It’s a clever name for a restaurant, isn’t it – About Thyme? Yes, they do make good use of the thyme herb in some of their recipes, but the name also prompts you to think that it’s about time to make another visit. That’s what I thought last Sunday morning when I felt like something of an indulgence after a rather constrained week in Kismayo: a dry place in more ways than one – and not known for its sophisticated cuisine.
Not that I was looking for something especially sophisticated. No, I was feeling like a solid English-style breakfast. I had heard that the brunch at About Thyme is something special – and, when I went with a colleague latish on the Sunday morning we were not at all disappointed.
The About Thyme website calls itself ‘a neighbourhood refuge’. Its neighbourhood stretches from Westlands to Gigiri. It is conveniently sited between them, so it can draw on a varied and well-heeled clientele. And ‘refuge’? Yes, it is set in a well-greened space and it has its own mature garden. So it can be seen as a peaceful and relaxed place, away from the noise of the Westlands streets or the tensions of UN offices of Gigiri.
If you don’t know already, the restaurant is tucked away just down Eldama Ravine Road, off Peponi Road. When I first visited it, not long after it opened twelve years ago, it was an inside sort-of place – a tastefully furnished dining room in a typical stone Nairobi bungalow, with a terrace overlooking a very bushy garden down a steep slope.
Gradually, the slope has been tamed. Now, the restaurant spreads over three levels. There are still some magnificent trees shading tables set out in the stepped garden, with its flowering shrubs. The sun was shining bright and warm last Sunday, so we sat well down the slope.
And the brunch? They call it the ‘About Thyme Big Breakfast Fry Up’. It is a plateful of fried eggs, sausages, bacon, garlic sautéed mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, baked beans, Irish potato cake, and rustic toast. And it was late enough on that morning to feel justified in having a glass of sparkling wine – a flute of Lunetta Proscecco Brut from Italy. Not a proper Champagne breakfast – but near enough.
From the brunch menu, we could also have had chosen from a range of omelettes. The one that caught my eyes was with salmon, avocado, mascarpone, and spring onions, served with Irish potato cake and grilled tomatoes. There were baked eggs, scrambled eggs and eggs Benedict. If you fancied something sweeter, the temptations were French toast stacks, crepes and pancakes, served with various sauces and syrups.
As for sophistication, you can certainly find that in About Thyme’s main menu.
For starters, how about the Sesame Halloumi Bites (golden fried cubes of sesame coated halloumi cheese drizzled with warm honey) or the Salt & Togarashi Calamari (calamari pieces deep fried in a crispy schichimi togarashi – Japanese spice – seasoned coating and served with wasabi mayonnaise).
The salads look interesting too. There’s the Green Vegetable Salad with Camembert & Almonds (a salad of asparagus, broccoli, snow peas, green beans, lettuce, camembert cheese and toasted flaked almonds with a honey/mustard dressing). Or there’s the Retro Prawn & Avocado Cocktail Salad (poached prawns and avocado slices on a bed of lettuce, fennel, apple and herbs with Marie Rose sauce).
But the most interesting are, of course, in the main courses. Try the Pumpkin & Amaretti Tortellini, for instance, (pumpkin and amaretti – Italian almond-flavoured – filled tortellini in a creamy sage & butter sauce; finished with amaretti biscuit crumbs and parmesan cheese; served with garden salad). I think I would go for the Paprika & Lemon Chicken Breast (Barbequed paprika, cumin and lemon marinated chicken breast fillet with Aji Verde – Peruvian-style green chilli sauce, served with sautéed new potatoes and Mediterranean grilled vegetables).
You can well understand, then, that when I asked the owner, Deborah Swai, how she would describe her cuisine, she said ‘International’. She stressed that her menu is vegetarian friendly, with Vegan and gluten-free options.
We also talked with the restaurant supervisor, Rose Shibia. She has worked in a good number of places, and when I asked her how she would distinguish About Thyme, she came up with three qualities: ambience of the place, consistency in the preparation and presentation of the dishes, and friendly staff. I reckon she got it right.
Rose also told us the slogan of About Thyme: ‘Eat, drink and don’t think’. I’m sure this doesn’t mean ‘Don’t think about the prices’. They are reasonable when compared with the competition – with starters about 7,00/- and a number of main courses between 1,200/- to 1,700/-. No, I reckon it means that About Thyme is a place – a refuge – where you can easily stop thinking about what lies waiting for you back at the office.