Susan Wong heads to Carnivore, the established meat-lovers restaurant in Langata. Here, she indulges in juicy burgers and their famous Dawa cocktail ahead of Nairobi Burger Festival.
Carnivore is a shrine to perfectly cooked meat. Located only 4kms from Nairobi’s city center, since 1980 this popular eatery has established itself as a casual lunch spot by day that really comes to life after dark. As you pass the massive, manly, unapologetically smoky and round charcoal roast pit, smoke will imminently get soaked up by your clothes, hair and even into your eyes; but it’s the sumptuous rendered meat – ostrich, beef, lamb, chicken, camel, crocodile and pork – that will make you weep.
This dinner was not about the famous Carnivore eating experience where every type of meat imaginable is slowly roasted over charcoal and carved table-side. Nor was this about another popular figure that frequented the African-inspired interiors of this Nairobi attraction: Dr. Dawa.
With his portable bar strapped hanging from his neck, Dr. Dawa is always ready to charm you with the house invention: the Dawa. This famous classic Kenyan cocktail is always garnished with a bamboo “Dawa stick” that allows you to pound the concoction of fresh limes, honey, sugar, ice and vodka in your glass as you drink.
“A Dawa, ladies?”
We knew this beloved boozy beverage would be perfect to cut through greasy meat, and elevate what was to come: our burgers.
If the burgers at Carnivore were men, they would be men of substance. Simple but efficient. They would have the basics down, know how to tie a tie and only wear well-fitted clothes that were that accentuated the body in its natural stance. The men would appreciate a subtle pop of colour, a small detail that sets them apart without being obnoxious. Renaissance Men in the classic sense.
Our collection of four burgers all featured the same beef option. If you’re looking for a chunky texture with fat packed away loosely in a coarse grounded patty, this is not it. The finer ground is not particularly my favourite as it tends to crumble when cooked beyond medium. Also, it just feels a little like baby food in the mouth to me. There is no distinct texture when chewing. That being said, the burgers had a lovely taste of umami, beefiness and savouriness.
The signature Tamburger is a quarter kilo of pure beef burger topped with some ripe tomatoes and fresh, crisp leaves of lettuce, there to give the impression that this might be a well-balanced meal. Throw in some melted cheese and it morphs into the real cheeseburger classic dubbed the Cheezy Dribbler.
The grilled patties of beef only hold together for half the eating time, but that’s okay. By that point, you’ve already scanned the restaurant to see if anyone was looking at the beef juices dribbling down your forearms, or even your shirt. Chances are, as was in my case, you’ll end-up holding the gaze of another stranger, sheepishly surveying the crowd as they swiftly attempt to wipe off all the juices from their hands. In solidarity, both of you continue to dig into those grilled brioche buns and ponder on why they’re called “Dribblers.”
As well as the two classic beef options, there are two others that feature strips of bacon. The O.B.C. Dribbler is basically a Tamburger topped with onions, bacon and chillies. Finally, the classic Fully Loaded Tamburger is liken to a male fashion blogger who wears all of the trends at one time – somehow the busyness fashionably works. In this case, caramelised onions, sautéed mixed bell peppers, gherkins, sautéed mushrooms, grilled strips of bacon, chili and melted cheese, all come together in a very sloppy, delicious and over-achieving way.
The Onion Rings deserve a special mention. Encased in the crispiest batter I’ve had the pleasure of biting into for a long time, these golden brown rings of red onions will surely get you planning your next visit to Carnivore. This may be only an optional extra or side dish, but these thick-cut onion rings deserve the love that they rarely receive. The sweeter the onions, the better!
The humble sandwich, known simply as “Burger,” has developed into various bistro iterations over the years. From collaborating with butchers for a unique beef chuck, to haute toppings such as truffles and foie gras, the global burger game has really been elevated. But for me, I always enjoy the simple classics the most. Nothing too fussy, and nothing too forced. And that’s what you get at Carnivore. Mostly at this proudly Kenyan institution, there is the sense of a committed business trying to make a difference to the city by doing the seemingly simple things, such as a burger, as well as it can be done.