A Piece of Dublin Comes to Nairobi

‘I expect this is a very good place in the evenings,’ my colleague Elizabeth remarked. I reckoned she said that because, just after 12 am last Sunday morning, there were only a couple of other tables occupied on the broad terrace in the curved Mirage building and overlooking Chiromo Road. But, by the time we left at around 2 pm, almost all the terrace tables were taken.

We were at The Tav, which is barely three months old and which advertises itself as ‘the newest Irish pub in Nairobi’. They can’t say ‘the Irish pub in Nairobi’ because there is another one: the homely, and perhaps more authentic, The Curragh, at the Racecourse along Ngong Road.

What is it about Irish pubs that you can find in so many countries from America to Australia? In Africa alone, I have been lucky enough to drink at them in Accra, Gaborone, Kampala, Lusaka, Pretoria – and now at the two in Nairobi. And at Nyali, Mombasa, there’s Murphy’s Irish Pub if you prefer drinking inside rather than outside at the popular Bob’s Bar.

So what is it about Irish pubs?

In Ireland, the pub – perhaps even more so than the church – has for centuries been the centre of social life. And there are lots of them in Ireland! In the greatest of Irish novels, Ulysses by James Joyce, Leopold Bloom, the central character, said it would be a good puzzle to walk across Dublin without passing a pub. That was in 1904. The puzzle was not solved until 2011. And it was done by a software developer using a computer algorithm.

The Irish, I reckon, are known for their conviviality and wit. And that’s what you find in good Irish pubs around the world. It’s certainly there in The Curragh at the Racecourse. As I wrote a couple of years ago, its walls are plastered with witty lines. Murphy’s law is there: ‘Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.’

Some of the others are: ‘Friends come and go, enemies accumulate’; ‘Beauty is only skin deep, ugliness goes to the bone’; ‘Celibacy is not hereditary’. ‘Buy a Guinness for the price of two,’ a poster invites you. ‘And get a second one free.’

There’s not so much humour on the walls of The Tav. But Guinness, the famous black stuff, is there. And that’s what I had to have. The Irish say it’s an acquired taste and you shouldn’t judge it by having just one glass. That’s why I had two.

I was also intending to have the Sunday roast. But it was the last day on NRW17 – Nairobi’s Restaurant Week which, oddly, has run for not seven but 12 days. So the Sunday roast was suspended and it was the special set menu on offer – two courses for 950/-.

I stuck to the Irish theme, since I was savouring an Irish pub – so I chose the Irish Stew with mashed potatoes. It was a good choice. The generous and tender chunks of meat, the boiled potatoes and other vegetables were floating in a thick and tasty gravy. It was very authentic, I think.

Elizabeth chose the Bacon Wrapped Chicken. She said that was a good choice, too. Succulent, I think she said it was.

But I have forgotten that we also had starters. I went for the Dublin Spud Skins: jacket potatoes with melted cheese, and topped with bacon bits, tomatoes, spring onions and sour cream. Elizabeth had the Vegetarian Nachos: spicy tortilla chips, with portions of cheese, refried beans (whatever that means), tomatoes and sour cream.

For both of us, the starters would have made a sufficient main course. Next time, I will miss breakfast and make do with a cup of tea before going to The Tav for a Sunday brunch. One criticism though: the house wine could do with an upgrade and a wider choice. Maybe now, though, I will have acquired the taste for Guinness – having had those two glasses.

I like The Tav’s terrace. Craftily, it’s been made to look old, with dark grey imitation leather seats as wrinkled as an elephant’s hide – and plywood-topped tables recycled from packing cases. I actually enjoyed the muted sound of traffic along Chiromo Road. You feel a bit smug, sitting relaxed, drinking your Guinness, and aware that so many other guys are battling the traffic down there.

Inside the Mirage and up some steep stairs, there’s a snug restaurant space, with black and white photos on the walls, evoking Dublin at the time of James Joyce’s Ulysses.

It’s a good place, The Tav – an easy retreat from the bustle of the city. And, as my colleague Elizabeth said, it must be a very good place in the evenings.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation