words and photos by Lynette Kahinga @basilandbarrelske
2021 has been a significant year for Nairobi’s food scene. Following the uncertainty of the pandemic, restaurants and entertainment joints have battled curfews and multiple restrictions, with many struggling to stay afloat. Despite these challenges, the food scene in Nairobi is as innovative as ever! Creativity is sprouting across the city and veteran spots continue to reinvent themselves. Here’s a list of restaurants that have defined Nairobi’s culinary scene in 2021.
Tucked away in Karen, this farm-to-table restaurant is perfect for the health conscious and mindful eater. Their ingredients are fresh and well grown and reflected in the taste of their delicious food. Cultiva put an unconventional spin on cuisines from cultures around the world. Their menu consists of Korean tacos, bao buns, carpaccio, rice plates, vegan mains, refreshing cocktails and more. Their pastries deserve their own accolades, with a stunning variety of cronuts, eclairs and tarts. This is the perfect place to go for a family lunch, date night or celebrations with friends. I recommend booking in advance as this place gets seriously packed.
The Wine Shop
Wine lovers assemble! The Wine Shop is far from a mere ‘wine shop’ – they really do respect the pomp that comes with wine. This bar and cafe boasts an extensive roster of wines including reds, rosé’s & whites from old world wines such as French Bordeaux to the new world of South African Chardonnays. Their food menu is an ode to classic food pairings including dips, cheese & charcuterie boards, Italian pastas & pizza as well as signature bites to go along with a bottle of wine. I recommend a booking for date nights and girls vino catch up sessions.
Beit é Selam
The warm lights at Beit è Selam are the perfect setting for intimate celebrations and date nights. Their cuisine is predominantly continental with a modern take on traditional Ethiopian and African dishes. Between their delectable corn ribs, juicy ostrich reuben sandwich, tasty berbere wings, succulent banana leaf grilled snapper and iconic lamb & feta burger, you’ll truly be spoilt for choice! Their cocktails are also well worth the hype.
Barista & Co.
You cannot speak of breakfast in Nairobi without mentioning this ultra-cool and minimal space! Chef Asaf Hemo has taken Barista & Co to new heights with an exciting menu of instagrammable food creations. I first fell in love with their range of french toasts – the berry, red velvet and lotus biscoff. They’ve mastered the art of creating visually appealing hearty breakfasts, all while remaining vegetarian. From Turkish eggs to mushroom egg benedicts – even the ardent meat lover will find something scrumptious on the menu! For coffee lovers, this is just the place to grab breakfast, have a lunch meeting and catch up with friends over the fluffiest milkshakes.
My number one recommendation to anyone looking to eat in Karen is always Talisman. A powerhouse that continually respects the art of food. They capture their patrons with elevated classic dishes with Italian, Eastern Asian and French influence. In addition to fantastic mains, their dessert selection and range of cocktails are top tier. The perfect spot for families and festive celebrations!
Bamboo, Zen Garden
This fine Eastern Asian establishment is well maintained with lush lawns and majestic flower gardens. Zen Garden has the range to host both vibrant celebrations and quiet dates. Their menu has cemented a place in Nairobi’s culinary scene with their phenomenal prawn tempura, firecracker sushi, chilli soups, umami filled noodles and more Thai, Japanese and Chinese mains.
Sierra remains a Nairobi classic with a focus on farce free, delicious and mouth-watering food. They have the loveliest set up at their Yaya Centre branch – ambient music, leather seats and warm lights – just the place for date nights and post work dinner! As you enjoy their quality cuts of steak, do not sleep on their wine & cocktail selection. They will serenade you into a sweet food coma this festive season.
Wine Life Gigiri
Initially known for their after-work wine tasting events, Wine Life is now a fully operational restaurant with delightful meals. They’ve partnered with Black Apron Chefs to curate an eclectic menu. Centred around unconventional pairings, Thursday evenings in Nairobi are exciting at Wine Life. The aura is always vibrant, laughter filled and ever-flowing with good conversations over their bespoke selections of wine. On other days, I recommend Wine Life for good food and a lovely quaint dinner. Their menu has global influences from Mediterranean, Italian and even German delicacies. Try their German Sauerkraut Sausages, Massaman Lamb curry and Red Chickpea Pasta – simply divine!
Being the highest terrace restaurant in the city, this indoor-outdoor spot is gorgeous in its own rights. The décor and interior of the restaurant is super chic, cosmopolitan and modern with 1980s décor: bold, sleek, colourful palettes and velvet fabrics. With uninterrupted views of the Nairobi National Park, their panoramic views are the perfect backdrop for celebrations such as New Years. I recommend the amazing Lemon & Thyme Pasta and Rib-Eye Steak in addition to their lovely cocktails and wine-list.
You definitely want to check these out over the festive season! Any other restaurants made an impression on you this year? Share them below.
Lynette, the brilliance behind @basilandbarrelske is a nominated food blogger. With reviews of over 170 restaurants across East Africa and globally, she is well versed in the Nairobi culinary scene. Check out her Instagram page for weekly food and restaurant reviews.