Friday, 26 October 2012

Yo lo que quiero es un burrito / Un burrito que me lleve

Meze Fresh
I asked a Rwandan pal about Meze Fresh:

"Have you heard of Meze Fresh?"

"Who is Mzee Fresh?"


"He's married to Mama Fresh and they live in Nyamirambo."


If you're a mzungu though, you know all about Meze Fresh. 

Just reading the words "gourmet burrito bar" makes me want to remove my own teeth. That dump I did this morning? That, my friends, was a gourmet dump.

Seriously, there is nothing gourmet to see here, so stop dicking around you bloody hipsters.

As burritos go, they ain't too bad. Rwanda has all the main ingredients in abundance, so there really isn't any excuse for a shoddy product. But remember: it's just a burrito.

Meze Fresh is decorated a bit like a sixth-form common room; though it is not clear whether this is deliberate. They serve leffe, and cocktails, which is good. But do I really want to drink leffe and cocktails surrounded by crowds of scruffy, braying American youthshites?

No.

And therein lies the problem; once something new and shiny opens up - maybe a gourmet hotdog stand by the US Embassy - then Meze Fresh will soon start to look a bit old and the aforementioned youth will swarm around the shiny new thing. Perhaps if Meze Fresh can pull in a few high-rolling Rwandans they can keep going.

The owner of this place either has investors with money to burn or a massive swinging pair of balls and a bag full of cash and passports under the bed. Either Meze Fresh is going to continue to be a massive hit with the lunchtime white mischief crowd, or it's going to fizzle out. I hope it's a success - it's good to have some variety in this town after all. 

But remember: it's just a burrito.

Visit the Meze Fresh Facebook page here.

Monday, 22 October 2012

But you know he'll always keep movin' / You know he's never gonna stop movin'

Sakae, Nyarutarama

There is a moment, somewhere at the beginning of a relationship, when you're both too scared to say it. The tension is electric - fizzing, popping and sparkling. Yet you're both too afraid to utter those three little words for fear that all might be lost, that the universe might suddenly become wrought and you'll be left vulnerable and alone. Empty. Three little words. You can't just throw them around. They are the ultimate human connection, the final expression of intimacy. We wouldn't even be here without them.

***

Teppanyiki is made for Kigali. All those awkward meals with colleagues are made that little bit more managable by a bit of theatre. The chef is going to set fire to some shit at the end of the day, which should help to fill those dusty conversation gaps.

Despite the Japanese pretensions, Sakae is actually a Korean word which roughly translates as "Brightly lit shed".
***
Ping

Squeezy holds up her phone to show me the sms message. Three little words: I lov u

"Who's that from?" I ask, wondering what Squeezy has been up to for the last couple of weeks.

"A taxi driver I used when I was out shopping yesterday".

"You must have made quite an impression."

"Clearly. I've had 14 missed calls from this idiot. Would you mind ringing him and telling him to back off. I don't like the fact that he knows where I live"

I use Squeezy's phone to ring up Taximan. I make up a story that I am Mr Squeezy and that I am a big man with a big dog and he should stop phoning and be respectful to ladies and fear god.

***

The best thing about Sakae are the tempura vegetables. Be they carrot or potato variety, they always look like somebody has cut off an old man's ear and deep-fried it. Is it just me who likes this kind of thing?

Sushi on the other hand, is of the sort you only ever buy in a plastic box at a railway station cafe when the only other thing they have left are shop-soiled egg and cress sandwiches. Let's not even go there. Some people might tell you that the sushi is good here. Those people are talking nonsense.

Various tasty morsels come thick and fast off the teppan with a friendly Kenyan chef (they're all imported from Kenya, and live in the house opposite) doing the performance grilling. It's all a bit like watching a busker doing Jerry Rafferty's Baker Street. The grilling is all well and good, but you're just waiting for the big sax riff to kick-in when the food finally lands on your plate. 

It's a bit of an expensive do, but what comes off the grill is good quality. Tofu Okonomiyaki works well (even for a confirmed tofu-hater like me), the beef is good enough to eat rare, and it's always a pleasure to be able to horrify Rwandan friends by eating squid.

"I can't eat those things" says The Don "they look like sea monsters"

"They are sea monsters"

"Exactly. You foreigners are funny people.." he shakes his head "Eating sea monsters..."

***
Ping.

Squeezy's phone.

 ***

Sakae, Nyarutarama. On the road to the MTN centre, follow the signpost on the right hand side.


Thursday, 18 October 2012

I'm on tonight / You know my hips don't lie

Bamboo Bar and Restaurant, 5th Floor, T2000 building (next to Kigali City Tower)

When I first arrived in Rwanda, Brussels Airlines (then SN Brussels) lost my bags for nearly a fortnight. My visits to their offices served as a daily insult as their indifference to my plight, and to their own incompetent role in events, grew colder. Eventually I needed of a change of underwear so I ventured to the T2000 supermarket to stock up on some fresh y-fronts.

Figuring that the average Chinese gentleman might be somewhat more slightly proportioned than I in terms of arse-o-metric volume, I picked out two packets of five XXL undies with a photograph of a muscular looking chap on the front. Alas, even XXL proved to be tight around my somewhat thuggish physique and the only effective way of removing said smalls without risk to the balls was to bend over, reach between my legs, take a good grip of the rear part of the waistband and tear the polyester bastards off like a hairy unrehearsed Chippendale. The static charge generated by this act was enough to knock an owl out of a tree, but I managed to perfect the technique after a few days and it became an exciting part of my evening routine.

Since then T2000 has moved premises and expanded upwards. Bamboo restaurant is on the 5th floor. You have to go up in a lift. Imagine that.
***

I arrive early and double-fist my mutzig while admiring the view. For some daft reason I'm dressed in a three-piece bespoke suit. The Director arrives, similarly smartly turned out, having attended a fancy function across town.

"Is there anywhere in this town worth dressing up for?"

Vegetable spring rolls are crispy, with plenty of filling. The chicken spring rolls are packed with shredded dark meat with none of the usual nobbly bits that stick in your teeth. Good.

"They remind me of the spring rolls I used to buy after a night on the turps from the late night chinese restaurant in Bangor circa 1995. A tray of chips and curry sauce for 60 pence. Urinating against the back wall of the cathedral. Good times."

Beef with oyster sauce is like swimming through a murky grey pond of mono-sodium glutamate, while tropical pork (very authentic) has delightfully fatty boulders of crunchy pork and a lighter touch with the saucing. Ginger rice pairs well flavour-wise, but has a strange almost risotto-like consistency. All the dishes are brought to the table in cold serving dishes, which combined with the cool breeze in the restaurant means it's all a bit chilly after a few minutes.

We reckon the bar at the Top Tower might be the sort of place where the smartly-dressed might go for a whisky digestif, but change our minds when we hear live music drifting out of fantastically named 'Fantastic Restaurant'. A band is belting out loud Rwandan classics to a seated crowd of coldly indifferent men. Everyone is focused on the main event: Champions League Football showing on a small TV screen in the corner.

"There's nowhere worth dressing up for in this town. That shouldn't stop us though."

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Short Calls

Busy busy busy. Some bite size reviews:

Alpha Palace, Remera
I had dinner at the Alpha Palace Hotel with a delegation of visiting Ethiopians for which I am still apologising. A buffet of carbs, carbs and carbs topped with pieces of blackened goat eyebrows, flaccid shitefish and petrified chicken noses. The fancy napery and fish knives laid out on the table added a final touch of unintentional sarcasm.

Still, it's a great place for dancing at the weekend, and they sometimes have wonderfully shambolic bands playing Great Lakes classics rather than the usual ersatz covers of UB40.

-----------------------

The Manor, Nyarutarama
Shortly after this place opened I was singing its praises. The hotel was all new and shiny and promising, with professional management on the floor, a decent chef in the kitchen, and pretty good service all round. I even went as far as to write about it in the Brussels Airways in-flight magazine. Yeah - like some sort of filthy sellout corporate whoremonster.

I spoke too soon though. In a little over two years this place is now completely shagged out and increasingly resembles one of Saddam Hussein's old palaces. The Indian restaurant upstairs under the enormous skanky tent does a decent vindaloo, but the other restaurants are an omnishambles. At least I get to use one of my favourite words to describe the service: "headlessness".

------------------------

Buffalo Bar, Kisimenti, Remera
Shriveled up pieces of goat on a stick. That is all.

------------------------

Hellenique, Kimihurura
Why is this place so consistently empty? The food is great, there is a view, there are proper knives and forks, and it's not far from the Kimi nightlife. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?

------------------------

La Classe, Kiyovu
No crime in Kigali? Then you haven't had your wallet nicked at La Classe. I was once thrown out of here for singing the chorus to "Horse with no name" over and over and over and over. The brochettes are pretty good though.

------------------------

Kabana Club, Kacyiru (behind the petrol station next to Umubano)
My hiding place. It smells vaguely of drains and cigarette smoke, but don't let that put you off. Pizzas are so-so, but the garlic and chilli oil is top end. Simultaneously well heeled and rough and ready, like a thug wearing expensive trousers.

------------------------

Normal Jiffling service will resume shortly.


Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon

A shade before seven in the morning you'll find me trotting through Remera, shoes combed, hair polished, bracing myself for another ten hours of toil. Most days I'm the only muzungu around, weaving through the crowds waiting for the bus, smiling at familiar faces, and saluting the guards as they arrive for the shift changeover at the Lando.

It's the Tuesday morning walk to work I enjoy the most. On Tuesdays there is often another unfamiliar foreign face in the crowd. A young muzungu, sometimes male, sometimes female, dressed in last night's sparkly top/best jeans, blinking owlishly in the early morning sun. The girls are often accompanied by a retinue of curious schoolchildren. The Tuesday morning walk of shame.

Monday night is quiz night at the SoleLuna Italian restaurant. It's a peculiar sight. Look across the restaurant at 8pm and you'll witness a sea of bobbing pink faces, grinning nervously and wondering where their pizzas have got to. It's the place for the new arrival to meet new people, for the certified muzungus to pick-up a new arrival, and for the veterans to avoid like the plague. Occasionally you'll spot one or two bewildered Rwandans in the crowd, unable to assist their teammates with questions about baseball/basketball/NFL/facts about American presidents. They have to wait for the token wikipedia-researched question about the Great Lakes region.

So unless this kind of choppy-choppy colonial club-house crassness floats your boat you should avoid SoleLuna on a Monday night. You should definitely go Tuesday to Sunday though. I'll even stick my hairy neck out and say that this is the best restaurant in Kigali.

"But Jiffler", I hear you ask, "isn't it you job to cut down the tall poppies? To sneer at their success and criticise the bruschetta with a crude simile and a pop-culture reference?" Perhaps it is, but I'm getting old and nostalgic. It may be time to take me behind the barn and put me out of my misery.

The pizzas are the best in town by a mile. There are over 80 on the menu, and I have to confess to having tried at least a slice of every single one of them over the last few years - I've rarely been disappointed (my favourite is the 'Corrado2'). I'd probably pass on the seafood pizzas - we are a long way from the coast - but the rest of them are fair game. You can't go wrong with their generous steaks and salads either. Pasta dishes are consistently good, although a friend (an expert in pastology) reckons the carbonara comes a close second to the one currently being served "off-menu" at Chez Lando.

The lunchtime buffet is pricey, but the owner has recently taken the wise step of hiring in a consultant chef who has introduced some clever new riffs to a daily changing buffet. A perfect lunchtime treat.

SoleLuna has been around for years and will still be here in years to come. Dionigi and Beatrice's passion and commitment to their business is evident in the steady improvements they've made over the years. They're not afraid of innovation, of asking for advice, or of investing in the best materials. Other Johnny-come-lately restaurants in Kigali usually start off with a bang and slowly deteriorate with complacency. Over the years I've watched with a warm respect as SoleLuna gets bigger, smarter and better.

So what makes SoleLuna the best restaurant in Kigali? Love. Apparently it's all you need.

SoleLuna
Boulevard de L’AĆ©roport
Tel.   +252583062
Mob. +250788859593

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Bust out the biscuits / Strike up the band

Papyrus

The old Papyrus was a Kigali institution. I used to swear every Monday that I would never go there again, only to end up slinking back in come Friday night. Dressed like a camp version of Jeremy Clarkson, I'd ponder the perfect moment to put a gun in my mouth. Perhaps during the opening bars of "I gotta feeling" by the Black Eyed Peas?

It was closed down by the authorities and everyone migrated up the hill to Sundowner, which started out as the sort of place Rwandan 30-somethings with a bit of cash would go to enjoy themselves and has ended up as the sort of place where you'd go to have a fight with an idiot in the toilets. What now Kigali nightlife?

Enter Papyrus MkII. According to the "party organisers", Papyrus is now "Four floors of amazing". This description alone makes me want to smoke crack.



***

The Restaurant:

Le Sappeur lifts up his trouser leg a couple of inches to reveal bespoke cuban-heeled python-skin boots.

"Jiffler, if the boots are right, you know you're in for a good night out"

He's right of course, and he will end his evening at 4am, stripped to the waist dancing salsa in a muddy car park in the rain. Right now we're sitting under the downstairs loggia at 9pm sucking on Skol Gatanu.

