Winning Steaks at the Racecourse

It was the banner over Ngong Road that caught my eye. ‘Steve’s Steakhouse now open at the Racecourse’ it said. Yet another guy is trying to make a go of the Racecourse site, I thought. There have been quite a number of restaurants opening there; some good, some not so good – and, despite the very attractive setting, none of them have lasted very long.

I was intrigued. So I decided to call in.

Well, ‘call in’ is not the right term. I mean, you can’t judge a restaurant unless you taste the food, can you? So I went along for lunch.

Even from a distance – from the top of the steps when you have climbed from the driveway to the wide, flat lawns of the racecourse – you can see that some dramatic changes have been made to the restaurant wing of the main grandstand. The old veranda roofing has been stripped away and replaced with parasols in subdued shades of orange. The outside is now much more an outside.

Inside, the effects are even more dramatic. The decor is very ‘contemporary’ – a long bar of elegant lines of the kind you might expect of a new cruise ship. The dominant colour – the one that has stayed in my mind’s eye – is a deep red. But the ceiling is lightened with soft blues and yellows. A large mirrored section gives the impression of a floor above or of a hanging balcony.

A polished wood floor leads to the two interior dining rooms; one at each end of the main section: one, a cosy smokers’ corner; the other a more airy space with views towards the tall jacaranda trees.

The striking colours, the imposing bar, the tall wooden chairs – all this gives a strong, masculine feel to the place. And this feeling is confirmed by the large prints hanging round the walls. They are all about women – or male artists’ portrayals of women – from Rubens’ well-filled figures to Modigliani’s slender nudes; from Picasso’s fragmented faces to Warhol’s lips of Marilyn Monroe.

Then I met Steve – and realised that, if anyone can make a success of the Racecourse restaurant, then this man can. Because this is Steve Vaz – the man who has done so well with the Coconut outside catering service.

Nevertheless, I put the question to him.

‘When so many have failed here – why are you so sure you will not? I asked.

‘I can’t cook,’ he said. ‘But I have an excellent chef. I’m not so good at adding up figures – but I have an excellent accountant. And I am a very good administrator. Oh, yes, another thing: I will not be one of the best customers at my own bar!’

Then Steve went on to describe what it takes to serve up a proper steak – including the care of animals before slaughtering and, especially, the time the meat should be left hanging.

True, the fillet steak I had was really excellent – the best since in a Buenos Aires restaurant way back twenty years ago. No need at Steve’s place for added sauces (though you can have those if you wish).

There’s not much on the menu for vegetarians. But what vegetarian would want to go to a steakhouse anyway? Though, keen to see the decor after dark, I did persuade my vegetarian wife to accompany me the following evening!

And will Steve succeed at the Racecourse? If I were a betting man, I would put some money on it.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation