Sunday Brunch at Marula Mercantile

It was early Sunday morning and I had no place to go. I opened the laptop and brought up KenyaBuzz. It didn’t fail me.

I looked up Today on the KenyaBuzz website. I saw that at 10.00 am I was invited to meet up at Nomads for a big collective beach clean-up on Diani Beach. Tempting, yes – but I was in Nairobi and I had no magic carpet to fly me there. Anyway, the sun was shining over Nairobi in a clear blue sky.

I could have attended an Accounting and Filing of Taxes and Statutory Deductions training event at the Hennessis Hotel along the Limuru Road. No thank you. But there it was: a yard sale at Murula Mercantile, promising ‘vendors selling household goods, clothing and shoes, baby items, and much more’. No, it wasn’t the vendoring I was interested in – it was the late morning brunch and the garden ambiance.

I had heard some good things about the food, the cocktails and the setting at the Marula Mercantile, so this was a timely reminder to remove it from my ‘to do’ list.

It is down Marula Lane in Karen, which is the first right along the Karen Road after the Langata Road junction. (The website has an easily decipherable Google map.) I am a slow learner. I set off to Karen along the Ngong Road rather than going the longer but quicker and less stressful route via Waiyaki Way and the Southern Bypass at Kikuyu. But after the queue of Sunday morning churchgoers to Jamhuri the road cleared.

Once across the Langata Road, you can’t miss the turning into Marula Lane because of the signboard for Marula Mercantile – and then the restaurant is not far short of the popular Purdy Arms. There’s not a lot of parking inside the compound, so some visitors choose to park on the road outside. But take care: my son had his spare wheel craftily stolen when parked there for the Christmas Bazaar.

Around Nairobi there are a number of garden restaurants to choose from these days. Karen way, there is the smart Tamambo Karen Blixen Coffee Garden on Karen Road, and also the even more expansive (but not so expensive) Dari Restaurant along the Ngong Road. But I found that the Marula Mercantile is rather special.

The focus is the well-stocked bar. From there the rustic tables spread out into the garden. Last Sunday, the vendors’ tables were arrayed around the garden’s periphery. I took a walk round, but found nothing to take home from among the dresses, shoes, sundry household items and assorted bric-a-brac.

I guess I was too keen to enjoy a glass of late-morning white wine. I chose the house Leleshwa Sauvignon Blanc, and enjoyed it, fresh and smooth, as I studied the very interesting brunch menu.

There was a lot to choose from. Here are a few examples:

Among the ‘small plates ’: homemade doughnuts, with tree-tomato jam; blistered shishitos, with sea salt and chili flakes, butternut squash fritters, with tamarind yogurt sauce. And among the ‘mains’: buckwheat pancakes, with caramelized bananas, candied pecans and whipped cream; mushroom and goat cheese tart, with cucumber and tomato salad; shrimp po’boy, with fried prawns, lettuce, tomato and tartar sauce. Interesting? Different? Yes?

I had cheated by having some toast and marmalade just before setting out, so I went for a ‘small plate’ called ‘hot lightning’. It was potatoes, house bacon, apple and spiced syrup – with a choice to add egg. It came as a piled plate. The potatoes were cubed; the bacon and apple were diced. Dousing the chunks in the spiced syrup, it was very delicious and what my sister used to call ‘more-ish’.

I resisted having a second glass of wine. I had an Americano coffee instead. And I lingered. It is the kind of place where you want to linger. I wished I had taken a book with me.

Right now I am in the middle of one of Paul Theroux’s novels: The Lower River. It paints a very grim, even frightening, picture of Africa. In our early lives, Paul and I worked, and occasionally together, as adult educators in East Africa. Just before that Paul had been a Peace Corp worker in Malawi.

He came back for a trip from Cairo to the Cape after thirty years as a very successful novelist and travel writer. He now has what I think is a very jaundiced view of Africa and, especially, the development set who, like me, continue to work here. The account of his return journey is in Dark Star Safari. If he comes again to Kenya, one of the places I will take him to is Marula Mercantile. It’s a place which might stimulate a change of heart and mind about Africa now and its future.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation

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