Lunch at The Talisman Restaurant, Nairobi, Kenya

In the fabulous suburb of Karen, named after Karen Blixen, is an amazing restaurant with beautiful indoor and outdoor seating and the kind of place where you would want to spend your day and simply not move. The decor is gorgeous and personally, the best spot is outdoors for Al Fresco dining. It is one of Nairobi’s top rated restaurants and it really is excellent.

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We chose to have lunch at the Talisman as we were already in the suburb of Karen visiting the Giraffe Centre that day, which, by the way, is a fabulous Giraffe sanctuary where you can feed and kiss Giraffes. Intrigued? Read more here.

It was a hot Nairobi day and so we decided to cool off with a Mojito and a Dawa whilst we decided on what we wanted to eat. Now everyone knows Mojitos are my weakness and my preferred drink. However, when in Kenya I am often torn between Mojitos and Dawas. I found the solution to this is to get Amit to order the Dawa so I can have a few cheeky sips so I can have the best of both!

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Choosing the food was hard because everything sounded good! There is a really good selection and we settled with the Feta and Coriander Samosas, which are served with chilli ginger jam for one of our starters.

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They were such crispy, perfectly cooked triangles of delight!

We also picked the Talisman nyati wings, which I had heard so much about, and which are served with blue cheese sauce and peri-peri butter. You can pick the level of heat of these ranging from mild to taliban so I decided to go for hot.

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I have to say they totally lived up to the hype and were utterly delicious! The marinade was addictive and I could have eaten a whole other plate of these! The blue cheese that was served with it was amazing.

For our mains I went for the Ginger Teriyaki Tofu with capsicum, carrots, zucchini and Jasmine Rice. This was a generous portion and I did get defeated half way through although it was really scrumptious.

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I loved the way it was presented on a wooden board and it was so full of flavour. The ingredients used were all so fascinating and fresh and I would definitely order this again or recommend this dish for mains.

Amit chose the Fish n’ Chips, which were a beer battered tilapia served with delicious fat chips, tartare sauce and talisman slaw. It was really good as well and he really enjoyed it! Fish and chips is a classic and Talisman do a fantastic version.

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The food was excellent as was the service and we found it really relaxing – almost like having lunch in someone’s garden with birds chirping in the background.  The ambience was wonderful and the cocktails were superb so even if you want a good venue for drinks Talisman is perfect for that too!

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We were so full we couldn’t manage dessert but definitely on the cards for next time we are in Nairobi! There is a good variety for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians.

If you are in Nairobi or planning to visit I highly recommend the Talisman. It is, in my opinion, one of the finest restaurants Nairobi has to offer. I would personally recommend going for lunch as it is so lovely in the day time but it is equally good for dinner too! I would combine it with sight seeing in Karen, as there is lots to see and do in the area.

The Talisman can be found at 320 Ngong Road, Karen, Nairobi, Kenya

Jumba Ruins and Monsoon restaurant – hidden gems in Mtwapa, Kenya

Jumba la Mtwana, or Jumba Ruins as it is more popularly referred to, is a hidden historical site found in the buzzing town of Mtwapa, popularly known for its Creekside restaurants and beautiful sea views.

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I am going to start this post with a confession that despite being born and raised in Mombasa, I had not made it to these ruins before. Sometimes it takes leaving a place to reflect, respect and appreciate what you had right in front of you and it is only now that I truly appreciate how rife with history Mombasa actually is and I have so much interest in putting all the puzzles together of the various centuries and the different influences it had on how Mombasa is today both culturally, architecturally and especially its impact on food, ingredients available and general lifestyle. That is what brought me to visit the site on a recent trip.

The ruins tell part of a story of a civilization during what was believed to be the 14th century, at a time when the East African coast was a significant trade hub and thriving commercially. The name Jumba la Mtwana is Kiswahili and translates as “House of the Slave”, which possibly tells another part of the tale. I did try to research more about the 14th century but struggled to find much as most documented history begins from the 15th century onwards so if anyone is a history buff and knows more please do get in touch!

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The ruins are located close to the beach and many of the buildings which you see today at the site were excavated in 1972 by James Kirkman. There appears to be several houses, mosques and a tomb within the site.

In 1982, the year I was born (telling my age now), was when it was considered to be a national monument. Rumour has it that there may still be more ruins around the site which have not yet been uncovered so in future I would like to return and see if any more is known about the residents of this town.

What is speculated is that they abandoned the site in the 15th century as they ran out of fresh water supplies. This has not been documented or confirmed anywhere so is down to pure speculation. The 15th century is also when the Portuguese arrived and they were known to notoriously burn and rob various towns during their time on the island.

What interested me were the use of arches which was prominent in the design, the materials used for the buildings which was coral rock, and the way they were spaciously spread out across the site. The site itself is gorgeous with lots of trees and flowers and the subtle sound of the ocean in the near distance and the sweet chirping of birds.

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I have to say I was slightly disappointed with the museum on site as I felt it could have given a little more information about the artefacts on display to try and paint a bigger picture and I was also shocked with how few people I spoke to in Kenya actually knew these ruins even existed. I am trying to change that though with this blog post as visiting the ruins has an extra benefit and incentive to it!

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An amazing restaurant at the end of the trail which is a real hidden gem. If you love seafood it is like finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow!

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The Monsoon restaurant is a gorgeous beach front restaurant with the most incredible fresh seafood I have tried in Mombasa. It is worth the trip to Mtwapa and not only do you get to see Jumba Ruins, you get to eat a fabulous meal with a view too!

To start with we shared salt and pepper prawns, which was on the specials menu. I then chose the Lobster Garlic Butter and Pili Pili for my mains, which was amazing, and my lunch partner went for the Old Town Fish Fillet.

The presentation of the food, the service and the flavours were all top notch and we thoroughly enjoyed the meal.

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To refresh ourselves I went for a Mojito (obviously) and my partner had a beer. The mojito was spot on and delicious and the perfect accompaniment to a superb meal.

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The hospitality of the chef Aziza and her husband was amazing and I can’t wait to go back the next time I am in Mombasa.

So if you are looking for an alternative day out in Mombasa I recommend a late morning day trip to Jumba Ruins combined with lunch at Monsoon restaurant! You will want to spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the gorgeous venue with a bottle of wine or dessert and with the sea breeze cooling you from the intense Mombasa heat – trust me!

For more information about Monsoon restaurant click here.

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Indian Tapas and Cocktails at Lokhandwala

One of the best things about work has been the dear friends I have made and one of them has been Jas. We decided to catch up over some cocktails and food and our choice of venue was newly opened Lokhandwala, by the team behind The Grub Fest, which is India’s biggest food festival.

In fact it was so new when we walked in we couldn’t help notice that “brand new” scent in the air with all the fixtures, fittings and interiors.

We wanted a cocktail before dinner so we settled at the in house bar at the rear of the restaurant called “The Hot House” which had a Victorian theme. Stunning area!

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I was really impressed by the selection of cocktails on the menu which were very inventive and unusual for an Indian restaurant. They also offer an interesting variety of vegan shots and smoothies. Want your Turmeric Latte fix? This is the place to come!

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We decided on The Herbalist for Jas, which was a blend of Tanqueray Gin, Absentheroux, Herbal Liquor, Vanilla syrup, Cucumber and Coriander, Rose Lemonade.

I went for a rum based cocktail called Great Journey, which was a blend of Rum infused with Lemon and Thyme, Liquor 43, Fresh Lime, Ginger beer, Angostura and Cola Bitters.

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We ended up sitting at the Cocktail Bar an hour longer than we were meant to as we had so much to catch up on. At no point though did the staff rush us to our table or even hint that we were an hour late for our dinner reservation. Instead we felt really relaxed and well looked after and the bartender was really lovely.

When we did move to our table and settle down, we loved the decor in the restaurant, having the time to observe it properly. It is so pretty and romantic inside Lokhandwala, with a French Boudoir/Victorian theme complete with distressed mirrors and grey furniture. I absolutely loved it and especially as it was not the type of decor you would assume to find inside an Indian restaurant.

Of course moved on to Prosecco because our catch up was very special! I loved that they served them in these coupe glasses.

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The menu is focused around Indian Tapas, which are small plates, and from this section we ordered a selection to share.

Our first choice was the Gujju Vaal Daal Chat. This is a dish made from Lentils from the Broad Bean Family mixed with black pulses and served with yoghurt and imli chutney on the side. This wasn’t my favourite of the dishes although very tasty.

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Our next choice, which was the Celery Prawns, was my favourite and to die for. These were Lava Grilled Prawns marinated with Yoghurt, Celery, Coriander, Mint and Green Chilli and served with a Ginger pickle. The flavour combination was ridiculously good.

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Our third choice was Lamb Sliders, which were oven baked Shammi Kebab sliders, topped with grilled brie and tomato, cardamom scented onion confit and coriander aioli. These were so cute and so tasty too!

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3 Tapas dishes was just the right amount for a table for 2 to start with and we were excited about our mains, which we chose from the “Imperial Jewels” section.

We opted for Chicken Chettinad, which is a classic Southern Tamil Nadu dish cooked with 18 ingredients and served with rice. It was heavenly and I loved the presentation of it in a clay pot.

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To accompany this dish we had the Blue Stilton Naan with Truffle oil which is a must order. The flavour combination is a match made in heaven and it was served hot and went down quickly!

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We always leave space for desserts and we had 2 beautifully presented desserts  between us – the baked Kheer Creme Brulee and a Salted Chilli, Choc and Nuts stuffed crispy Naan with grilled Marshmallows. These were good and I was really happy with the Creme Brulee as I am always hesitant to try versions that deviate from the classic, but this was very well adapted.

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The prices are really reasonable despite the location being in trendy Fitzrovia and the choices for both the food and cocktails are really novel, with some classics, and really good. There is enough variety to please both vegetarians and non-vegetarians and it is a really fun place to socialise and catch up. I loved the decor and the service was really friendly, nice and not intrusive at any point.

A great addition to Charlotte Street!

Lokhandwala can be found at 93 Charlotte Street, London, W1T 4PY

City Spice on Brick Lane

One of the things to tick off your London adventure list is to have a curry on Brick Lane. It was the Bangladeshi community who first brought the curry houses to Brick Lane and today there are so many choices to choose from on Brick lane, Hanbury Street and Whitechapel road.

One, called City Spice, situated on Brick Lane itself, near the Vintage Market, has been hailed the King of Brick Lane. I went for lunch one Sunday to check it out for myself.

The cuisine is classic Bangladeshi curry house dishes and they feature some of their award winning dishes on the menu too. Whilst we pondered about what to order, we nibbled on some Papad and an assortment of chutneys. The restaurant itself is lovely, spacious, recently refurbished and the staff are really attentive and friendly.

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I have a particular love for food cooked in a Tandoor and so we decided to try the Paneer Tikka. The paneer was marinated really well in a spiced yoghurt sauce and was served with onions and a fresh salad. It was delicious, smokey and melt in your mouth.

Amit loves Kebabs and so we decided to try the Kebab Cocktail, which had an assortment of chicken and lamb tikka with kebabs. It was really good and I loved the variety.

For mains, upon recommendation from the owner, Amit opted for the Sylheti Lamb Shank, which was hotter than the other choices on the menu. This dish is tender lamb shanks cooked Bengali style whereby they are slow roasted with aromatic herbs, spices and saffron. Amit loved this and he said the pieces fell of the bone wonderfully.

I went for Butter Chicken and I am pretty predictable with my orders! It was sweeter than the Indian version of the dish, cooked in a mild sauce, and I loved the buttery flavours and the chicken was cooked perfectly.

Both of us are more bread than rice fans so we went for naan breads, which were lovely, fluffy and warm.

A side of mixed raita was a welcome match for the dishes with its cooling nature and a must have for every meal.

We really enjoyed our meal and were so full we couldn’t even manage dessert! The menu is extensive and there are really good choices for both  vegetarians and non-vegetarians. They are also very flexible when it comes to dietary requirements and allergies.

If you haven’t had a curry on Brick Lane yet, City Spice is a lovely restaurant to have your first experience. For more information go to http://city-spice.london

The Leopold Cafe, Mumbai

Visiting The Leopold Cafe has been high on my list of things to do in Mumbai ever since reading Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts. The main character famously spent a lot of time sitting in the café with his associates. It has been a Bombay institution and was founded in 1871.

 

The café also made headlines for a tragic reason in the 2008 Mumbai Terror attacks, where gunmen opened fire at diners in this café. You can still see the bullet holes today and the café was resilient and re-opened after a few days following the attack. There is a security presence now which is reassuring but also sad that this is the fear we live in today.

 

Located on Colaba Causeway, one of the oldest and busiest roads in the city, it has high ceilings with fans, comfortable chairs and is spacious, making it the perfect spot to people watch and grab some food and escape from the hustle and bustle of the nearby streets.

 

I was staying close to the café during my recent trip to the ever buzzing Mumbai. I loved the atmosphere, the choices on the menu and the cheeriness of the staff. It was already busy when we arrived and we were lucky to get a table straight away as soon after we were seated there were queues, testament to its popularity.

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It was a particularly hot day when we went and so to refresh myself I went for a Cold coffee, which was delicious. The menu choices for food were overwhelming but as soon as I saw Chilli cheese toast on the menu I was sold. They arrived in quite a generous portion and they were just divine.

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Amit went for the garlic basil chicken tikka upon recommendation from the waiter and absolutely loved it.

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In terms of prices, it was so so reasonable! They even had Lobster dishes for 900 rupees which is really good.

 

If you are around the Colaba district, or have read about Leopold café in Shantaram, it is definitely a must visit. It is fun to people watch while in the café and it is a nice break from the busy streets in its vicinity. There is such a diverse range of people who come to the café and it was such a lovely experience.

 

There are so many different dishes available to choose from too, as well as a superb selection of cakes so it is perfect for a tea and dessert stop too if you don’t fancy a full on breakfast or lunch.

For more information on Leopold Cafe and Bar go here.

 

 

Jamavar London

There is a brand new Indian restaurant in Mount Street, Mayfair. Named after the vibrant 16th century  Kashmiri shawls, Jamavar is the sixth restaurant opened by Dinesh Nair, co-chairman and managing director of The Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts, and the first of the group’s venture abroad, outside India. He is running it alongside his daughter, Samyukta Nair.

The kitchen is at the helm of well loved Executive Chef Rohit Ghai, who has worked in many leading Michelin starred kitchens, including Gymkhana, Trishna and Benares.

The inspiration for the menu at Jamavr are from his travels to India. There are also a few signature Jamavar dishes, which feature in all six restaurants.

I went for Sunday lunch during the preview and as I walked in I couldn’t help be in awe of the amazing decor that adorns the restaurant. You could be mistaken for being in a modern Mumbai restaurant.

There are some fabulous art pieces, mirrors as well as the print of the signature Jamavar design across all the walls all in a spacious dining room with high ceilings. There is also a downstairs area which is equally stunning, and which houses a beautiful bar.

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To toast the restaurant’s opening, Amit went for a classic Gin and Tonic, while I went for the Tree of life, upon recommendation from the waiter. It is also one of Jamavar’s signature cocktails. Made from a blend of Sipsmith gin, suze, almond and ginger falernum,  pimento bitter, lemon juice and absinthe spray, it tastes almost like bubblegum and delicious!

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We enjoyed some Mixed papads with a variety of chutneys while we decided what to order from the menu. What I loved about the papad selection was that alongside fried and roasted papad, there was also banana crisps, which went amazingly well with the mango chutney.

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The food menu is really good – the type where you feel like ordering everything! We had to control ourselves though and to start with opted for the Malabaar Prawns, which are sauteed king prawns cooked in white turmeric, onions and curry leaves. Loved this dish and it had a slight kick to it which was fabulous.

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We also went for the Kid Goat Shami Kebab, spiced with black cardamom, served with a dollop of mint chutney and a side of chur chur paratha. I loved the presentation of this dish as well as the soft, melt in your mouth texture of the Shami Kebab. A dish I would order again!

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The Lobster Neruli is one of Jamavar’s signature dishes, and it was epic. Cooked in a southern spiced coconut milk and pearl onions, it made me nostalgic about coastal holidays. It was amazing and went so well with our selection of breads.

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Our other choice for mains is one of my favourites to order in Indian restaurants – Old Delhi Butter Chicken.  This particular dish is made with Suffolk corn-fed chicken which is char-grilled and pulled, cooked in a fresh tomato and fenugreek sauce. OMG it is amazing. Amit and I literally couldn’t stop eating it with naan bread and it was divine. I think it has become my number one butter chicken dish now!

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To eat our mains, we went for the Mixed breads and Cucumber raita (pictured below), both of which were fabulous.

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We also had mini rice dhosas which were really tasty.

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The dessert menu was just as exciting and I couldn’t decide what I wanted. I know I will be back again and so on this occasion I went for the Jalebi Caviar. It was beautifully presented in the midst of masala pista milk, rabri and saffron. It was a decadent dessert and the perfect end to a gorgeous lunch!

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To accompany it, I went for a cappuccino, made from the House blend of Medium Roasted Brazilian Monsoon Malabar and Tanzanian Coffee. Really nice coffee and the best kick start to the afternoon after that wonderful meal.

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The entire meal was faultless, delicious and dreamy. There are so many dishes I want to come back and try! The Vegetarian selection is really good too and the desserts are fantastic. Well done to Chef Rohit Ghai for creating such a wonderful menu and dining experience. It is definitely worthy of a Michelin star in the near future.

The service was impeccable and massive kudos to our waiter who was actually on his first shift at lunch service and was simply amazing!

I can’t wait to dine at Jamavar again and I can’t recommend it enough if you are looking for a new Indian restaurant to try out. You will love the venue and the food, and the excellent service! The cocktails are a must have too.

My meal was complimentary but all views and photos are my own.