Even before I had embarked on my journey to Kenya, I was very kicked about visiting the Carnivore Restaurant at Nairobi. I had heard a lot of great things about it. Some said, it was the best restaurant in East Africa, while the others said that it was one of the top restaurants in the world. But, everybody unanimously said that they serve some of the best meat in the world. And I was all excited even though I am a vegetarian.
This restaurant, which opened its doors in 1980 became popular for its game meat: giraffe, wildebeest, zebra, ostrich and crocodile. Today, most of the game meat is not served owing to the government ban on serving game meat in Kenya. But, they make up for the lack of game meat with an interesting assortment of meat that includes: legs of lamb and pork, ostrich meat balls, crocodile tail, ox balls, ostrich, rumps of beef, sirloins, racks of lamb, spare ribs, sausages, chicken wings, skewered kidneys and more.
The specialty is that all these different meats are roasted on traditional Maasai swords over a huge, spectacular charcoal pit that is bang at the entrance of the restaurant. And to ensure that the meat is succulent, well flavored and cooked to perfection, a group of chefs constantly brush the meat with the choicest of sauces and turn the meat over the charcoal fire.
And for helpless vegetarians like me, the Carnivore has 8 continental items on their menu, which span Italian, French, Mexican and Indian cuisines. The restaurant works on a buffet mode, wherein a non-vegetarian meal would cost 2,550 shillings and the vegetarian meal about 2,050 shillings. For this price, one gets to sample all the food on the menu, starters, soups, bread and their desserts. Drinks attract an additional fee, which is roughly 500 shillings per drink (60 ml).
Coming back to my experience…Me and my meat loving friend were booked a dinner slot here (the restaurant is open all day long) and we came in early at about 6:15 pm to begin work for our taste buds. The restaurant is situated in the Langata suburb of Nairobi and about 5 long kilometers (owing to city traffic) from the city center. As you approach the restaurant, you will notice that this place is close to the domestic air field and during the drive you might get a good view of the small aircrafts landing into the airport. In fact, this was the best part of our drive from Nairobi, coz the other part was spent completely in the evening traffic.
The Carnivore is situated on a large and well maintained property, which would give you a good idea about the affluent status of the Tamarind Group (owners of the Carnivore) and the class of the restaurant. A huge Carnivore board greets you at the entrance followed by a large parking lot and a couple of gift stores that stock some pretty antique stuff.
As you enter the hotel premises, you will notice two boards. One that leads into the Carnivore restaurant and the other that leads to Simba Saloon, a a la carte restaurant by day and a popular nightclub once the sun sets. Since, our booking was for the Carnivore, we made our way into the buffet restaurant. Here, we were greeted by the restaurant staff dressed in zebra patterns and very shortly, we were assigned to our seats.
The restaurant was only about 20% full when we arrived at 6:15 pm, but as expected, the fairly large restaurant was fully occupied by 7 pm. And all this in spite of it being a week day. I guess such is the popularity of this place.
As soon as we were seated, a zebra patterned staff carrying an assortment of bottles and glasses made our way to the table. This was going to be our first experience of Kenya’s local cocktail – Dawa, which is made out of 60ml of Smirn off Vodka, lemon wedges, 2 teaspoons of thick local honey, some sugar and lots of ice. And a nice stirrer to mix the honey into the drink properly. The drink was fantastic and thus set the right precedent for the rest of the evening.
Shortly, a double decker rolling counter arrived at our table. This counter held a variety of sauces and salads. The waiter tried to explain which sauce and salad goes best with which meat. But, in all the excitement, nothing registered in our head and up on seeing that, he said that he will come again and explain when the meat arrives.
After the counter, we got our soup, a variety of bread, butter, potato wedges and some other hot starters. While we were enjoying our starters, the restaurant brought our sizzling hot cast iron plates. This meant they would begin serving the meat and would serve until you burst.
Soon, every kind of meat arrived at our table and I watched the smile on my friend’s face increase with each bite. I guess they started with beef (rare) and then ostrich meat balls, ox balls and basically the entire menu. Each meat would be brought along with the Maasai sword onto our table and then a slice would be cut onto our plate.
After every bite, I would take notes from my friend as that was the only way I could get to know which meat is cooked best. At some times, I didn’t have to ask him as his lost facial expression or cooing sounds would let me know that the meat was really good.
And after tasting all the available meat options, my friend was smiling like a cheshire cat and that too after Round 1 only. While my friend was busy enjoying his meats, I ordered an Italian vegetarian dish, one more Dawa and went around the restaurant to do a bit of exploring.
The Carnivore has both outdoor and indoor seating facility in their premises. I could see a lot of families here at this restaurant, which means this place is popular with families too. And after a quick round, I felt that the entire globe was sitting in the restaurant. May be, it is because of the migration season that I could see such a diverse crowd in this restaurant.
Soon my Italian vegetarian dish arrived. It was nothing special like the meat servings presented to my friend, but it tasted a bit better than alright to me. I guess vegetarian dishes are not their specialty. Finally, both of us finished our main course after 2 and a half hours of eating and ordered our dessert followed by locally grown Kenyan coffee. The dessert menu was not elaborate and not out of the world. In simple terms it was good.
I would definitely recommend ‘The Carnivore’ to every tourist just to soak in the experience. Being a meat lover is a definite plus. Having a deep wallet is also a criteria as the drinks and the buffet are quite pricey. My meat loving friend tells me that some meat was fantastic, while some was average. And the vegetarian and desserts were decent, but nothing great. But, as I have said, it is the sheer experience that makes this place so special and that is why people come here in droves. No wonder it is one of the best restaurants in East Africa. Personally, I would expect the food to be a tad better if it were to get the title of the “Top 50 Restaurants in the World’.