An Afro-Fusion Lounge and Grill

My shortest route into town is along Argwings Kodhek Road. The shortest but not always the quickest, of course. Mornings and evenings its pace is a crawl. So there is plenty of time to listen to the world as scanned by the BBC. Or to do some people watching.

But there is a building that has been catching my eye these last few months. The tall and green, glass and concrete office block with a contraption on its top like an upturned shuttlecock. There’s something quite South-East Asian about it, I reckon. With its skeletal pillars up the outside and its pagoda-shaped roof, it would look more in place in Bangkok, Phnom Penh or Saigon.

But it has a very Kenyan name – Timau Plaza. And inside, surprisingly, a very Kenyan restaurant and bar with a very unKenyan name – Blanco’s.

In fact, the first question I asked Leonard Mudachi, the Executive Director, when I went to his place for lunch the other day was: ‘Why Blanco’s?’

He grinned. He often grins, I discovered.

‘Blanco ? That’s me!’ he said. ‘After Serge Blanco, the South African rugby player. He was a full back – and so was I when I was playing rugby at the Nairobi School.’

He’s definitely a good people catcher, Leonard Mudachi – or Blanco. A great host. And very proud of the restaurant he is running with his partner, Lisa Uku. The decor – he calls it Afro-fusion – is very contemporary in its depiction of old Africa.

Like when you enter, you encounter a tall, very tall – from floor to ceiling tall – and slender Masai woman. Sculptured in metal by one of my favourite Kenya artists – Kioko. And the lady has convenient niches carved out of her sides, in which the restaurant can display its offerings of wine. (Very good wine, by the way, as I was to discover.)

There’s a Kioko baobab tree sturdy against the wall of the lounge and branching right across its bar. A very cosy lounge, with walls of a subtle red and fawn settees of a warm corduroy. And there are Kioko palm leaves making the centrepiece of the dining room ceiling.

The food is Afro-fusion, too. My starter, for example, was Papa na Kamba wa Nazi: a blend of coastal flavours infused with lemon grass, bathed in coconut milk and garnished with dried prawns and flakes of shark. Sounds very tasty, doesn’t it? And very Swahili?

The whole menu reads just as coastal and as appetisingly. My main course was Samaki wa Kukaangwa Kuokwa au Kuchomwa: deep fried, char-grilled or boiled sea or freshwater fish marinated in garlic, lime, chillies, sugar and coriander. And, to round it off, you can have the Kenyan always-on-the-menu but here a little different: a tropical fruit salad with a ginger-based brown sugar syrup.

Leonard is very particular about his music. It is always contemporary African, it seems. While I was eating and chatting, Youssou N’Dour was singing his hits such as Xale Rewmi and Kocc Barma. Then there was Eric Wainaina, with all his songs from the Twende Twende album.

One wall is dedicated to original drawings of African musicians. Angelique Kidjo is there, and Susanna Owiyo, Oliver Mtukudzi – the Zimbabwean who collaborated with Eric Wainaina on the Twende Twende number.

‘Where is Eric’s,’ I asked.

‘Oh, that’s being done right now!’

So Blanco’s is very much a young Kenyan-owned and Kenyan-designed place – like the Sierra boutique brewery along the Mombasa Road. Both could fit well in any city anywhere in the world.

And, talking of roads again, you can enjoy a morning coffee or an evening glass of wine on the elegant patio of Blanco’s and watch the traffic do its crawl along Argwings Kodhek Road.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation