Brazilian Nyama Choma in Westlands

I never thought I would be glad to be caught up in a traffic jam. But at the beginning of this week the busyness of the streets was a sign that something like normalcy had returned to Nairobi. And so, with a lessoned sense of guilt, I can turn away for a while from the political turmoil, the ethnic violence, and again take up a normal Going Places theme.

The place is Fogo Gaucho, the new restaurant in the forecourt of Viking House off Waiyaki Way and just beyond the Westlands roundabout.

The two Brazilian guys, Milton and Jonny, couldn’t have chosen a worse time to open – 22 December, just a few days before the eruptions and the closures that followed the announcement of the Election results. But they are confident that they will succeed in the very same place where over the last few years a number of restaurants have failed.

‘A lot depends on the concept,’ said Milton. ‘And we are sure we have a good concept. But you have just experienced the place – so what do you think?’

I think that Milton’s and Jonny’s restaurant – their churrascaria – is a more intimate and less brash version of the Carnivore. Because the main fare is barbecued meat brought to your table on large skewers. It is the same concept, then, as the also Brazilian Pampas restaurant in the Panari Hotel.

The word ‘fogo’ means fire; ‘gaucho’ means cowboy. So the image is of cattlemen roasting their meat after a long day in the saddle, sitting around a log fire on the open pampas. In keeping with this, the main meat is beef, coming to your table to be carved as topside, rump or sirloin. But there is also pork, chicken, turkey and fish. No exotic game meats; only the regular stuff – done, as the saying goes, to a turn.

But don’t be put off if you are not an ardent carnivore. The salad table, with its fifteen different offerings, is superb – supplemented with a wide range of sauces and condiments. There are also three side dishes: French fries, banana fritters and cheese bread.

‘Dad, you’ll love this cheese bread,’ my son said. ‘It’s like a cheese version of Yorkshire pudding.’

The place has the right kind of ambiance, too. In keeping with the cowboy theme, the decor of the main dining area is simple: with a muted tiled floor, slatted ceiling boards, plain wooden chairs – and a large window opening to the kitchen where you can see the cooks at work. The waiters wear gaucho jodhpurs in greys and browns.

Outside, there is a bar area casting a warm and welcoming glow at night. By day, it must be a pleasant place to take a light lunch, beer and sandwich.

It is a puzzle why the other restaurants haven’t succeeded in this place. Westlands has become the most popular nightlife district – with its cluster of bars and clubs as well as restaurants.

Particularly, Viking house is well placed – next door to the Pavement by night, within an interesting shopping precinct by day, with ample and secure parking. It is well within reach of a number of residential areas – with people who would be reluctant to drive across town and out on the Mombasa Road to the other Brazilian churrascaria at the Panari.

One final thing…. The Fogo Gaucho uses a similar system to the Canivore. There is a beermat-sized card with one side saying ‘Please give me more’. If you leave it this way up, the waiters will keep coming with their skewers. If you want to stop eating – or just to pause – you can turn the card over to read, ‘No thank you’.

So, you can be sure you will leave the Fogo Gaucho well satisfied – with the quality as well as the quantity.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation