyed the Josper oven-fired Jumbo Prawns with lemon herb butter. Transported to gourmand heaven, only the zesty, flinty and crisp glass of 2015 Rietvellei Sauvignon Blanc kept her conscious.
Graze serves steaks the old fashioned way, dry aged for 21 days, allowing the meat to become tender through enzymic process and develop complex flavours, similar to the way that wine is produced. The stunning medium-rare 900g of Josper-fired Tomahawk – ribeye on bone – resembling a fireman’s axe, arrived to the table on a wooden tray. I stared at the charred bone and had to fight back the compulsion to gnaw on it; thankfully a rush of waiters walked past our table singing Happy Birthday, reminding me that this was neither the time nor place.
A bone-in rib eye requires nothing more than some flakes of salt, a couple of cracks of pepper, charcoal embers, hot grill (in this case, a Josper) and a glass of 2012 Sankara Dalla Cia blend from when the hotel received the ‘Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.’ To make it even more sublime though, personally I prefer a slight smear of tongue-tickling specialty house barbeque sauce—a little something to cut through all that richness and accentuate that delicious char. Looking forward to finishing the evening on a high note, I couldn’t wait to hide my face in the elegant Warm Chocolate Fondant with Macadamia Ice Cream which came paired with Pierre Jourdan Brut NV.
The steak was the resounding highlight of the evening, though the flawless service was a close second. At the end of the meal, I tried to imagine a world without steak and wine. It was simply impossible. From raw to well-done, there’s a different way to cook various cuts of meat. The fat distribution of some cuts may require more cooking, but well-done – never. That would be an absolute violation. But you know what: whether you fancy well-done or something gentler and more flavourful, it’s your call. After all, it’s your “perfect” steak, not mine.