Karen seems to be the suburban answer to Nairobi’s rapidly growing urban congestion. Often a lengthy drive (a simply thirty-minute drive, sans traffic on an average Sunday) from the CBD, J’s Fresh Bar & Kitchen is a simple hole-in-the-wall restaurant located on Ngong Road, Karen.
So one not-so-bright Sunday (Hey! It’s officially winter on this end of the globe), to celebrate Mother’s Day and Jaini’s Diaries one-year bloganniversary (I know, I know, this is a late post), Diva and I braved the surprisingly short ride to Karen with my aunt, uncle and my cousin.
So on arrival at 10am, J’s was understandably empty. It was, after all, too early on a Sunday. Upon entering, I noted that the graveled outside led to the restaurant via one massive step, that may be accessible to some wheelchairs and not to others, depending on the wheelchair size. The waiters helped me get down to the restaurant.The place looked much smaller than I imagined. There is a bar, surrounded by large wooden benches and tables, and there’s another communal seating area with tables that can seat up to ten people at once. Since it was early, there was some music playing through. But on weekends, they usually play host to local deejays and various events throughout the year.
Having heard so much about this place, I was quite excited to try it out. The waitress quickly brought out the menus. Their menu, though large, mostly focuses on British gastropub food (high-end pub food). I’ve never eaten in a British pub so I was excited about the gastropub food experience. However, upon studying their menu, I noted that there were very few vegetarian dishes, say about less than eight, which was a little disappointing. Nevertheless, we quickly ordered the food and drinks.J’s has a big wine list, spirits, beers and a few unique cocktails, in addition to the usual cocktails. They also offer virgin cocktails based on the ones they already offer, aptly called “pointless cocktails”, which both Diva and my cousin ordered virgin Watermelon Mai Tais, my uncle got a Hot Chocolate and my aunt got an Austin Powers, while I had the Watermelon MaiTai. Firstly, I’ll admit that it can get too cold for a cocktail but I braved it, anyways, not to say that I wasn’t jealous of the delicious-looking hot chocolate.
The “pointless cocktails” were fresh and tasty fruit punches, as both Diva and my cousin revealed. The Hot Chocolate was great, too, my uncle exclaimed. The Austin Powers, my aunt had ordered, consisted of basil, vodka, lemon juice and pineapple juice. I tried it and it was pleasant – I loved the herby twist that basil brought to this cocktail. And finally, to my Watermelon Mai Tai, that a friend had recommended to me. It consisted of fresh watermelon juice, dark rum, triple sec, lime juice and pineapple juice. It indeed was delightful and would be even more on a sunny day!
On to what you came to read about – the food! Firstly, we were hungry as it was only ten in the morning. I was getting impatient, as I waited for the food. But alas! That impatience and slight annoyance disappeared as they placed wooden boards, not plates, with the food, in front of us.
So with the lack of many vegetarian options, my aunt and uncle decided to get the Omellete – a three-egg omelet with onions, tomatoes, mushrooms and mozzarella cheese, served with garlic bread and avocado. I didn’t try it but it looked well-cooked and I’m sure their smiles meant it was good. My cousin got the Chef Agne’s Famous Creamy Risotto with ginger, beets, and grilled vegetables. He asked for it without the beets. So while I do like the occasional risotto at Italian restaurants, I usually steer clear from it at non-Italian food establishments as they often get it wrong. But this risotto was clearly a winner in my eyes. It was creamy but the veggies stood out, and their flavors weren’t washed out with the cheesy sauce. Even my cousin claimed it was better than the risotto at his once-favorite Italian restaurant.DDiva and I decided to share the Poached Eggs that comes with two poached eggs, with avocado, wilted spinach, sprinkled with pine nuts and served on a toasted muffin or sourdough toast. Surprisingly and rather regrettably, they had run out of spinach so they brought the poached eggs, minus the spinach. The waitress did not ask me how I’d have liked my egg to be cooked, so it was well done. I like my poached eggs over medium, with a slightly runny yolk. Nevertheless, the egg with the avocado with a healthy dose of Tabasco complemented the crunchy toast, which both Diva and I relished.However, halfway through my meal, I found a piece of metal wool on my wooden board, which was perhaps left behind while cleaning the board, so I had to leave my half of the meal. The staff at J’s offered to bring me another poached egg dish, but I was already longing for the Aubergine Parmigiana that Diva had intriguingly ordered.
The Aubergine Parmigiana consisted of layered aubergine (eggplant), courgette (zucchini), roasted peppers, mozzarella baked and pressed in a garlic and chili tomato sauce. This was served with a parmesan leafy salad and garlic ciabatta. This dish was heavenly as the Chef had managed to perfectly marry the eggplant with the rich tomato sauce and the velvety cheese. I’ve often not enjoyed this dish everywhere as the seasoning often seems off to me, but this was by far one of the best Aubergine Parmigianas I had tasted.And of course, as always, we had also ordered a side of fries. These were perfectly salted and crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.Of course, we were full after eating so much, but I was determined to have dessert and so we got the Chocolate Lava and the Sticky Toffee Pudding. The Chocolate Lava was a molten chocolate cake served with vanilla ice cream was the perfect combination of hot and cold. I loved the gooey chocolatey center of the cake. The sticky toffee pudding was also scrumptious. The soft, date-filled pudding was warming with the butterscotch sauce and a scoop of ice-cream. So both the desserts had elements of hot and cold, which I realize now is a great representation of the current weather in Nairobi.
With that, we left. I enjoyed my time at J’s Fresh Bar & Kitchen with the yummy food and wonderful service in a unique atmosphere, though I did wish they had reimbursed me for my meal, half of which I could not even eat. Their menu for vegetarians is fairly limited, and if you are a vegetarian who doesn’t eat eggs, then I suggest you just head there for drinks.
Of course, I reached home in a heavy food coma and just spent the day, chilling and catching up on some TV!
Photos courtesy of Diva Shah