A Lively Hubbub at Karen’s Hub

I thought I should complete my Hub story – about the new and amazing shopping and entertainment complex at Karen.

Back in April 2014 my son, Jan, wrote about the Hub concept, after a meeting with Philippe Cauviere, the experienced and enthusiastic hotelier who was then driving the project forward.

By February of this year, the concept had become a reality. I walked round with Jonathan Yach, the Mall Manager. First, we reviewed the facts: The Hub is 200 metres along the Dagoretti Road, from the Karen roundabout; it has six stylish buildings and open-sided walkways, with a centerpiece of a large piazza; behind, it has a man-made lake overlooked by restaurants; and there is parking space for 1,200 cars.

Then, Jonathan walked me round. A number of shops had opened but there was some frustration that the prestigious French retail giant, Carrefour, had been delayed. (And I’m sure you will agree that for any shopping mall the supermarket is what mainly draws in the customers. Look at the Lavington Mall, for example: it has many good facilities, but without a supermarket actually in the building, a number of the shops seem to be starved of business.)

Some of the restaurants were there, too – but not yet the Artcaffé or Ocean Basket. Never mind, I had a most enjoyable and relaxed lunch at the Italian, La Cascina, which overlooks the jewel in the crown of the place – the piazza. As Philippe Cauviere had promised a year or so before, ‘The Hub will be a happening place’. And the piazza is the place where most happenings happen.

In the last few months I have heard many things about The Hub – all of them good. Carrefour is now there. So I decided to take another look; more than a look – a taste.

It turned out to be something of a busman’s holiday – the piazza was completely filled with the small white tents of a travel exhibition. The high and far flying Turkish Airlines was there, as well as the local favourite, Air Kenya. But most of the tents were tempting us with bargain stays at the Coast – a strong temptation in these chilly Nairobi days.

But I was there to look round The Hub and not to look at brochures and listen to sales talks about the joys of the Coast. I was there to taste as well as look, so I began with a warming Merlot wine at La Cascina – before ogling the well-stocked racks of the Carrefour hypermarket. It certainly lives up to the ‘hyper’ tag – it is huge.

After the ogle in Carrefour I climbed the stairs, rode the escalator, ascended the lifts, and strolled the open walkways. Whether on the ground floor, upper ground floor, or first floor, all the shops seem to be high-end – whether selling clothes, furniture, jewelry or crafts. And even on Sunday the smart Stanbic Lounge was open and I could use the ATM. (I’m old enough to still marvel at the idea of getting cash from a hole in the wall.)

It was time for lunch. All my family members have recently ganged up to tell me I don’t eat healthily. So I spurned the tempting slow-cooked pork of Carnivore’s Roast sidewalk café, and the Corte de ternera del dia – 250 grams of prime beef cut of the day at the Picazzo Spanish restaurant. I walked over to the Zucchini vegetable shop, where on the tables outside you can get a Leo sandwich – no doubt garnished with fresh and very healthy vegetables.

Now I remember Leo’s sandwiches from many years ago, when he had a little shop in Hurlingham. They were so popular that people used to queue for them along the pavement outside. They were crusty bread slices lavishly filled with cold meats or cheeses.

So I ordered the ‘Leo Special’. Yes, it did come with healthy vegetables. But it also came with cold chips – and the bread was toasted. I should have known better. In Kenya, if you don’t ask for plain bread you get toast! But the glass of tree tomato juice was pleasantly refreshing.

I still needed a coffee though. That was a good excuse to cross over to the Artcaffé. What is it about the Artcaffé that makes it so popular, wherever it is? I’ve noticed that particularly my Somali friends always choose to meet there. Maybe it’s because they are used to the socialising in tea shops back in Somalia.

I looked up at one of the quotations on the wall. It was from Mick Jagger. It said, ‘Life is just a cocktail party on the street’. Well, The Hub is certainly something of a cocktail party. It’s a great mix of people. It’s showing that the Karen community is no longer mainly a Kenya cowboy place. And in The Hub, life is definitely being lived very well on the street.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation