Saturday, 10 July 2010

"Dr Cat is disillusioned with / a new cloud arriving"

Indian Chef
For work reasons, I used to live in Hemel Hempstead. For those unfamiliar with 'Hemel', it is one of those joyless over planned Home Counties bumhole towns. The natives - Hemeloids - like to spend their time shrieking at each other, fighting outside pubs, and eating at Indian Restaurants. Hemel has more Indian restaurants than trees, and they seem to multiply faster than rabbits. Some are good, mostly they're bad.

Kigali isn't a joyless over planned bumhole town. The planners haven't quite finished yet. However, it still has more than its fair share of Indian restaurants. According to one Ugandan Asian of my acquaintance this is because East African Asians are better at doing business than they are at making pizzas. From what I've tried at Kigali's various Indian restaurants, they're better at doing business than they are at cooking curries too.

Indian Chef has a pleasant enough setting behind the Diplomat hotel, snuggled in the valley behind the parliament. The Surfer and I sit outdoors and are immediately surrounded by a circle of hovering obsequiousness. This is increasingly common in Kigali restaurants as owners and managers overcompensate in an effort to overcome Kigali's reputation for crap service. The result is that diners feel pressured into ordering quickly, ruining the relaxed flow of a good restaurant meal.

Like other Indian Restaurants in Kigali the menu here is too long, and includes some unlikely dishes which you just know the chef can't manage. Chinese dishes creep in at the edges, and cock-a-leekie soup even makes an appearance.

Sweet Jesus. Cock-a-leekie soup? At which stage in the writing of the menu did the chef sneak this one in?

Poppadums and so on are fairly run of the mill, and for some reason we're plied with salt and vinegar crisps. The Surfer orders a vegetable curry and asks for a little additional heat. I write 'vegetable curry' as the finished result is so generic that it is hard to remember what the original order was. The 'additional heat' comes in the form of raw green chillies stirred into the cooked curry at the end. They impart little of their heat to the sauce, but deliver eye-watering explosive surprises.

My chicken biriyani looks promising, but is spoilt by a slightly rancid flavour (bad ghee or cooking oil?) permeating the dish. The accompanying yoghurts and pickles are OK, but do little to hide the problem.

Oddly enough, the side dishes that The Surfer and I share are top notch. Garlic nan is light and fresh out of the oven, and cumin rice is well cooked and perfectly seasoned and spiced - we even decide to box up the remains for dinner the next day. I order a kulcha, but am eventually served something else entirely. This doesn't prove to be a problem, as the something else entirely is a feather light flatbread, slightly moist and flaky, tasting somewhere between a roti and a chapathi. The staff insist it is a kulcha, even though it is nothing of the sort.

Staff are friendly and attentive. Our young waiter engages us in a bit of chat about our time in Rwanda. Asked if we've learned any Kinyarwanda words, The Surfer leans over and whispers "Amabere" in his ear, and we watch him go spinning and giggling in embarrassment across the restaurant.

The owners hover a bit at the end, chatting about football and food. They keep shaking my hand and fishing for opinions, and it dawns on me that I've been rumbled. This happens occasionally, and is always a bit awkward. They hand me a suggestions book, which I sign as The Jiffler.

Diplomat Hotel Website

Sunday, 2 May 2010

He's the one who likes all our pretty songs

The Don leans over and expels smoke from the side of his mouth.

"This is no place for men like us to talk. I know somewhere we can go and have rotating chicken".

A taxi ride away in Kimironko, we draw up outside the Bloom Hotel. The restaurant has a tin roof that rattles loudly under the rain. We won't be overheard. The Bloom Hotel does a 6,000 RwF rodizio menu at the weekends. Good Idea.

With Waragi procured, the Don grunts at the waiter "Bring me that Kenyan". The Kenyan arrives and we negotiate ugali and sukuma wiki on the side to keep The Philosopher happy.

"This is Brazilian Nyama Choma" I explain to general indifference.

It's not bad to be fair. The place is scruffy and simple enough to resemble a proper churrascaria and the grill is a fairly authentic looking piece of kit. There are no feijao or farofa though, and the choice of meat is limited to goat, chicken and cubes of lovely salty beef. We finish with huge chunks of grilled pineapple covered in cinnamon and lean back in our chairs to pick our teeth.

"I think I'd like it in Brazil" muses the philosopher.

Bloom Hotel Website

Yeah, there's a great truth you should know

Select is a proper restaurant. It is a cocktails in the bar, lashings of red wine, three courses, cigars and brandy restaurant. It is also, for Kigali, a bit on the pricey side (read: London mid-range pricing). If anything this improves the place somewhat, as it keeps out the young-gifted-&-white riff-raff who think it's acceptable to go out to dinner wearing flip-flops and a t-shirt with writing on. Instead you'll find senior civil servants, perhaps a politician or two, sharp-suited business men, and clean-shirted expats who don't wear baseball caps at the table.

There is a nice view of the city, as is compulsory these days, and the whole place is comfortably elegant. You know you're in a serious restaurant, but there is none of the stiff formality.

