What to do on a Saturday afternoon when you’ve skipped lunch and it’s too early for dinner but you are famished? Lucca Restaurant at the Villa Rosa Kempinski in Nairobi has a delectable solution called Saturday Dunch.
Dunch is an informal meal between lunch and dinner but I found that Lucca puts on quite a spread. The buffet-style meal draws from the multicultural cuisines of the hotel.
Instead of the typical lines of chaffing dishes, the food is displayed at different stations and there was rarely a queue at any one spot.
The starter dishes were small enough that I could try several yet not look ravenous. Small bowls of Caesar salads, side plates of grilled vegetables, smoked salmon on toast and Middle Eastern dips with pita bread at the Mezzeh Table.
The Beef Carpaccio, garnished with flakes of parmesan cheese, arugula and olive oil is a simple dish with a pure meaty flavour. The prawn cocktails and lobster shooters in little glasses are a fun hors d'oeuvre spiked with a cocktail sauce.
The cold weather still with us, a bowl of hot soup is always welcome and I sampled all three options. There was a thick tomato soup seasoned with basil. The mushroom soup was a deep, rich concoction with wholesome flavours. Finally a roasted pumpkin soup, creamy and comforting.
The hot stews reminded me of home cooking. An Italian-inspired Beef Osso Bucco was cooked in a full-bodied sauce and nice mirepoix of vegetables. It paired well with the baby roasted potatoes and sukuma wiki (collard greens).
Outside, a chicken shawarma was roasting slowly on upright rotisserie. A chef expertly sliced off pieces of chicken, added peppers, onion and tomatoes to make a perfect shawarma pocket.
I was drawn to the pasta and seafood station, mesmerised by the sights, the smell and the sizzling sounds. On an iced display were various seafood choices — fresh salmon steaks, chunks of fish and calamari rings.
If you opt for a pasta you can choose creamy carbonara, pesto or marinara sauce. I chose the calamari. It was delicately grilled with herbs and a hint of fennel.
In between the courses I would take a break and take in the atmosphere. A DJ played upbeat tunes that added an energetic vibe. A mixologist was shaking and stirring cocktails to order. The restaurant was busy but not uncomfortably crowded. There were tables of families and hotel guests.
A balcony table had young women in cocktail dresses and dapperly dressed dudes. More people were dining al fresco at the outdoor terrace.
There is always room for dessert and it would have been a shame to skip the yummy selection of Chocolate Crème Brulee, Tiramisu, little pink domes of Raspberry Mousse and macaroons, a Villa Rosa specialty.
A large melon was decorated with assorted fruit skewers which you could dip into the chocolate sauce fountain.
The individual Fruit Gateaus were like puddings of cinnamon-flavoured stewed fruit under a paper-thin sponge topping. Kudos for the coffee ice cream that was wonderfully smooth and soft.
The menu may vary depending on the seasonality of ingredients, which means something different with each visit.
Saturday Dunch is served from 5-9pm so you can get the children home at a decent hour or (for grown-ups) move on to post-dinner enjoyment elsewhere. The price is Ksh4,900 ($49) children under-six eat free while those up to 12 years dine at half price.