I am not much of a beer drinker and stout would definitely not be my brew of choice. However, Mercardo Mexican Bar & Kitchen has recently introduced as Sunday lunch special of all-you-can-eat grilled meats, marinated in Guinness beer. It is an uptake of the popular nyama choma and beer culture in Kenya, although I later learned that meat that is slow-grilled over an open pit is a traditional cooking style in Mexico.
We had a table at the partly open veranda with views of the Westlands suburb. It is a great spot for a smoky-flavoured lunch with live music playing. The return of warmer weather certainly made our visit that much more pleasant. Mercardo’s unlimited Sunday barbeque includes three bottles of Guinness beer for a reasonable price of Ksh2,400 ($22).
Without the beers, the grilled lunch is Ksh1,700 ($15) alongside a beverage or, in my case, was dry red wine. However, Mercado has some amazing cocktails, like Strawberry or Habanero Margaritas or the signature Zingy, a rum-based mix with green tea, ginger, peppermint and lime juice. The gold-coloured Guinness ‘Hop House 13’ lager whose lighter, refreshing taste is more palatable than the more famous dark stout cousin.
I got a chance to watch Stephanie Khafafa, a private chef specially invited for the day, prepare the meats before gilling. She is one of several chefs chosen by Kenya Breweries Ltd, the organisers of the Flavor by Fire barbeque concept of pairing food with Guinness beer while “celebrating local chefs.” But I was also curious to learn how you cook with beer.
Stephanie says the key part of the preparation is the beer marinade made from Dijon mustard, crushed garlic, paprika, salt and black pepper. This is her own recipe that is simple enough so anybody can make it at home.
She rubbed the meat thoroughly with the marinade and then added healthy dose of Guinness larger beer, made from double hops which result in a deeper flavoured brew.
“The beer gives the meat a nice sweet taste and when it is cooking, the alcohol evaporates so the meat is safe for everyone to eat,” said Stephanie.
The meat is placed in the fridge for three to 24 hours, longer being recommended for tougher cuts. For the grilled lunch, Stephanie used beef fillets which are generally tender meat cuts.
For tougher meat, a teaspoon of baking soda to the marinade helps break down the tissues. The same marinade can be used for grilled chicken as, “the baking soda gives the chicken a crunchier texture,” said Stephanie. Before grilling, the meat was basted with Mercardo’s famous chipotle sauce, of dried red chipotle peppers, to keep the meat moist while cooking.
Back at the table, the grilled meats arrived sizzling hot, cut into slices and plated onto individual wooden serving boards. Both the beef fillet and the chicken had a nice smoky taste from the grilling. They were well-flavoured because of the marinade and basting, a vast difference from the usually plain taste of nyama choma. My steak was cooked medium, but I can see how a 24-hour marinating would really infuse the flavours deeper into the meat.
Each round of grilled meats was accompanied by French Fries and assorted vegetables, along with three types of sauces, mild to very hot. Stephanie said you could also eat the grills with roast potatoes, sweet potatoes or ugali as alternative starches, and a nice salad with a beer dressing instead of cooked vegetables. The Mercado portions were modest but after a few servings of unlimited steak and chicken I was really quite full.
For dessert, I highly recommend the chilled Tres Ledges, a sweet Mexican sponge cake made with fruits and three types milk
Then finish off with a black coffee.