Fairmont The Norfolk considers itself the “home of high tea” in Nairobi. The hotel has now put a Kenyan stamp on this English tradition.
The Mombasa High Tea is a journey through the sweet treats of coastal East Africa, influenced by Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines.
Zanzibar is a producer and exporter of spices, some of which flavoured the tea items we sampled.
On a recent visit to The Norfolk, we settled into the hotel’s T Lounge, a salon furnished with sofas, high-back armchairs, and a faux fireplace, which create the feeling of a stately house.
The high tea traditions started in the houses of upper class English families in the late 1700s, as a way to stave off hunger pangs in the late afternoon.
The practice eventually turned into a fashionable social event with tearooms established in hotels, and people dressing up for the occasion.
Fairmont Norfolk’s Savoy style decadent afternoon tea menu, which includes a glass of Moet & Chandon champagne, evokes the world-famous Savoy Hotel in London that has regularly served afternoon high tea since 1889.
Before long, a tiered dessert tray was brought to our table, each platter laden with delicacies both savoury and sweet.
We started off with the mini beef and vegetable samosa appetisers. Beside them were slices of potato bhajia, coated in chickpea flour, deep-fried and served with a chilli sauce.
Then came the skewered Katlesi balls, from the Swahili meat or potatoes cakes. Made from lamb, the Katlesi were juicy and tender, the skewer making them easier to eat as finger foods.
A surprising inclusion on the menu was a bowl of mbaazi, a thick stew of pigeon peas typically served as a main course. Cooked in a creamy tomato sauce and served with chapati, we ate every last bit of this tasty dish.
The high tea includes local touches such as green banana leaves lining the plates, Kisii soapstone dishes and table mats of woven banana fibre. Elegant white tea crockery echoes the décor of The Norfolk.
High tea is served daily between 2pm and 5pm, and I enjoyed the unhurriedness of the occasion and the chance of a long conversation.
You can walk in and order the tea menu, though a reservation is recommended on the weekends.
Guests also sit at the outdoor terrace of the restaurant overlooking the courtyard garden where they are serenaded by tweeting birds.
Group marketing communications manager Njeri Chege said they often get requests to serve high tea to groups in a private room.
After a short pause, we moved onto the vitamutamu — the sweet items.
I selected Kaimati balls, one of my favourite treats.
The Fairmont version has the fried dough balls coated in simsim seeds that tone down the sweetness of the syrupy coating. They were crunchy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside.
Mandazi and mahamri are commonplace pastries at restaurants and roadside tea shops. Cut into small pieces and dusted with powdered sugar, the Norfolk versions are dainty.
Kashata are the perfect way to satisfy one’s sweet tooth. These flat, white triangular pieces of coconut confectionary are eaten all along the coast from Tanzania to Somalia.
They go well with strong black coffee as they are made with sugar and grated coconut, flavoured with cardamom and cinnamon.
Speaking of coffee, Fairmont gives customers the option of ordering coffee or hot chocolate instead of tea. And the menu can be tweaked to feature just vegetarian items.
At Ksh4,000 ($40) for two people, the Mombasa High Tea also comes with endless cups of Safari Lounge tea, a Kenyan brand of black and herbal teas.
I chose a Masala tea brewed with cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves and black pepper. The toffee-coloured milky tea brought warm memories of homemade chai.