Savouring Matbronze Wildlife Art

I was half-way through my paté before I realised that, after complaining that I had been eating little other than chicken, rice and beans for two and a half weeks in South Sudan, here I was eating chicken again on my first meal-out treat back in Nairobi.

Mind you, chicken paté is somewhat more sophisticated than the boiled bits of chicken served up on the KQ flights to and from Juba or by the cooks in the NGO compound somewhere in remote Upper Nile. It is especially good when it is served smooth, with the tangiest of chutneys and slices of nutty rye bread – and when sitting out in under a parasol in a ‘KarenGata’ garden.

It was my first visit to the place of Matbronze Wildlife Art down Langata Road South – but it certainly won’t be my last. We went primarily for lunch, because we had been to a nearby garage to leave a car to be fixed – and it was lunchtime.

But it would have been near to sacrilegious not to have first taken a good look at the art on display – mainly Denis Mathews’ bronzes. Apart from a bust of Mervyn Cowie, the founder of the Nairobi National Park, and a bronzed replica of the 1.5 million years’ old Turkana Boy Homo erectus skeleton, all the bronzes on display are of wildlife or plants.

There are heavy ones: trumpeting elephants, ambling rhinos, wallowing hippos, and waiting crocodiles. There are graceful ones: running cheetahs, courting crown cranes, and sunbirds on flower stems. There are many smaller accessories, too, such as lion paw-print trays, photo frames, pendants and cufflinks.

The foundry and gallery were set up by Denis Mathews back in 1987. The brochure tells us that the foundry uses the ‘lost wax’ process of mould-making and casting that, I seem to remember, was how the famous Benin bronzes of the West African kingdom were made in the 15th century. Wikipedia has just confirmed this for me.

The detail in Denis Mathews’ bronzes is very fine, and their textures fit the themes – the wrinkled skin of a mature rhino, for example; the glossed hide of a hippo just emerged from the water; the red dust on the back of a Tsavo elephant.

There are hundreds of exhibits in the gallery, and they are beautifully set. It is a very classy place. And the prices are quite classy too. The highest price I noticed was for a magnificent life-sized buffalo head. It was USD.29,000. A very tasteful piece to hang over the fireplace of some wealthy American tourist as a memento of his photo safari in Kenya – much more tasteful than the trophy heads they used to take back in the hunting days.

There were many pieces at around the Ksh.100,000 mark: like the sunbird on a climbing frond of bourgainvillea, a watchful giraffe with her young, a tail-up running warthog. It has made me appreciate even more the chunky Matbronze elephant I was given for running the Safari Rally Press Centre in one of the last years when the event was in the World Rally Championship – because its value has certainly appreciated.

…. But I was supposed to be telling you about the Matbronze Café.

The website (www.matbronze.com) tells us that it is ‘the ideal place to enjoy a drink, lunch, afternoon tea and cake, host your own function or private evening event’. That’s true.

But if we had arrived half an hour earlier last Saturday I could have indulged myself with what they call a ‘Full Breakfast’ at Ksh.950. Along with other healthier breakfast offerings, such as tomatoes on toast or pancakes with lemon, it is served weekdays from 08.30 to 11.30am, and on Sundays from 09.30 to 11.30am.

From the lunch menu, instead of the Paté, I could have had the Quiche of the day, Fajita’s (chicken or beef or red beans), Pasta Bake, or Grilled Chicken, Tilapia or Steak. And there is an excellent Ottolenghi salad bar on hand – a mix of Mediterranean-style salads, freshly made and free of preservatives. You can also choose from a variety of sandwiches, with or without the salad.

Oh yes, there was also the wine. The chilled white ‘Beach House’ is very good value at Ksh.350 a glass. The afternoon tea and cake sounded tempting too. But we had to be on our way.

And that reminds me that I haven’t told you how to get there. If you take the Langata Road out of Nairobi, you pass the Galleria shopping mall, and further on take the Langata South Road. When the road turns sharply right, you drive straight on up Kifaru Lane. From there it is well signposted.

So Matbronze Café is a great place for a relaxed garden lunch, surrounded by the fascinating bronzes. And the washrooms are the leafiest of loos I have ever had the pleasure of using.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation