A Piece of France down Riverside Drive

It was last Sunday and it was Mother’s Day. And when my son, Andreas, said ‘Should we take Mum out for lunch’, I had to agree – though I did add, ‘As long as it is to somewhere I can write about’.

So Andreas looked through the latest edition of Yummy, and he came up with somewhere Susan Wong called ‘Pastry Heaven’. It is Le Grenier á Pain (Granary for Bread), which is on Riverside Drive and is still in its ‘soft opening’ phase.

When I also read what Susan Wong had written, her words certainly tickled my taste buds and stirred a few memories. She calls French pastries ‘consumable pleasures’. Yes, and it was as a teenager camping in France that I first learnt the pleasures – the smells and the tastes – of crusty breads, flaky croissants and fruity tarts. One of the delights of those holidays in France – especially to a youngster brought up on English bland sliced bread – was fetching freshly baked baguettes to be eaten for breakfast, spread with butter and jam and washed down with large cups of coffee.

It seems that plenty of people in Nairobi feel the same way. And the power of ‘word-of-mouth’ has been demonstrated again. Le Grenier à Pain will not be officially open until Easter – but the place was almost full when we arrived last Sunday morning for lunch.

The café is on the ground floor of the new office block calling itself 9 Riverside – nearer the Waiyaki Road end of Riverside Drive. There is plenty of parking – though we were there on a Sunday when the offices were not operating. The bakery is on the lower ground floor, and the breads and pastries go up a lift shaft to the restaurant’s kitchen.

The menu is conveniently printed on disposable paper place mats. The names of the dishes are all given in French and with an English translation. (By the way, although we have been talking about French bakeries and memories of France, the owner and MD of the place is actually Belgian – Yan Welffens, who was previously at the Tribe Hotel in Gigiri.)

But back to the food… It was well past breakfast time for us last Sunday. Had it not been so, for the ‘petit déjeuner’ we could have chosen from a wide range of croissants: from the simple buttered to almond or chocolate ones. For a more substantial breakfast I would have gone for the ‘Saucisses and oeufs brouillés’: Sweet sausages, scrambled eggs, caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, basil pesto and Gruyère cheese.

And so we turned to the lunch menu. We all by-passed the tempting appetisers – the soups, cured meats and cheeses. Andreas was, as usual, hungry; he opted for the ‘Toast au poulet barbecue’: fried chicken smothered (as the menu has it) in home-made honey barbecue sauce, with sesame seeds, and on toasted white bread.

Andreas finished it quickly, and happily, enough to share some of my generous ‘Le Jambon-fromage’: honey-glazed ham, Emmental cheese, Dijon mustard, gherkins – with the traditional baguette. And Mum celebrated her day with the ‘Toast Ratatouille’: roasted peppers, red onions, carrots, zucchini (courgettes), guacamole (avocado-based salad) spread on French sour bread.

We were not able to celebrate with anything alcoholic because the liquor licence is not quite through yet. So I made do with the much healthier, and very refreshing, ‘Limonade Maison’, while the others settled for sparkling water. And we all finished off with coffees.

Over the coffees we chatted with Yan Wellfens. He seems to be very happy, and perhaps a little surprised, about the success of the soft opening. He must be confident that soon he will be able to fill the 56 new seats that will be set out on the terrace. He explained, too, how the central and round display area will show off the place’s bakeries and other goodies.

We noticed that many people, after finishing their meal, went over to buy breads or pastries to take home with them. I guess there couldn’t be a more immediate and better signal of success for a restaurant.

I think Le Grenier à Pain will do very well. Just as the also new La Tasca in the Lavington Mall has brought a piece of Spain to Nairobi, so Le Grenier has brought a piece of France – or Belgium. It is certainly well placed, surrounded as it is by the smart offices of Riverside Drive.

For this ‘soft’ phase, it is open from 8am to 6pm, Tuesday to Sunday. But it will be closed from 3rd to 12th April, to finish installation ready for an Easter opening on Thursday, 13th. But, though the restaurant will be closed for those ten days, you will still be able to buy those mouth-watering breads, pastries and quiches at the lower ground floor bakery.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation