The Fairview: Of Rockeries, Sandwiches and Chefs

I have a friend who works at the Fairview.

‘You should come and see the new water feature in the garden!’ she said

‘But I’ve written about the Fairview not so long ago,’ I replied.

‘But have you tried the sandwiches in the Mukutan garden restaurant – the one looking out to the water feature? And if you come this next weekend you can write about the cookery competition that will be going on – between teams from Kenya and Ghana.’

Well, three good reasons made the invitation good enough – so I went.

I had seen the new water landscaping in the front garden when it was being constructed – and I hadn’t been too impressed. But now it is finished, it looks really good. In fact, it is very clever: in the way the rocks are set, trapping the kind of deadwood flotsam that normally floats down a river in the wilds, the backdrop of trees – all making the scene so very natural.

My old-days memory of the Fairview is of sitting in this garden – the garden, with all its trees and shrubs, that used to justify the slogan: ‘A country hotel in the city’. With the building extensions the front garden is smaller now. But the new landscaping and the gentle sound of water falling over the rocks – it is a very special place again.

The sandwiches are quite special, too, I discovered. There aren’t many places in town where you can get proper English-style sandwiches. Too often they are too chunky – and most restaurants seem to assume that a sandwich is something between two slices of sliced bread, toasted and accompanied by chips.

Not that the Fairview sandwiches are really English-style. They come with a choice of a brown bread bun, foccacia, baguette or pitta bread. They have some exotic fillings, such as ‘Smoked Turkey, Crispy Bacon and Avocado’ and ‘Shrimp Louis Cocktail’. But there also the classics, such as ‘Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato’ and ‘Roast Beef’.

So when I had enjoyed my lunchtime sandwich, savoured the sight and sound of the water feature, I wandered inside to find the hotel’s Boss-Chef, Eamon Mullen – to ask him what this cookery competition was all about.

Eamon told me the set-up – not in the sense of a ‘fix’, you’ll understand – that a team of nine young chefs from the Fairview were competing with six young chefs from Ghana. The Ghanaians had come over with their own Boss-Chefs from two up-market Accra hotels – the Lobadi Beach and La Palm Royal Beach. They all worked, turn and turn about, in teams of three – one doing the starter, one the main course, and one the dessert. All under the watchful eyes of three neutral judges.

‘But how can you objectively judge cooking? I asked. So Eamon explained the five criteria the judges were working with: utilisation of the given ingredients, flavour, texture, hygiene and presentation.

‘But go right inside and take a look at what’s going on,’ Eamon said.

Now, I guess there aren’t many chefs in town who would so freely invite you into their kitchen. But Eamon has always done that when I’ve popped in to have a chat with him. And he can do that, of course, because he knows his kitchen is always spotless and trim.

The timing was good. I walked into the last fifteen minutes of the first round of the day. Each threesome had been presented with the same ‘black box’ of ingredients – and each team was free to choose what dishes they would concoct with those ingredients.

With only fifteen minutes to being time-barred, the two competing teams were hurriedly busy but still well-focused. And their colleagues were watching, keen and tense.

Except Kimanzi, the manager of the Fairview team. I guess he is a man who usually has a grin across his face whatever the circumstances.

‘Are you enjoying this?’I asked.

‘Of course!’ he said.

‘And are you going to win?

‘Why not?’

And he jigged back to his team.

Whether he did win or not, I didn’t find out, because the competition was going on until the Sunday evening – and I had to catch a plane for Zambia. But, winning or not, it was all good fun to watch – and I’m sure it was a massive learning experience for all the young chefs.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation

Photo: The Fairview Hotel, Tripadvisor