Tamarind Nairobi has long standing status as a leading seafood restaurant in Nairobi and a recent visit confirmed it is maintaining this reputation.
Opened in 1977, Tamarind Nairobi was situated in downtown Nairobi for many years before relocating in 2014 to the Karen Blixen Coffee Garden in the suburbs.
This area was part of the original coffee estate and home of Karen Blixen, the famous Danish author of the book Out of Africa.
Only open for dinner, veranda tables offer a view to the lovely gardens. If you arrive early you can visit the nearby historic Swedo House, the original farm house built around 1906. It was a chilly night so we sat indoors near the fireplace above which hung a huge abstract painting of a face.
The interiors have an old-style elegance from cobalt blue carpeting, wood beamed ceiling, white linens and soft lights.
Live piano music serenaded us all evening and small table tents politely request you to switch off your mobile phone. This is definitely the place for a romantic meal or special occasion.
The famous dawa cocktail of vodka, lime and honey on ice, invented by the Tamarind Group, is an ideal aperitif as you browse the wide-ranging menu.
Waiting for our starters, the server brought out large a basket of warm, assorted breads including focaccia, bread sticks, garlic bread, crostino, buns and more. Bread has scientifically been proven to stimulate the appetite and these home-baked goodies certainly did that.
Tamarind dinners are a fusion of Kenyan, Asian and European dishes. We were there during the prawn specials month and the menu had items from around the world: Sicilian prawns, Thai ginger chilli prawns, Spanish prawns and simple garlic Swahili prawns sautéed with their shells still on.
Among the starters were prawns and avocado salad, prawns calypso, or a Peruvian ceviche with chunks of prawns, chives and coconut milk.
I can rarely resist calamari rings and the Tamarind ones were perfectly grilled with olive oil, lime, garlic and red pepper salad. The slices of seared tuna with salsa toping were beautifully presented. Apparently the duck moneybags in filo pastry and stir fired vegetables is well liked by patrons.
From the entrees, a couple or small group might want to share a hot seafood platter of crab legs, calamari, lobster, oysters, fish and prawns. The spicy seafood Laksa made with shrimp sauce offers a taste of Southeast Asia.
For the lobster Swahili style that we ordered, the meat was coated in a flavourful tomato sauce seasoned with coconut and coriander which was delightful.
My fish fillet was soft and flaky, smothered in a thick tomato sauce reminiscent of coastal flavours and home-cooking. No wonder Tamarind won the 2018 The World Luxury Restaurant Awards for best seafood restaurant in Africa.
I played it safe with saffron rice and spinach as accompaniments. But the menu has interesting choices like squash risotto and smoked root potato puree, sautéed garlic mushrooms and buttered broccoli.
Non-seafood lovers will not lack for choice with the prime highland beef, grilled Asian quails, lemon basil chicken and more. The double-cooked pork belly was incredibly tender with a lovely brown sauce of orange juice, spices, soy and honey.
Palak paneer and mixed vegetables in a Swahili coconut sauce are some of the vegetarian meals along with garden and green salads. A more adventurous diner might go for the goat cheese and figs, or a crunchy mixed salad of palm hearts, snow peas and green paw paw.
The plate presentations were attractive, especially the artfully garnished starters placed on long porcelain dishes. And accompanying all is this food is an extensive wine list.
After a filling main course we initially eschewed the dessert menu which has classics such as tiramisu, apple tart in puff pastry, crème brulee and fruit sorbet. But when a sweet craving surfaced, the rich truffle fudge cake with cointreau liqueur and covered with a chocolate ganache was a delectable choice. “Turn your wounds into wisdom” were the sage words written in chocolate on the plate edges.
All through the evening, the service was quick and efficient, presented by friendly staff who were very willing to recommend something from the menu. The prices at Tamarind Nairobi are on the higher side, averaging Ksh2,500 ($25), but the excellent food and service makes it well worth it.