We were looking for a restaurant that can comfortably seat a large group and has a play area for children, which is how we ended up at Marula Mercantile in Nairobi’s upmarket Karen neighbourhood.
It has a relaxed, outdoor ambience and unusual décor with sunlight filtering through the see-through roof onto the rustic wooden tables on a wooden deck, with more seating in the garden. There are quirky wall hangings such as old-style children’s bicycles and strings of festive season lights.
The menu is simple but imaginative with some influence from American cuisine and changes every week. One of the restaurant’s founders worked as a chef in New York city.
My friends and I started off by sharing several small plates, priced from Ksh600-Ksh800 ($6-8). The butternut squash fritters were generous in size and well paired with tamarind yoghurt.
The bacon-wrapped dates filled with ricotta are a tasty blend of sweet and salty. I generally like squid and was not disappointed by the crispy squid with lemon juice. The sesame fried feta is a unique appetiser and absolutely delicious.
For lighter appetisers there are various salads with the option of adding chicken and the choice of a small or large portion ($7-$10.) The superfood salad with brown rice, pearl barley, beetroot, avocado and ricotta cheese sounds healthy and filling.
For the main course, I chose cajun blackened chicken breast that comes with brown rice, peas, and harissa yoghurt flavoured with harissa chilli. I enjoyed it.
The garden pea falafel with smoky eggplant spread, roasted carrots and toasted crostini features as both a starter and main course. In true American style, the Mercantile beef burger is served as a regular portion or double portion with caramelised onion, cheese, bacon and secret sauce.
The main courses are priced between $11 and $16, and one can order an extra portion of salad, french fries, vegetables, chilli beans and polenta chips made from cornmeal.
For desert Marula Mercantile has selection of cakes, cookies and pies available all day. Alternatively, there is a chalkboard listing the daily specials and desserts.
Considering how busy the restaurant was, I found the service quite quick. While waiting for the next course, I watched the cooks working in the kitchen and browsed in the adjacent gift shop. The children, on the other hand, preferred to play in the garden.
The open-air atmosphere of Marula Mercantile lends itself to long, casual meals over wine and Mercantile cocktails, or an afternoon out with the children.
On another visit at night, I found the long bar was filled with people and the music quite loud which created a pub-like ambience.