‘What’s in a name? Juliet asks her Romeo. ‘That which we call a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet,’ she insists.
Obviously, she knew very little about branding and marketing.
But there’s one place in Nairobi about which Juliet could well be right. dusitD2. OK, if you are Thai you would know that ‘dusit’ means ‘town in heaven’ – but if you are not Thai it sounds more like the nerdy name for a vacuum cleaner upgrade.
The Dusit Hotels are a Thai chain that now has links in South and South-East Asia, the Middle East, China, the United States and Africa – in Cairo and in Nairobi. The D2 brand, like the one here in the Riverside Woods business complex off Riverside Drive, is pitched at business travellers.
I wrote about the Nairobi dusitD2 when it first opened last year. But a few of the facilities had not been completed then – like the Devarana spa and Rouge Deck pool. I hadn’t been to its Soi Restaurant which I had been told was something really special. So to celebrate our son Andreas’ return from down South we decided to indulge ourselves a little.
Now, the Soi certainly has the right kind of name. It means ‘street’ in Thai. It is across from the main part of the hotel and, sure enough, the dividing street could be in an up-market business district in Bangkok or in many other cities across the world.
Inside, yes, it is very special. Through the door and to the right is a narrow dining room, with a wall of hanging ropes lit from below with a golden light. At the far end, and behind glass, there is an imaginative display made of brown dried lily pads. Straight on, the main dining room, with its fishtrap-like hanging lamps, is broken by a few more intimate niches. And beyond is the terrace dining area overlooking a small garden.
This decor is quite different from one of the other excellent Thai restaurants in Nairobi: the Thai-Chi at the Stanley Hotel, which is in a traditional style and so authentic that it could have been lifted piece by piece from one of the old districts of Bangkok.
How authentic the food is at the Soi, I don’t know. I am no expert on Thai cuisine. But what I do know is that it is delicious. And the tastes linger – if not in the mouth then in the memory.
There were three of us, and we shared our chosen dishes:
Slow-cooked chicken breast, with potato and semi-dried tomato relish in a coconut red chilli sauce;
Braised beef shank and stir-fried pok choi, with tom sap nam kan broth;
Yellow curry, with tofu and vegetables.
The presentation of all three dishes was aesthetically appetising, and the eating was more than satisfying. The slow cooking of the chicken and beef meant that the meat was as soft and tender as it could ever be. The vegetables were crisp. And the sauces were as piquant as you could wish.
I reckon that Thailand has a transitional culture, between South and East Asia; I find its food is less heavy than Indian and less bland than Chinese – but, as I say, I am no expert on Thai cuisine. I have come, though, to appreciate the elegance of the settings and the delicacy of the tastes.
After the meal, we decided to change places and have our late coffees (for me the Affogato with its dollop of vanilla ice-cream) back across the street in the Zing lounge, with its square bar, cushioned settees, and silver sculptures.
On the way out, Brian Mbau, one of the front-house staff, saw us.
‘Hi, Mr Fox,’ he greeted. ‘I see you are leaving – but, please, before you go, there’s something I want to show you. I don’t think you have yet seen the Rouge Deck. At night it is amazing. Please come!’
And so he walked us round to the Rouge Deck pool. Sure enough, at night it is spectacular, with the pool bathed in a red light and the poolside warmed with the orange flames of the tall heaters.
Andreas and I were back there the following day to take some photographs in the daylight and to have a snack by the pool. But not to swim – the day was too chilly for that. We also managed to get the Soi Restaurant opened and lit up for the photos. The Soi is closed on Mondays.
By the way, we were told that the only time you can just walk into the Soi and get a table is on Sundays – all the other days you have to book in advance. After our own experience, I am not surprised.