Savanna: Passionate about Coffee

‘So let’s meet at the Museum restaurant,’ I said.

‘The museum?’ he asked. ‘Do you mean the building opposite Galileo’s and the Casino?’

Well, I really thought a Nairobi guy – someone with a local university degree and not a little adventurous spirit – would be rather more familiar with our National Museum. I mean, it’s been there on the hill (to which it has given its name) a lot longer than Galileo’s and the Casino. And then there’s been all the publicity in the press and on TV about its recent renovation and extension…

Anyway, I wanted to have lunch there because I hadn’t tried out the Savanna Coffee Lounge, which I had been told was more than ‘quite nice’ and well worth a visit.

It was last Monday, Kenyatta Day. Even though it was the fag-end of a grey afternoon, the car park was full and, more significantly, there were lots of family parties and young Kenyans who had chosen to spend their day off work or whatever at the Museum.

The Savanna is on the right, just after you have passed through the grand arch and opposite the main entrance to the exhibitions. It has a cosy, comfortable interior in shades of brown and beige. And it has a broad and L-shaped veranda, tables shaded with orange parasols, and a view into the treetops and over the lawns.

It is owned by Sasini, which has another but bigger Savanna in Loita Street. The style and the menu are similar: pastas, grills, sandwiches and, of course, a wide variety of coffees. I used to say a rather unkind but true thing about Kenyans and coffee: that they can grow the stuff but can’t make even a decent cup of it. The typical coffee in restaurants and hotel was over-brewed and bitter, served with a small jug of hot milk, usually with slimy skin on top of it.

But Kenyans have now taken to coffee, haven’t they – and coffee has come to Kenyans. Sasini, the newest range of coffee places (the lounge in Loita Street opened last year in November and the one at the Museum opened this year in April), is competing with the longer established Java and Dormans. Competing in quality and in variety.

At the Museum Savanna, for example, you can choose hot coffees from plain, through chocolate to coconut flavours. Iced, you can have Americano, Cappuccino, Latte, Mocha or White Mocha. As well as juices, there is n enticing range of non-alcoholic cocktails on offer: Cherry Ale (cherry syrup and lime), for example, Big Pants (grenadine syrup, mango and orange juice), and Savanna Delight (fruits of the forest, sprite soda and grenadine syrup).

And then, of course, they have food: from light snacks (croissants, muffins and cookies) to substantial grills (pepper steaks, chicken and fish). But I chose a sandwich – a delicious ‘Serengeti Roast Beef’ (Do they allow cows in the Serengeti?), with fine slices of beef, layered with onion rings, Dijon mustard, chopped thyme and lettuce. You can even have a light and healthy or heavy and English breakfast – the place opens from 7.30 am to 8 pm.

I went back on the Tuesday to have a chat with Pauline, the Manager. She is very smart, very enthusiastic about Savanna, and very easy to chat with. Actually, she soon turned the tables and began to interview me – about what I thought of the food and how I rated the service.

‘Speed and friendliness are what we look for in the service,’ she said. ‘No order should take more than 15 minutes to arrive.’

I was surprised to hear that most patrons so far have been tourists – surprised because of all the Kenyan families and couples I see at the Museum.

‘Well, Kenyans will take their time to get to know the place,’ she suggested. ‘And then they will see what a nice place it is – for a family meal out or for an office get-together.’

‘Would it help if you served alcohol?’ I asked.

‘Not at all,’ she protested. ‘We don’t want the place to become a beer joint!’

‘But what about wine? Wouldn’t that go very well with your food?’

‘Maybe,’ she sort of admitted. ‘But we don’t want to push out our coffee – we are passionate about our coffee!’

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation