New, classy restaurants are popping up in Nairobi every day. It has been a while since I wrote my most popular blog post ever, City Guide to Nairobi – the Green City in the Sun, read over 30 000 times since I posted it. At that time, I was back in Norway, and wrote it out of nostalgia for Nairobi. A lot has changed here since then.
The good news is that I’m back in Nairobi now, and since returning, I’ve made a dedicated effort to explore all the new places that have popped up in the past few years. As the city is booming, and there is ever more to do here, I’ll keep myself to more specific topics than a general guide to the city. Passionate as I am about good food and nice restaurants, Wining and Dining in Nairobi is an obvious topic for me to write about, so that’s what I’m dedicating this post to!
Being a fast-growing, cosmopolitan city with a booming economy, Nairobi has an infinity of nice restaurants. One could fill a book describing them all, so I am limiting myself to selection of some few, particularly recommendable ones. Many new places have popped up since the last time I lived in Nairobi (2002-2005), so there’s a lot to get excited about here!
Cedars is THE old and famous Lebanese restaurant in Nairobi. It’s been around for as long as I can remember. At least it was there when I arrived in Nairobi the first time in 2002. Once you enter this place, you notice the exquisit finishing of a high-quality restaurant. It is owned by a Norwegian who has lived in Nairobi for decades, and unlike most restaurants in Nairobi, who tend to lose their touch and become quite worn-down after a while, Cedars has kept it’s quality up. Their Mezze are delicious, and the obvious easy choice for most people who eat there. That’s a bit unfortunate, because as great as their Mezze are, there’s also a great variety of other mouthwatering, top-quality Lebanese dishes. It’s among the pricier restaurants in Nairobi, but totally worth it. Nice South African, and great Lebanese wines. They also have a small, but very popular bar, and they serve sheeshas in the tent outside.
Casablanca is one of Nairobi’s most famous night clubs! The style is North African, with lanterns, comfortable couches, huge cushions, and of course sheeshas! Although it has become a bit worn-down since their beginnings in 2005, they still maintain a style, quality and cosyness that makes it well worth the visits, despite being among the most expensive night club in the city. They also have the best cocktails by far! Their waiters could be a bit faster, though, so don’t expect to get what you order for immediately. There’s also a certain market for personal services off the menu, but the providers of those services are fortunately not as pushy as in many of the other clubs in Nairobi.
Casablanca is co-located with the almost equally famous Italian restaurant Osteria, which unfortunately doesn’t quite live up to the reputation it is trying to maintain. Despite the exquisit Italian rustique interior and romantic atmosphere, Osteria doesn’t quite live up to the expectations. They can even serve you soups made from instant-soup bags, and charge you KSh 800 (€8) for it! They have some OK main courses, but are simply not worth the price. Fortunately, there are other nice Italian restaurants nearby.
DiVino, a relatively new restaurant on Argwings Kodhek Road is among the best choices you can make in Nairobi when going for a dinner. The cuisine is international, Mediterranean-inspired. The design and the style are striking from the moment you enter. There is no doubt you are entering a high-class place! The atmosphere is relaxed and comfortable. The seafood is outright excellent, and especially their grilled fish meals. Don’t miss out on the soups for startes either!
They also have nice, thin and crispy, Italian-style pizzas, and a good wine list. Like most Nairobi restaurants, even high-end ones, they don’t give you the name of the wines, though, only the type.
The waiters here are attentive of the customers’ needs, and you get what you order for quickly. That’s something you can only say about very few restaurants in Nairobi.
Sierra is a rather new addition to Nairobi’s wining and dining world. Situated on the 2nd and 3rd floor at Yaya Centre, the downstairs is a bar, with the restaurant upstairs. The design is posh, yet simple and elegant. The menu is a bit short, with mostly quick, yet tasty meals and snacks. I particularly like their calamari, and they also have great burgers! There is a regular dining menu also, but I’m yet to try that one, so I’ll update this post once I have. They have their own micro-brewery, so the beers they serve are from their own Sierra brand.
The balcony upstairs is a very comfortable – and popular place for afternoon beers, especially on Fridays, and is definitely worth a visit!
When they started, Habesha, on Argwings Kodhek Road were a revolution for Ethiopian food in Nairobi. At that time, it was doubtlessly the best Ethiopian restaurant in Nairobi, with a beautiful, green garden restaurant and an informal, relaxed atmosphere. Of course, the food was tasty and delicious, the service was fast and the waiters friendly, and the owner was always present ensuring the place had his personal touch all the time.
Today, little is left of the Habesha that once was. The only reason why I’m even mentioning it here, is to warn people against going there! While the ambience remains, the food quality has degenerated into a tragedy, and severeal people, including myself, have fallen sick after eating at Habesha. On top of that, the waiters will almost inevitably try to rip you off by inflating the bill, and insult you if you protest!
Fortunately, those who love Ethiopian food don’t even have to go far! On Kirichwa Road, Just off Argwings Kodhek Road, is a restaurant called Smart Village. It’s actually Eritrean, which is exactly the same (just don’t say that to an Eritrean, as they tend to dislike being reminded about it!).
The main section of Smart Village is a gigantic walled tent. The smell of incense and fresh roasted coffee beans are among the first impressions that greet you when you enter.The seats and tables are elegantly cut from woodlogs, giving the the place a very natural, down-to-earth ambience.
The food is reminescent of what Habesha used to have in the good old days, and they also have the characteristic layered cocktails of fresh fruit juices that you generally associate with Ethiopian/Eritrean restaurants, but that few actually have.
On Lenana Road, just after Cedars and Osteria/Casablanca, is Misono, a decently nice Japanese restaurant with a big reputation. Their food is OK, but not excellent, and their sushis are not the best. The interior and the atmosphere compensate somewhat for that, but not enough to justify the price level, which is among the highest in Nairobi.
One of Nairobi’s most romantic, and well-kept secrets is La Salumeria. Well hidden behind the charming, old Valley Arcade on Gitanga Road, this Italian restaurant is one you are not likely to stumble across unless you know exactly what you are looking for. Not only does this place have an authenticity that none of the other Italian restaurants in Nairobi can match, it also has great food, and very skilled waiters that are fast, polite and attentive. They also know the food and wine list throughout, and can actually offer good advice, something which is quite unique for Kenyan waiters. The ultimate place for a date, guaranteed to impress whoever you are taking out!
After my all-time favorite Chinese Restaurant – For You – burnt down to the ground 3 months ago, I was desperately looking for something the could even compare. Amazingly, we incidentally stumbled across Spring Garden, on James Gichuru Road, just a few hundred meters off Gitanga Road. This place has a similar, authentic Chinese ambience, quality interior design and great Chinese food. They also have a nice garden, that could well have been better utilised for dining tables in a green setting. Nevertheless, Spring Garden immediately took the top place on my list of Chinese restaurants in Nairobi. The service is fast, the waiters are professional and friendly, yet the place has a very personal touch.
The icing of the cake is the price level. Most meals here are KSh 400-600 (€4-6), placing it in the nice-price mid-level price range, yet with high quality.
Kengele’s is a chain of mid-range, good quality restaurants in Nairobi. My favorite is the one on Lavington Mall, after the one opposite Yaya closed down. The food is African/International, with tasty snacks and big TV screens for sports events. Characteristially, all Kengele’s restaurants are lush and green, with lots of plants and ivy, giving a garden ambience. The one in Lavington even has an indoor waterfall! Waiters can be dreadfully slow, though, so don’t go to Kengele’s if you’re in a hurry!
Already a legend, Havana in Westlands is more known as a pub than as a restaurant. A popular hangout spot for young expatriates during weekend nights, this place also has som excellent Latin American food. Of course, the reputation as a nice place for drinks is well-deserved, and they certainly have nice mojitos too!
Located on top of the Westgate Mall, this is doubtlessly the best sushi place in Nairobi. It has the very posh and luxurious design and large space you can expect from a high-quality Japanese restaurant. The price level is quite high after Kenyan standards (€12-€20 for a good sushi meal), but totally worth it.
They have a wide selection of nigiri and maki, and it’s all top quality, so I would definitely recommend picking your own combination of sushi rather than going for any of the preset menus.
A big favorite of mine in Nairobi! Le Rustique, is a mediterranean restaurant in Parklands, on General Mathenge Drive. True to it’s name, the place offers a rustique, South European style setting, with a cosy garden section, friendly waiters and decently quick(!) service. The atmosphere is south european, and the food is mediaterranean, with a strong global fusion twist.
There is no regular menu, as they change it on a weekly basis, so you will always find something new. The seafood is generally excellent, and especially the fish. They have a short, but high-quality wine list, and a nice variety of fresh fruit juices (tree tomato juice being highly recommended)!
Located on the corner of Rhapta Road and Mvuli Road in Westlands, this garden restaurant is stylish, yet cosy. The food is Italian, and actually stands out quite well from “standard” Italian restaurants in Nairobi with a pretty exciting menu. Their bacon-wrapped chicken in mustard sauce is excellent, so are their veal steaks. Like most Nairobi restaurants, they only list the types, and not the names of their wines, but at least they have some selection to chose from. They also have great fresh fruit juices, especially their tangerine juice.
Tamambo is a brasserie-style restaurant at the Westlands Mall. It is part of the Tamarind Group, that has some of the best-reputed and highest-quality restaurants in Kenya.
The waiters are extremely attentive and professional, and that is a great plus. The food, despite being quite innovative, and sounding mouthwatering from the menu, is not all that great though. The food experience really doesn’t justify the price level, and it’s sad, because the atmosphere and the service is great! This is also one of the very few places in Kenya with a proper wine list, where they give you not only a wide variety of wines, and the names and not just the types and regions. The wine list even features descriptions of each wine, so it’s really a connoisseur’s place. Too bad about the food, though!
Well worth an excursion out of town is Talisman, in Karen. My boss was the first one to recommend this place to me, and it was so totally worth it!
This restaurant has some of the same ambience as Le Rustique, only more of it, and many times bigger! It has a huge garden, and, as Karen is 30 minute trip from Nairobi (that is, with absolutely no jam!), the air is so clean you can’t fail to notice if you’re used to Nairobi.
The menu is an exciting international fusion, and all their food is quite experimental, but delicious. Perfect place for a lunch out of town during a weekend. A lot of other people tend to have the same idea, though, so it may sometimes be hard to get a table.