Brunch in a Garden Retreat

It was Sunday morning. After a week’s recuperating at home, I needed to get out for some fresh air. So a brunch somewhere in a garden restaurant seemed like a good idea. And the sun was beginning to break through the grey clouds. But, still dragging a mended leg, still dependant on crutches, the place had to be fairly close.

So we made for the Avalon Tavern down the extension of Riverside Drive. The name Avalon has very English associations, doesn’t it? It is a place of mystery and magic, and with a strong connection with the legendry King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. It was where King Arthur’s famous sword, Excalibur, was forged, and it was where the king was taken after fighting Mordred at the Battle of Camlann to recover from his wounds.

My wife smiled when she came to that last bit when she was reading the note about Avalon printed in the Tavern’s menu. But I am no King; I have no Knights to attend me – but I think there is a round table somewhere in the house.

The Avalon Tavern’s menu has an English touch about it, too. You can get Fish ‘n’ Chips: ‘a traditional battered fillet of Red Snapper served with minty peas and chunky hand-cut fries’. (Though it would be ‘mushy’ peas at a ‘traditional’ chippy place in England – and the fish would be Cod or Haddock rather than Red Snapper.)

Or you can get another lunch-time favourite in English pubs – Bangers ‘n’ Mash. This comes with chicken sausages, ‘served with creamed potatoes and caramelised onion gravy’. (Though, again, in England the meat would more likely be pork, with the long and coiled Cumberland variety increasingly favoured.)

But I was after a true brunch, so I went for the Full Monty breakfast. This is it: fruit juice, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, roast potatoes, eggs (‘cooked to your choice’), coffee or tea. I should have been more particular about the way the eggs were fried; they came Kenyan-style – fried hard. But the rest of the items on the well-filled plate were all very fine and filling.

The prices at the Avalon Tavern are very reasonable. The Full Monty is Ksh.800; the Fish ‘n’ Chips are Ksh.850. There is an interesting ‘special offer’, too. Nyama choma is available all the time. But there are some interesting combinations with various whiskeys. A bottle of Jameson or Famous Grouse and platter is Ksh.5,500; Johny Walker Black and platter is Ksh.6,500.

So there is nothing pretentious about the place. The food doesn’t come making fancy patterns on the plate; it is basic and plentiful. Or if you go there in the evening for mainly a drink, there is a wide and typical range of ‘snacks and bites’ available: including fish fingers, pork spare ribs, chicken wings, somosas, potato wedges, grilled calamari in chilli and lemon. And at weekends you can eat and drink while being entertained by a live band.

So you have a choice of sitting inside in the dining room, outside on the patio – or back on the grass and under the shade of trees. The lounge and bar make for a cosy niche – especially if a fire can be lit there on a cold evening.

There are a couple of thatched rondavels in the garden, which are fine for small group meetings and celebrations. But the state of the thatch on these rondavels – now dark grey and rather ragged – is the most obvious of the indicators that the time has come for a lick of paint and a spruce-up.

The main attraction, then, of the Avalon Tavern is its garden setting. Back in the mi-1980s when I came back to Kenya, I was surprised that there were no nice garden restaurants in or around Nairobi. Coming from the cold climate of England, I couldn’t understand why Nairobi sunshine wasn’t being more exploited.

The Karen Blixen Coffee Garden along the Karen Road was the first garden restaurant to be established. Then the chic Le Rustique opened in General Mathenge Drive – sadly, now gone from Nairobi but recreated in Nanyuki.

When I wrote a review of the Avalon Tavern shortly after it opened, I said a good number of positive things, but I also said something negative that I soon realised was unfair. It was to the effect that, though the place would be much appreciated by those of us living in and around Lavington, it would not attract many clients from across town.

I’m glad I can now make amends. If you appreciate a garden setting (in this case, a very lush garden setting); if you appreciate a place where you don’t have to worry about formalities and where you can spread out a bit with friends – then what the Avalon Tavern offers is worth a trip across town.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation