A Taste of Spain in Lavington Green

‘Hi!’ the girl said as she joined her partner with his dark suit, who had been waiting and had reserved a seat for her at the bar. ‘This is nice!’

‘Yes,’ he said ‘This is the new hangout.’

I hope he is wrong. ‘The new hangout’ sounds to me like something temporary. Hangers out in Nairobi places are very fickle, aren’t they? Today’s hangout is tomorrow’s dropout. I’m sure you can give me recent examples of deserted hang-outs. I hope that doesn’t happen to the new La Tasca Spanish Corner wine bar in the Lavington Mall. But I reckon it’s the kind of place that will cultivate a hard core of regulars rather than a fickle crowd of hangers-out.

It’s on the first floor of the Lavington Mall, which is becoming quite an eating-out, or drinking-out, kind of place. Its first success was the ground floor Artcaffe, which is full nearly every lunchtime.

In its early days, a friend was bemoaning the cutting down of the trees of Lavington Green for the construction of the mall. ‘Oh, I would gladly trade a couple of trees for an Artcaffe,’ I said. And then I remembered who I was talking to – Anne Birnie, the author of the excellent Trees of Kenya book. My quip didn’t go down very well with her.

On the mall’s ground floor is the Melvin Lounge, with its excellent coffee and cakes. Up on the fourth floor is the Saape Lounge, with its expansive view over the greenscape of Lavington beyond James Gichuru Road. And one floor above will soon be the Lavington version of the kitsch B Club.

La Tasca Spanish Corner is an authentic Spanish Tapas and Wine Bar – selling Spanish and run by Spaniards. It prides itself on its selection of Spanish wines and Spanish bitings and more substantial dishes. Sitting there for a sundowner drink and a snack before driving home, it triggered a video in my mind. It was a sequence of my very first drink of wine: from a leather bota bag or wine skin. No doubt it was cheap stuff that I tipped up high to pour into my mouth – but spilled more on my shirt front.

I was still a young guy, and it was on one of my earliest travels outside the UK. I was helping to take a group of youth club members for a climbing expedition in the Pyrenees. Drinking a glass of dry red ‘Real Compania’ in La Tasca I let the mental video run: the sighting of chamois antelopes as we were crossing a glacier on Mount Aneto; thinking I had been transported to heaven when I woke in my tent to the angelic voices of nuns camping and singing across the high valley; resting up after the Pyrenees on the sun-soaked beaches of the Costa Brava.

…. But I digress. I guess I can blame the authenticity of La Tasca. Anyway, I don’t think you could find anything there as cheap and harsh as the stuff we, eventually, learnt how to pour down our throats in the high Pyrenees.

I have just looked up the meaning of ‘tasca’ and, unsurprisingly, it is a tavern or bar, especially one serving food. And that is precisely what our Lavington La Tasca is.

That first early evening visit I wasn’t intending to eat, because I was expected home for dinner. But I watched Maurizio, the host, prepare a choricillo – small smoked pork sausage. He cut slices off the sausage, fried them in their juices, and served them on rings of crusty bread to the lady sitting next to me. The aroma was too much for me – too tempting.

‘Please prepare one for me, I said. ‘And another glass of the Real Compania.’

Maurizio chuckled: ‘You see. You see. You can’t resist!’

I am not very familiar with Spanish cuisine. But I see from La Tasca’s menu that there are a number of embutidos or dried sausage dishes – so I will certainly sample more of those. And after enjoying the choricillo, when I am looking for a meal rather than just a biting, I will try the fried eggs ‘Lucio Style’ with the bigger chorizo sausage and chips. (Casa Lucio is reckoned to be the best restaurant in Madrid.)

The prices are very reasonable, too; that Lucio Style dish is Ksh.600. Or, for Ksh.1,000, you can have the Pochas Riojanas with Chorizo, which I am told is beans with ripe chorizo, peppers, tomatoes and joys of Rioja or spicy chillies. And if you are very, very hungry you can cure that with 500 grams of rib-eye steak.

I have been hanging out at La Pasca a few times this last week. But I’m sure I will not be fickle. I will become a regular. I can’t resist those little choricillos and the full-bodied Spanish wines.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation