Thursday, 9 May 2013

There is a day that is yours for embracing / Everything's nothing, and nothing is ours

The cheerful woman pulls her cardigan tight against the chilly morning air, and whispers with a conspiratorial tone:

"I used to make a bit of extra money from doing research".

"Doing research?" I frown at the translator. "Are you sure?".

"Yes. Foreigners come here from Kigali. They always come to ask us about land, so we go and answer their questions."

I see. Research.

"So what do they ask you?"

The woman pouts and turns her head to one side. "They want to know private things. How many children we have, and if we are poor. Of course we are poor! They ask if we understand that we can inherit land from our fathers."

"Can you inherit land from your father?"

"Yes." she nods "The law says so."

Pascha at the Aberdeen House Hotel

Kigali has a Turkish restaurant.

"The problem is, when I see the word sumac on the menu, I start thinking 'Mmm... sumac'. When the food comes without the promised sumac the disappointment is doubled."
There is a little bit of sumac on the plate. At least I think it is sumac. It is the merest dusting over a pile of raw onions. The raw onions still taste like raw onions.

Çöp kebabs are presented on their spokey little skewers, but the lamb lacks the smokiness of the ocakbaşı - as if they've been cooked over a gas grill. There is little crunch to accompany them - no parsley or salad veg, just half a grilled tomato, a tiny chunk of grilled pepper, and a pile of rice and lukewarm chips. The onion "sumac" is left untouched. The lavash - what little there is - is soft and fresh. Adena kebab suffers a similar fate - no smokiness, too little of interest on the plate. Just bland cooked meat and carbs. At 8,000 RwF a plate this may very well be the biggest rip-off since Heaven water.

You can't fault the service, which is quick and gently obsequious, and it's nicely laid out for daytime eating, with beanbags for children and a bit of greenery.

The parsimony over the sumac seems to sum up what is wrong with Pascha. The strengths of Turkish cuisine lie in its simplicity and generosity. It should be rugged, driven by fresh ingredients and primal cooking techniques. Pascha takes all the guts and soul out of good Turkish cooking and presents you with a greedy bill.

Still, Kigali has a Turkish restaurant.

Aberdeen House Hotel
"Why do you think they come here to talk to you?"

"The woman who brings them from Kigali has an Auntie living in this village. She likes to help people here".

"Do they pay you for answering questions?"

"Sometimes. The American people pay the best. Maybe 1,000 or 1,500 francs just for sitting there talking. Sometimes you just get biscuits and fanta and no money."

We pause. The translator is anxious to go. I wonder if the woman hopes I'm going to pay for our chat.

"Are your parents surviving?"

She looks down, smiles. "No. My father passed when I was young. My mother passed last year"

"I'm sorry... Madame, did you inherit their land?"


I give her a small tray of peanuts from my backpack and we leave for Musanze.

Friday, 3 May 2013

If you get it, great. If you don't, that's fine too. But you should probably read more - Anthony H. Wilson.

Look, I know it says "Kigali Restaurant Reviews" up there, but if you've ever arrived here expecting anything resembling a restaurant review you may have been a little bit disappointed. My usual gonzo meanderings even inspired one particularly blockheaded anonymous commenter to register his/her shock and disappointment below the line.

So here's a proper restaurant review. No circular references, wordplay, literary quotes, metatextualising, or dodgy metaphors. I promise.

The Bistro at Urban Hotel
The new Urban 'boutique hotel' has a somewhat polyfillered take on the tropical modernism style that looks so good on Papyrus. The open feel and warm colours seem to embrace both modern and traditional ideas without resorting to hokey safari-chic. If a few more buildings like this go up in Kigali then we might see a bolder, truer, architectural identity taking hold of the city that looks beyond the hideous Dubai-esque monoliths and joyless red-brick bungalows.

(Sorry, I'll get on with the review now)

Tomato bruschetta comes with an unexpected scattering of coriander. Has the kitchen run out of basil or is this a deliberate South Asian touch? Some sort of jazz bruschetta? Either way, it tastes like the kind of half-baked recipe you'd find in a diet book. Something green and red to look at while you wait for something better to happen.

(OK, not bad. Talk about the main courses)

Things improve with the arrival of the main courses.  A handsome fillet steak comes cooked medium rare as requested, tasting a little on the sweet side. The accompanying baked potato doesn't look much like anything I've seen growing in Rwanda - a Kenyan expat perhaps? There's also a coffee-encrusted steak threatened on the menu, but there is no reason ever to order something like that. It's an insult to the fine animal that died for your dinner.

(I don't think anyone will notice the dig about agricultural imports. It's going well.)

Chicken cordon bleu is definitely not from the diet recipe book. Oozing with Emmental, this dish conjures up the kind of heart-attack inducing schnitzel you'd be glad to find waiting for you on the other side of a snowstorm. Sadly the bar at the Bistro doesn't stock Schnapps, which would have rounded things off nicely. Accompanying veg are the neatly carved lozenges popular in the 1980s.

(Inadvertent wordplay. I'm sorry. Too late now, we'll just crack on with the puddings)

A trio of crème brûlée fails to get it right three times over. Vanilla has an almost perfect texture, but an eggy taste, while Amarula balances the flavours well, but has the texture of scrambled egg. Coffee crème brûlée smells like the last flavoured condom in the pack, and is an eating experience not dissimilar to being waterboarded with cold nescafe.

(No! I've fallen right into the dodgy metaphor trap! I can't end the review with that. Perhaps I should talk about drinks and service).

While service is generally fine, cocktails lack sparkle and take far longer than they should to arrive. House red by the glass turns out not to be house red, but the dreaded Domaine Bergon available at all bad supermarkets for half the price.

(Managed to get through that without using the phrase "OK for Kigali". What now? Some sort of star rating? How about a Spoon rating?)

The Bistro gets 3 spoons out of a possible 5.

The Bistro at Urban Hotel

Kiyovu, Kigali
Tel: 0788 304 155