It had to happen. So many friends were saying, ‘So you haven’t been to Caramel yet – that place that has an mzungu waiter and where you can pay over forty thousand shillings for a whisky? You really should go.’
So I did. This last Monday evening I persuaded a couple of my colleagues to join me there after work. They didn’t take much persuading – especially when I told them that from 4.00 to 8.00 pm are four happy hours when drinks are half price.
Nevertheless, we were a bit nervous about the prices that were going to hit us, because we were well aware of the stories that had been spun, especially from an article in the New York Times last October – only a month after the Caramel Restaurant and Lounge opened in the ABC Plaza down Waiyaki Way.
The article focused first on Martin Mileveski, ‘a smiley young man from Macedonia’ as he ‘leaned over a table of three immaculately dressed Kenyan women and delicately poured out the Captain Morgan rum’…
‘That’s what you see at Caramel,’ the article went on, ‘a dark, cozy and quite expensive new restaurant with a humidor, a private lounge with high-backed leather chairs straight out of the Yale Cub, $450 dollar shots of Louis XIII de Rémy Martin Cognac – an eye-popping extravagance that made the local papers.’
Well, yes, the Caramel is certainly dark and cozy. Well, it was quite light until the happy hour ended; light enough to appreciate the smooth and sophisticated decor – the cream and soft settees in the lounge area, the dark leathers of the cigar room and, everywhere, the warm caramel colours. And, of course, to appreciate the attentions of the svelte waitresses in their short but elegant black dresses.
Then, at about 8.00 pm, the lights are dimmed, the candles are lit, and the tall pyramid heaters are turned on. I like it. It is a place without loud music, a place where you can relax and talk – in private, if you wish, because the lounge has many nooks and crannies.
Quite expensive? Well, yes, but no more so, I think, than at the Tribe, say, the Sankara, or at the Seven Seafood and Grill in the same ABC Plaza. As Giles Pattison, the General Manager said, when we chatted to him on Monday evening, far too much attention has been given to the price of the Louis XIII. For my own drink, I had a crisp Chardonnay Queren from Chile at the happy hour price of Ksh.475.
As for the food, the menu is as imaginative as you would expect. For a starter, I avoided the much publicised Mac & Cheese, with truffle oil and three-cheese dipping oil. I chose the Lobster & Grilled Mango Tacos, with avocado cream and cilantro or coriander leaves.
If I had been hungrier, I would have gone for the Pan-Seared Norwegian Salmon, with beef bacon, white bean salad and buttered asparagus. Instead, I decided to indulge myself with one of the all very tempting desserts – the Baked Alaska, with fresh strawberries and torched meringue. It came as huge prickly ball of sweetness. It was so huge and sweet I had to ask my friends to help me out.
It was a very interesting chat with Giles Pattison. He told us something about the Caramel Group – with its original Caramel Restaurant and Lounge in Dubai and a second in Abu Dhabi. He argued that the Nairobi one is not as exclusive or as expensive as many might assume.
‘But there certainly is wealth around in Nairobi these days,’ he said. ‘In this ABC Plaza car park, for instance, I have seen a Rolls-Royce Phantom, a Lamborghini and a Ferrari.’
And he told us about his plans for a Sunday brunch. It will cost five thousand shillings. But before you throw up your hands and dismiss the idea, let me tell you what it will involve.
It will not be the usual Kenyan buffet. There will be five or six courses served gradually at your table. Gradually, because you can drink for free as much as you like of a selection of wines or beers.
‘Really? How well do you know Kenyans?’ one of my companions asked. ‘Do you really know what you are letting yourself in for?’
I guess Giles does know. He has been around in Kenya for quite some time.
As we left, we saw the long and sleek, black and grey, Rolls-Royce Phantom parked outside. And we wondered which of the men we had seen inside the Caramel was the owner. That is assuming that it was a man – and that he was in the Caramel.
Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation