‘So you haven’t been to the News Cafés?’ a colleague said. ‘I’m surprised.’
So I went. Last Sunday. For a brunch. At one of the three News Cafés in Nairobi – the one in the Adlife Plaza of Kilimani. (The others are at the Sarit Centre and in the Hardy Estate, Karen.)
But I knew the News Café brand from a few visits to the one in the Hatfield district of Pretoria (now Tshwane), when I was on consultancy missions in South Africa. That was the first of them, opened about two decades ago.
The thing I remember about that restaurant was that all the waiters were white. Even the parking boys were white. But that was Hatfield. You wouldn’t have known the apartheid regime had crumbled a few years back.
One thing I noticed about Pretoria was that no-one employed a driver. It seemed that, though white households employed cooks, cleaners and gardeners, they didn’t take on drivers. It occurred to me that employing cooks, cleaners and gardeners must have been no challenge to sustaining the separation culture of apartheid. They would be left alone to get on with their jobs, and at the end of the day they would travel out on the workers’ trains to the Mamelodi township.
Contact with the employers would have been minimal. But minimal contact with a driver would have been nigh impossible. You just couldn’t travel for hours on end in the capsule of a car without talking. And that’s the kind of contact that would have shown how nonsensical as well as pernicious apartheid was. Anyway, that’s just a theory.
Another thing I remember about my visits to Pretoria was that I never saw one mixed couple. Not one. It was, and in so many ways, different from our cosmopolitan, more liberal and relaxed Nairobi.
And having myself just piled up three adjectives, I’m tempted to have a go at the very worst kind of PR-speak from the News Café website. Have a read of this:
‘News Café offers and facilitates a premium entertainment experience for its aspirational customer base by efficiently serving world class food offerings and premier beverage choices in an atmosphere that is contemporary, vibrant and relevant.’ And so it goes on.
Does anyone enjoy, never mind believe, this kind of off-the peg hype? And does the News Café in Kilimani live up to it?
I’m not sure what a ‘premium entertainment experience’ a restaurant is supposed to give. It was a Sunday morning, so you wouldn’t expect a DJ or a cabaret, but there were TV screens set up on the walls showing, yes, SuperSport channels.
As for the ‘customer base’ I couldn’t tell whether they were ‘aspirational’, but they seemed a fairly typical mix of youngish Nairobians, out for a late Sunday breakfast or early lunch. I couldn’t properly appraise the ‘premier beverage choices’ because it was too early on a Sunday for that. But I understand that the wide range of cocktails is a News Café speciality.
However, I can say something about the ‘world class food offerings’. I sampled the English Breakfast. I can’t say it was world class because the French fries were coldish and hard – and the eggs were hard-Kenyan not soft-English style. But it was a nice touch to offer a choice of streaky or back bacon. The coffee was OK, too.
I should say, also, that the menu is very extensive – from ten kinds of burger to seven different wraps – as well as salads, steaks, grills and all-day breakfasts. For socialising over a meal there is the ‘top seller’ platter, with a full portion of bbq ribs, chicken wings, sausages, served with Cajun potato wedges. It serves up to four people for Ksh.4,500.
Why are these places called News Cafés? In the Kabalagala district in Kampala there used to be a bar called Telex – a place bombed by terrorists back in 1999. I was told that, doing the times of civil strife under Idi Amin, it was the place where you went to find out what was going on. In Nairobi, so I understand, the place for news (or well-informed gossip) used to be the nyama choma joints of Kenyatta Market.
The News Café in Hatfield had blown-up newsprint on the walls. I didn’t see any similar media stuff on display in the Kilimani News Café – except the TV screens. But the décor of the place is cheerful. I guess it deserves the label ‘contemporary’, though ‘vibrant’ might be rather too strong a word. As for ‘relevant’ – I’ve no idea to what it is supposed to be relevant.
To be fair, maybe I should try this place in the evening, when it is full of members of its aspirational customer base and I can try a couple of its cocktails to make myself more vibrant. Though I guess I might still not be relevant.