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?


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".

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..."


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.