Think of Tamarind Restaurant and you’ll immediately conjure up images of the finest seafood and grills that our abundant seas and land have to offer plus a heritage that has stood the test of time – over thirty years to be exact. Three decades for an establishment pretty much equates to almost a lifetime by restaurant standards and this one doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere – an let’s hope it doesn’t.
The first ever Tamarind Restaurant opened in Mombasa in 1972 at a location, which is still arguably one of the best spots on the coast. Boomed by the success in Mombasa as well as a growing market for fine dining in Nairobi (Alan Bobbes Bistro was one of the pioneers), Tamarind Group opened a sister restaurant in Nairobi’s CBD in 1977.
For those who have never been Tamarind Nairobi, finding it can be a challenge. I skirted building after building and finally (when I had almost given up) there it was tucked away inside the National Bank Building. The first thing that caught my eye was the stained glass covered archway and the window frescos, crafted by none other than Kitengela Glass founder, Nani Croze. Walk through and you are immediately transported endless miles away from the madness of the CBD.
Inside, Arabesque lanterns hang at multiple levels, which hark back to the original coastal influence of this restaurant and oddly, the entire space is tinged with an orange glow – owed in part to the stained glass window friezes and a conservative allowance for natural light which creates a relaxing daytime atmosphere.
Find yourself seated and you’ll also see that dining here is not intended to be a run of the mill experience – fine china, cutlery and glasses are arranged impeccably as is the waiter knowledgeable, friendly and experienced. Tamarind has revamped their menu, which is extensive and influenced by African and Asian cuisine. You’ll find ingredients such as kaffir lime and soy sauce dotted around the dishes. But you’ll also find time-old favourites such as the Prawns Piri-Piri and Chilli Crab.
To start, we sampled the Siamese Mushroom and Asparagus Salad, The Hibiscus Flamed Seafood, the Amaranth and Prawn Soup – all masterfully plated and delicious. The Hibiscus Flamed Seafood was divine with a wonderful smoky, sweet and salty flavour combination applied considerately to enhance and not overpower the fresh tuna and prawns. Our dining partner was admittedly not a huge fan of seafood but nevertheless devoured the Amaranth and Prawn Soup, which she claimed was, “The best soup I’ve ever had”. Tamarind continued to surprise us plate after plate including the spicy and fragrant Prawns Harissa and the rich, aromatic Vegetables Swahili, the Tree Tomato with Vanilla Ice Cream and Date pudding with Hibiscus Ice Cream.
Unlike the breed of new, contemporary seafood and grill restaurants, Tamarind has an old-worldly quality about it that speaks volumes of the quality of food, preparation skill and the abundant Kenyan warmth and hospitality that is quite hard to come by these days.
The dining scene in the CBD has changed considerably over the last decade with many embassies and multinationals having moved out, favouring leafier and less traffic-laden areas of Nairobi. In all honesty, I walked into Tamarind having few expectations and left feeling satiated with a pronouncedly protruding belly. I imagine Barack Obama, Desmond Tutu and Gillian Anderson (of X Files fame) walked out of Tamarind feeling much the same way. This restaurant has truly stood the test of time having survived the American Embassy bombings in 1998 and the aftermath and it looks like it’s here to stay. That is, at least for now – until they also find greener pastures.
For more information on Tamarind Nairobi, visit www.eatout.co.ke/tamarind