Our enthusiastic young waiter arrives with a flourish.  Le Sappeur is keeping it simple with a margherita while I take the pizza of indecision: the four seasons. Both are the product of an expensive looking wood-fired pizza oven, and come with a generous amount of Masaka farms mozzarella. The oven needs to be hot enough to make horseshoes to pull off the thin-crust finish though. Ours are slightly too floppy, and the topping has stewed a bit, like a cheap American pizza.

Our attention turns to our surroundings:

"It's much bigger than I expected it to be" offers Le Sappeur.

"Yes. It's a very tropical-modernist kind of building, the likes of which you don't see much in Rwanda. Almost Bawa-esque in the way that the inside and the outside are one continuous experience."

Le Sappeur exhales Dunhill smoke and looks down at my polished two-tone brogues.

"I think you're wearing the wrong shoes tonight"

The Sports Bar:
Ping.

An SMS from The Director: I just made the last bus. Wedged between a dribbler and a pervert.

Jiffler: They're probably on their way to Papyrus.

Ping.

The Director: Is that where you are?

Jiffler: Just leaving the Greek restaurant now. Follow the smell of taramasalata and whisky and you'll find us.

It's a Thursday - a school night - and yet they're all out, old and young. I spend much of the evening gently shoulder-charging old mates who keep popping up with huge swinging handshakes. The Surfer, The Dude and I stay anchored to our table and our Johnny Walker, while The Young Ambassador buzzes from flower to flower.

The scene is both brilliant and depressing. Looking around I can see everyone who goes out in Kigali. There's O'mania, wearing his best waistcoat and trying to chat up Diaspora-girl on the stairs. A few nervous looking VSOs wondering round in a cluster like a gaggle of particularly moronic geese. A cute muzungu blonde is surrounded by a mob of peacocking Rwandan male suitors. They would do better if they paid more attention to the pouting gang of glamourous students from the Kigali School of Finance and Banking. Even that sarcastic British guy is here, all tweedy impertinence and red pocket handkerchief.

"It's the end of gossip as we know it" The Director appears like the Dungeon Master at my right elbow.

There is nowhere to hide in this bar. Any funny business after one Primus too many will be witnessed by all, so all the fun stuff will have to go on behind closed doors. What will we do without the whispered rumours (like the one about the young American intern who got fingered on a bin at Sundowner)? What will we talk about?

"It's not a Bawa, it's a Bentham. We're in the Papyrus Panopticon"


I suppose we could always talk about ideas. That would be a start.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Whisper in my ear what it is you want / Is it to be the bullet or a rich old gun?

New Fiesta

We're still placing bets on what they'll build in the middle of the Remera roundabout. The smart money is on a giant gorilla statue, one hand (or is it a paw? Hoof?) raised in a jaunty salute. I'm advocating a big sign that says "Stop driving like a bloody idiot, you bloody idiot". If you can navigate your way across the roundabout without being run over by an imbecile in a pick-up with Belgian Technical Cooperation written on the side (your card is marked, sonny), it's just a short meander up to New Fiesta.

Way back when Remera was all just fields this place used to be a Bisoke-buffet joint with swing doors and dirty floors (reviewed here). It has since been taken over and utterly transformed by that dude with the dreadlocks who used to drive around the town in a red and yellow monster truck. We need more dudes like him in this town. And more monster trucks. Who doesn't like monster trucks?

New Fiesta is one half mini-market, one half casual diner. The mini-market has fresh bread, and a pretty good German Butchery concession. They also sell bagels, so you don't have to spend your Saturday morning at the earnest muzungu bukkake that is African Bagel Company. At Fiesta the bagels are sold as bread products rather than as an innovative development intervention which when combined with a healthy fear of god will save Africans from sliding into some sort of desolate Conradian inferno. Or something.

The diner is a little gem. The upwardly mobile folks of Remera (by far the coolest neighbourhood in Kigali) congregate here most lunchtimes to tuck into decent sandwiches, omelettes, burgers and juices. The Young Ambassador and I are addicted to the frighteningly unhealthy Croque Monsieurs. Ask about their filling beef and chicken quesedillas too. You'll get your order reasonably quickly, and can enjoy a little freebie appetiser of crunchy little homemade nachos and salsa while you wait. 
Happy days.

New Fiesta
Remera - from the Kisimenti-clusterfuck roundabout, head towards Amahoro stadium. New Fiesta is on the right shortly after Ecobank.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

You little sod, I love your eyes / Be everything to me tonight

The Director leans forward and nods toward the crowded bar: 

"You must have seen it all in this place"

I look across at the crowd. A team of crusty foreign aid workers size each other up. A wedding planning committee is having a miserable time. Some sex workers passively hustle, playing the game of eyes with a lonely Chinese engineer (his hands and face are sunburned red, he must be working on the roads). The regulars at the bar are watching French news and reminiscing about the time when they were big men. A few middle-aged gorilla hunters wear special Africa trousers with too many pockets. Two fat Kenyans animatedly talking politics. A lone female NGO worker hides behind a laptop. Broken glass. What are all these misfits doing in my living room?

*****

Dear Chez Lando

You've seen me through the best of times, the worst of times. Wisdom and foolishness. Friday after work beers at table 10. Remember that ugly brawl a couple of years back? There were celebration dinners, commiseration meetings, football matches, noisy tables of eight and intimate tables of two. Mostly it's just you and me and a paperback.

Remember when we met back in July 2005? I'd just arrived on SN Brussels without any luggage. Two big Mutzigs and a poulet bicyclette later and our affair had begun. We were both a bit rough around the edges back then, but we've slowly smartened up our act. My dusty boots and 5-day beard made way for sharp suits and 3-day stubble.  Smart tiles and wooden ceilings have replaced the concrete and mosquitos. We still got soul though. The spark is still there.

Our relationship is complicated. I'm sorry Chez Lando about the one-night-stands with the Umubano and other hotels. They always seem like a good idea at the time. I always come back though, and you welcome me with a hug and the keys to Room 183. You know what I'm like and don't mind.

But this can't go on forever. Big events in my small life mean it's time for me to move on my dear friend. To go to the place where my stuff is, where my real life is. Will you share my last brochette?

Keep on keepin' on

The Jiffler
***** 

The Director looks up from the menu. "You must have tried every dish on here".

True. I even taught one of the chefs how to make mashed potato the way I like it. The way my Mum makes it.

"If you're in Kigali for six months of the year why don't you just rent an apartment?"

I mutter some excuses about this and that, about the location, the per diems, the whatever.

The truth is that Chez Lando is home.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

What did you learn / locked away all on your own / chance and your head all blown

"Are you going to start doing your restaurant review thing again?"

"Probably not. The time for sarcastic remarks about Indian restaurants and mudslinging at Heaven has probably passed. Time to let the new blood take the reins"

And the new blood are a rather serious bunch. Check out the Living in Kigali website, which gives you practical advice about restaurants. They tell you useful things like prices and how clean the toilets are, like in a proper restaurant review.

"Besides, I'd feel obliged to go and review 'Mickey Mouse' in Kimihurura. Can you imagine the indignity of going to such a place?"

The truth is: my laptop (and a half a dozen pre-written reviews) - was stolen, my life got busy; I moved house twice (am now a resident of Colombo) and worked in some other places that are hard to find on the map.  I'm not sure I still have it in me to plunge into my deep and poisoned well of misanthropy to find mean things to say about restaurants.

But feck it. Why not eh?
-----------------------

Le Chateau
According to the drunken Belgian owner of Le Chateau in Nyarutarama, I am a "Shitting fack". After identifying this fairly obvious character flaw, he gave me a $10 bottle of imported Kwak, invited The Dude to kiss him on the lips, and offered to take the Young Ambassador out for some "sexy dancing"

Pork chops come with thyme or rosemary depending on which menu translation you read, but arrive at the table with neither. Not that additional herbage would have helped much, as eating said pork chops was an experience akin to being repeatedly struck in the face with a greasy leather belt. And I don't mean that in a good way.

The Young Ambassador had something resembling a pizza that had been left out in the rain, The Dude some flaccid pasta, and The Surfer a Deathstar-grey chunk of beef ring-piece. Our table's sense of disappointment was overshadowed only by our collective awe as we were dazzled by the Belgian's tour de force display of swearing ("fack, fack, shitting shit fack") and his subsequent spiral into a silent vin triste, swaying from side to side and staring vacantly into the middle distance like an undergraduate with meningitis.

Avoid Le Chateau.

Le Chateau
+250 785 823 772
Nyarutarama, along the road adjacent to the golf course


Saturday, 11 February 2012

Rwanda News

Hello once again. It's been while, but I wanted to spread the word about some Rwanda news.

Jay Rayner - one of my favourite food writers - and baker Ruth Clemens are coming to Rwanda with Save the Children UK to raise awareness of childhood hunger and malnutrition.

You can find out more here.
You can also follow Jay's visit on Twitter @jayrayner1

In the meantime, I'm currently blogging at nairobichoma.blogspot.com. I'm still in Kigali fairly frequently, and hope to tie up a few loose ends on Kigali Restaurant Reviews soon.