Nairobians are a melting pot of tastemakers…pleasing them is tough.
Caramel is still the newest restaurant and lounge in Nairobi, Kenya. That is all. Thank you for your time. On second thought, there may be a little bit more to say. Great restaurants can fade fast, especially in Nairobi where consistency of service, quality of ingredients and execution seem to rarely harmonize. But as long as you’re new, the hype will surely fill your reservation book for many weeks to come, and the restaurant will continue to be the talk of the town.
In Nairobi’s flourishing gastronomic scene though you can not afford to execute a concept halfheartedly. Nairobians are a melting pot of tastemakers, outspoken consumers and refined palates. Pleasing them is tough. They know they deserve the best and expect the city’s culinary offerings to be in par with other cosmopolitan waterholes such as New York City, London, Paris, Hong Kong, Toronto and Johannesburg. Offer anything less than great and they won’t stick around for very long.
What Nairobians want from restaurants is changing, though, along with our notions of luxury. And dare I say it, Caramel Restaurant & Lounge, excluding hotels, may finally be the first to step up to this challenge and deliver. Caramel Restaurant & Lounge isn’t gilded, but it definitely is quite polished. From the custom-fitted ceilings to the space heaters that can even warm Toronto’s winter patio season to the backlit Onyx table and sultry ambient lighting, Caramel oozes intimacy, as I learned over five excellent experiences since it opened in early September. Some of the dishes on the menu were so delicious they seemed destined to never leave the menu. One was the refreshing and light Lobster & Grilled Mango Tacos with Avocado Cream and Cilantro.
Another was a fun stack of deep-fried Mac & Cheese bars with aromatic Truffle Oil and a Three Cheese Dipping Sauce – delicate in texture but robust in flavour. There was the Chinese-inspired Chicken Lettuce Bites with Shiitake Mushrooms and Hoisin Sauce, which tasted of a delicious subtle dust of homemade five spice and was a delight to assemble with the carefully trimmed green leaves of iceberg lettuce.
The Lamb Sliders with Harissa and Crisp Cucumber are a hot item, so much so that you may just be told they’ve sold out. Finally, of course there’s also my personal favourite: Veggie Risotto with Baby Spinach, Asparagus Tips and Portobello Mushrooms; which left my Italian companion, who refuses to eat risotto in restaurants because they’re never good enough, speechless and nodding approvingly.
The strictly 25 and over establishment also has service to match. Exceptionally welcoming hostesses ensure guests feel at home. Your needs are anticipated and always met with attentive, but not suffocating awareness – quick and thorough. Fitted black satin cocktail dresses seem to be the chosen uniform – almost classy if it weren’t for the protruding frills of your waitress’s bra staring back at you when she leans down to take your drink order. There are high spirits almost every weekend in Caramel’s dining room and lounge, too, which hums with well-dressed guests and at times roars with Nairobians having a wonderful night on the town. So is Caramel destined to be one of Nairobi’s great restaurants and lounges? Only a few weeks young, it’s safe to say that only time will tell.