Most of the food is sourced locally, but a fair bit is air-freighted from Europe or the Swahili coast. I know this is naughty, but look at the menu: monster prawns, scallops, sea bass, Dover sole... and if you want to be really naughty you can order melt in the mouth foie gras.

Most dishes on the menu are European classics. Goat cheese tart is far better than it should be, and beef carpaccio is precise but perhaps a little too delicate on flavour. Did I mention the foie gras? Mains are pretty robust - how about a fatty, juicy heft of pork shoulder that is practically hanging of the plate (according to the owner, this is rapidly becoming Select's signature dish)? Coq au vin is traditional and without a trace of poulet bicyclette, and prawns comes as big as your hand. Oh yeah - the chips are good too.

The staff are charming and efficient. There's no need to double fist your Mutzigs here as the service is prompt and attentive without being pushy or lurking. The owner, Michel, has run restaurants around the world and welcomes you self-deprecatingly, while the head chef acts as his foil, making sure no lady's hand goes unkissed. A tour of the impressive kitchen reveals a relaxed and smiling team who believe in what they are doing.

Book a table. Go. Wear your best shoes.

Select Website

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

'Cause, this is where the one who knows / Meets the one who does not care

Located behind the Union Trade Centre, Blues Cafe is a knock off of Bourbon Cafe only with a much lower population density of 21 year old white girls.

Oh yeah - that reminds me - have a look at this if you fancy a giggle.

Blues Cafe seems like a good spot to grab something quick on a Sunday afternoon. The menu is again familiar from Bourbon Cafe, with addition of a few burgers, and one of my favourite guilty pleasures - the Rolex (an omelette rolled up inside a chapathi. It was the clandestine consumption of these during extensive fieldwork in Kenya in the late 90's that kept me from strangling several of my colleagues and throwing them into the latrine. Anyhow, we'll leave that for the memoirs).

Eschewing the Rolex I opt for a Tramezzini, more to annoy myself than anything because:
a/ Tramezzini is the plural. How annoying. Not as annoying as 'Expresso', but getting there
b/ Tramezzino basically means 'sandwich' in Italian. It's a club sandwich for god's sake. Sure enough a pizza is a pizza and pasta is pasta, but a sandwich is a sandwich in English. You wouldn't order fagioli su pane tostato oustide of Italy. Actually you wouldn't order it inside Italy either. Can you imagine the mess they'd make of it there? There would be all manner of garlic and parmesan nonsense.

My companion, The Philosopher orders a chicken burger. We order large glasses of slightly sweetened fresh fruit cocktail, and settle in for a discussion of Kenyan constitutional reform. Settle in for an hour and fifteen minutes before we see our food. Add to this another 5 minutes for knives and forks to arrive, the request for which proves difficult to understand, despite being made clearly and slowly in six different languages (not Italian though maybe that's the problem).

So the tramezzino is alright. Chicken pieces are slightly curried and covered in a sort of pink approximation of marie-rose sauce (Yeah, me neither). There are bits of avocado. I like avocado.

What is the plural of avocado? Avocadi or avocados? Answers on the back of a voting slip please.

The philosopher seems more puzzled by his burger. It's foundation is a not insubstantial breast of poulet-bicyclette, but it is the fried egg sitting atop that is causing consternation.

"I'm not sure I should be eating chicken and egg at the same time" remarks the philosopher, frowning.

I see where he's going with this and ask: "Would you eat beef and milk at the same time?".

"No. That would be ridiculous".


"I mean, you have to leave a little bit of something don't you? Something for the chicken".

Like I say. The Philosopher.

Blues Cafe
Behind the Union Trade Centre
Tel: 078832366

Monday, 8 March 2010

So spill your breakfast and drip your wine, just wear that dress when you dine.

Despite once drunkenly claiming it to be 'the best restaurant in Kigali', I don't go to New Cactus often enough. I think this is mainly because I can never find it in the dark.

The view here rivals the best of Kigali views, so it is a shame that it is hidden from most of the tables. A quick natter with Christophe - a charming waiter/front of house - secures us a decent view on the lawn, and boozy refreshments are delivered swiftly.

Shared Triangles of deep fried pastry-wrapped goats cheese and bacon dipped in honey are something of a taste sensation here, and disappear quickly. Massive avocado halves are let down slightly by a too heavy hand with the vinaigrette. Mushrooms on toast are from a tin, so avoid these.

Veal Cordon Bleu comes fist-sized (that's big - my hands are somewhat agricultural) and swimming in a rich cheese sauce which invites the dipping of perfect chips. Veg is that usual peculiar melange of frozen peas&brocolli&carrot a la Chez Lando.

After an initial confusion of orders, a steak arrives at our table shrunken and practically burnt rather than rare as requested. The Atilla the Hun of Restaurant feedback sends it back, and sure enough a properly cooked version swiftly appears along with an offer of extra chips.

So a screw-up then, but one quickly rectified and accompanied by all sorts of apologetic genuflection. How often do you find that in a Kigali restaurant? Complaints are usually met with an indifferent Sarkozy-esque shrug and a partial admission of responsibility...

New Cactus
Kayuku Street, Kiyovu I think...
Tel: +250252572572

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Ooh, baby, do you know what that's worth?

Tripadvisor still rates Heaven Restaurant as the number one in Rwanda, a statistic which Heaven proudly quotes on their website. Perhaps the casual diner would prefer to hear the views of the general public on Tripadvisor than what a smartarse with a blogspot account thinks, but just remember this: the general public like eating at McDonalds.

Do check out the Heaven website though - my partially exposed bumcrack still appears peeping slyly at you in a photograph on the Heaven homepage. What a glorious legacy.

Pleasingly, the menu has changed since my last visit, but my concentration span is low so I order the default burger which impressed me so much on my very first visit. I also got to taste a Turbo King beer, a dark beer with a Trappist vibe going on. At about 8% though, overconsumption might lead to errors of judgement.

An amuse bouche is normally the chef's excuse to show off a bit, but here we are presented with the same baby poo on chapathi chips as they were knocking out two years ago. Yawn. They still haven't listened about the Guacamole either. A squeeze of lime juice, an extra pinch of salt, and maybe a spot of chilli is all it takes folks.

The burger seems to have declined. Despite ordering medium, it comes well done, very dry, and about the size of a bottle top. The bun is also dry and slightly burnt, while the triangle of cheese is barely visible. Chez Lando do a better burger. Yes: Chez Lando. Chips (fries) are good though. Very crisp and more-ish.

Making fish and chips - proper British fresh-from-the-chippy fish and chips - is both a delicate science and a fine art. Either do it properly or don't do it at all. Likewise ravioli: it looks all handmade and nice, but why force it to swim in a big red puddle like some sort of bizarre alien crime scene?

So, top marks for chips (fries) and very good service. Top marks for that view as well. I had a quick poke around in the kitchen too, which seemed very clean, until I was politely ejected. I can't quite put my finger on why Heaven always strikes me as a bit weird though. It's a bit like going on the London Eye. You can enjoy the view, especially at night, but it's expensive, and you're in a bubble isolated from the people in the city down below, surrounded by overweight tourists.

Number 1? Nope, maybe top five on a good day.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

It's okay, even better this way. That's what they'll tell you. That's what they'll say

Just down the Hill from Mille Collines - in what I think used to be the American club - the Royal Garden is knocking out a mix of Chinese and Indian food, and minestrone soup.

The main thrust of the menu is the sort of vaguely Indian cuisine served at Khazana, although with the addition a whole page of ever reliable egg curries on the menu.

A few years back there used to be an Indian Restaurant in Kigali called the Minar, and I wonder if the chef at Royal Garden used to work there. Like the Minar, Royal Garden's curries are quite rich and creamy, and very heavy on the ghee. Fresh herbs are in evidence, but these fail to make much an impression against the heavy sauces.

Tandoori roti's are OK, a little over-cooked around the edges, and rices fine. Our paneer sizzler is delayed, and arrives only after one of our table ("the Atilla the Hun of restaurant feedback") wrestles a waiter to the ground and sets about him with a tightly rolled chapathi. What arrives is kind of weird, and involves cabbage, chicken, and cheese.

But lo - the manager takes it off the bill, and demands feedback. OK then, here is my feedback:
Lighten up the food and tighten up the service. Skim off some of that ghee and have more faith in your spices and fresh herbs. Keep the breads moving quick in the tandoori - they need to come straight to the table before they start cooling and going hard. Tighten up on service - it is very friendly and polite but the wait on the sizzler dish was a bit silly.
And take the tinned soups off the menu.

It is Valentine's night, and the place is packed with people wearing red. Our table are the only wazungu present, so it is sort of the inverse of Khazana in that respect. I reckon that could be a very good thing indeed. Once the restaurant settles in a bit, I'd say the food might easily match up to Khazana (and no Khazana-style "morning after" problems were reported). So Royal Garden: good luck.

Royal Garden
Kiyovu, Opposite the Bank National of Rwanda
Tel:0788 500073

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

I go, I come back.

I'm back. My usual table please.

Despite an absence of 18 months or so, the staff at Chez Lando greet me like an old friend. Some things have changed for the better - there are more hotel rooms and fewer tarts in the bar than previously - and some things have taken a turn for the worse. The best bar in Kigali, Jiffling HQ, is now a building site, and we're forced to take our Mutzigs around the corner were the old nightclub used to be. At least you can get a croque-monsieur now (well, a loose interpretation of one). All my lobbying finally paid off.

I see Ndoli's still sells Domaine Bergon for 8000 RwF, and that the hot snacks still make you ill. Sole Luna seems bigger, or maybe I just got smaller, and the young digital nomads still play the game of eyes with each other from behind their laptops at the Bourbon Cafe. Is it me, or is Bourbon Cafe getting a little scruffy?

Anyhow, recommendations please folks. Don't be shy.