A Little Place That Serves Big

It’s not an easy place to find. But the effort is worth it. There’s no elegance in the setting. But the warmth of the welcome and the quality of the food makes that of small matter.

Nicole calls her café the Nook. It’s a backyard really. Well, it’s about half the length of a cricket pitch and not a great deal wider. It seats only twelve people on very rustic chairs. So let me say right now: If this piece makes you want to try it – and I hope it does – then you have to book, and ideally the day before.

Nicole is an Australian. She has a puckish grin and a lot of that Australian ‘get-up-and-go’ about her. She got up and went travelling around both of the Americas. She thought she would like to see Africa. The first NGO job she applied for she got. It was in Kenya. She looked up Kenya on the map and she came.

After a while she got turned off the NGO world – so I think – and she started this cooking and café thing. (She does outside catering as well as running the café.) From last November she has this little backyard place in Akamba Court down Woodlands Lane in Hurlingham. But that direction seems not to be enough. We got lost when we went there last Sunday. And so did our friends. So let me say more.

If you approach from Argwings Kodhek Road (a simpler way than from Lenana Road) Woodlands Lane is a small dirt road – well, a lane – off between the two old shopping complexes in Hurlingham. If you are approaching from Lavington it is the last turning left before the little roundabout at Woodlands Road. Look out for the Capital Cut Executive Barbers’ red sign and, once through the gate of Akamba Court, the Nook is immediately on the right.

Let me give you Nicole’s number, because she seems to enjoy explaining the way for people who get themselves lost. You will need the number for booking a table, anyway. It is 0701 749142. She has a fun Facebook page, too – Pop-Up Nairobi. if you just Google Nook Café Nairobi, you will find a few reviews.

So let me start mine.

Last Sunday, these mains were on the menu, written up by Nicole on her blackboard. There was a choice of tacos (whether grilled snapper, chicken, eggs and bacon, or lime and chili beef); corn fritters with rocket, tomato chutney, bacon and poached egg; homemade toast with balsamic mushrooms, queso fresco (Mexican cheese), and poached eggs.

Between the three of us (I was with my wife and my son) we each tried a different one of the three dishes. The mushrooms and poached eggs were delicious – and the other two looked happy with what they had chosen.

I had read on the Facebook page that Nicole’s cupcakes are rather special. My first choice, the cinnamon and choc chip, was sold out, so I preferred the coffee flavour over the raspberry. It was a good choice. I had a mixed fruit spritzer with the meal. It was rather watery, but I guess that should be expected, given that there was a lot of water melon in it. We finished off with Americano coffees, served with a sweet rusk-like biscuit for dunking.

The price of the brunch, including a drink, was only 1,000 shillings. And the cupcake was 200 shillings.

So that was the Mexican menu for last week. Each week Nicole has a different one. I see there have been French, Italian, Thai, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Malaysian, and Australian… But what on earth is Australian cuisine – barbecues with lamb-burgers? (Sorry, Nicole, I hope no offence!) But, whatever the cuisine, Nicole does her best to make sure the ingredients are organic and fresh. She sources her produce direct from farmers.

I can see why Nicole calls her place the Nook. To say the least, the setting is rather cramped. It’s not a place to go with your partner if you are having an ongoing argument. The narrow yard is enclosed, and we could hear every word spoken at the next table. But they were young, excited and loud speaking Americans.

Nicole freely admits that some people don’t like the backstreet location, the rather cramped space, and the hipster ambiance. But if you like a bit of adventure, appreciate an imaginative choice of freshly cooked dishes, relish Nicole’s enthusiasm for varieties of food, and enjoy some Australian banter – this is a place to visit and visit again.

Oh, I should have told you already, the Nook Café is open on only Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. And it is open on each of those days from 9am to 4pm. Enjoy.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation