Local food finally makes it onto the menu at Jiko Restaurant

Tuesday April 19 2022
The revamped Jiko Restaurant

The revamped Jiko Restaurant. PHOTO | KARI MUTU


Jiko Restaurant at the Tribe Hotel in Nairobi has a new, African-inspired menu.

The hotel had closed in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and only reopened in February 2022, on Valentine’s Day, an evening that was fully booked.

During the closure, the property underwent various renovations as well as a total change to the restaurant menu. “The directors tasked us with creating a menu that reflects the name of the restaurant and culture where we are from,” said executive chef Mohammed Yakat.

Previously Jiko served mostly continental European food with a variety of Italian dishes, but hardly any local meals. It has been a number of years since I was at the Jiko Restaurant so, I was curious to see how they are delivering their new Pan-African cuisine.

In terms of the restaurant layout and décor, I immediately noticed that it looks quite different from before. Gone are the multiple pools and water features that characterised the outer seating area. They have been replaced by new stand-alone tables and booth seating, both inside and outside.

A translucent ceiling and open sides on the veranda create a pleasant out-of-doors ambience. Hanging vines, potted plants, and modern art add to the smart look of the place. Final touches are still being made to the swimming pool and rock water fountain.

Crispy tilapia at Jiko Restaurant

Crispy tilapia with accompaniments served at Jiko Restaurant. PHOTO | KARI MUTU

A shared mezze platter was our appetiser. It included vegetable crudités, dips of sweet potato hummus, tabbouleh and beetroot tzatziki, and an assortment of bread sticks, bread rolls and pita bread. There is a selection of coloured samosas on the menu, which is a popular starter for guests and a perfect example of how Jiko has innovated a widely consumed snack.

The black charcoal brisket samosa has pickled vegetables boosted with wasabi and an Ethiopian mitmita spice blend. The green smoked eggplant option has feta cheese, basil and green tomato ketchup. The red duck and beet samosa combines leeks, spring onions and jalapeno mayo.

For the main course we ordered kondoo mchuzi, which is spiced lamb in sauce and sukuma wiki, on a base of ugali made with saffron milk. The whole dish is topped with a puff pastry and baked into a pie. Chef Mohamed said he was inspired by a similar dish he grew up eating at home. This was certainly our favourite.

If you like your fish crispy fried, I recommend the crispy tilapia. It was served with a Lamu piripiri sauce, sautéed African nightshade (managu) and saffron ugali. It was a tasty combination of crunchy textures, seasoning and sauces. Accompaniments to main dishes include starches such as sweet potato chips, mashed potatoes, brown rice, mitmita corn ribs or a garden salad.

Crackling pork belly comes with fried plantains and a coconut-flavoured jus.

The Jiko's dry fry beef choma has grilled steak pieces wrapped in a puff pastry and baked into pockets, served with kachumbari.

Non-meat eaters have options like the curried vegetable tian, a French meal given an African twist with a sukuma wiki pesto and side of chapatis. The sukuma ravioli stuffed with goat cheese and mushrooms sounds delectable.

We did not have samosas for starters but chose to have them for dessert instead. The portion of three had sweet fillings of date and almonds, strawberry balsamic and, my favourite, Nutella with caramelised bananas.

As for drinks to accompany our meal, we opted for fresh juices from the ‘Sober-minded’ list of beverages. Besides the usual orange, passion, apple and beetroot, there are refreshing fruit cocktails made with berries, lemon grass, ginger and baobab powder.

I think the Jiko menu achieved the goal of presenting elevated African food suitable for a 5-star hotel. I liked their quality of cooking, unique ingredient combinations, balanced flavours and inspiration taken from different parts of the continent. I was informed that the menu will expand in the coming months so I am looking forward to my next visit.