Cricket in The Tavern along Rhapta Road

Cricket and conversation go together, don’t they? One of my collection of happy memories from my domestic days in England is listening to test match commentaries on the radio while painting a room, weeding the garden, or even washing up. John Arlott – one of the best of the commentators in those days – could even make a drama out of a paper bag blowing across the pitch.

Nowadays, there’s the pleasure of listening to the wise and witty conversation-type commentary on Sky Sports by ex-players such as David Lloyd, David Gower, Nasir Hussain or Michael Holding. Can you imagine a group of ex-footballers being so entertaining? I guess a game of cricket moves so slowly there’s plenty of time for conversation.

Well, if you enjoy talking about cricket, there’s a good place I can recommend. It’s The Tavern within The King Post hotel and apartment complex along Rhapta Road. There you will find Papu, who now has a restaurant, a bar and a coffee shop, that he calls The Tavern.

I first met Papu more years ago than I want to tell you, when he had The Porterhouse steak restaurant along Mama Ngina Street in town. I enjoyed his steaks and I enjoyed his chat about cricket. And he was one who could play cricket as well as talk about it.

As a youngster he had been in the Kenya Combined Schools team; he went on to play for the Simba Union. He was an all-rounder, but perhaps a better batsman than a bowler. He became Chairman of KCA – the Kenya Cricket Association. And he is a member of the prestigious MCC – one of the guys you see sitting in front of the Lord’s Pavilion wearing their garish red and yellow striped blazers and ties.

I met him again last Saturday in The Tavern. His place has real character. It’s like a London tavern or a gentleman’s cub set within a Swahili township. I have driven past The King Post in Rhapta Road many times – and thought it something of an oddity. It seemed to fit more at the Coast than in Nairobi. But once inside last Saturday I like the feel of it. It has the ornate 19th century style of a house owned by a wealthy Arab merchant. It is threaded with narrow lanes such as you find in the Old Town of Zanzibar.

But, inside and up some stairs, Papu has a long bar, with tables set out at each end and leather settees against the long wall. Behind the bar, conveniently placed just above the shelves of whisky and gin bottles, there are two TV screens.

England were playing the second Test against the West Indies. So I decided to have my lunch at the bar. And the waiter tilted one of the screens so I could look at it square on. It wasn’t very pleasant viewing, because England were making a bit of a mess of their first innings.

The menu provided much better viewing. Like the architecture and décor of The King Post, it was a blend of styles and tastes. Let me give you a few examples.

Among the choice of nine soups there was the classic French Onion Soup, a Carrot & Ginger, and a Thai Chicken Soup. From the ten starters, you might well be tempted by the, again classic, Prawn Cocktail Admiral, or be intrigued by the Crab Balls – but the menu could disappoint you when it says this has nothing to do with a crab’s anatomy but is shredded crab and potatoes, bread crumbed and deep fried.

The prawns joined the crab in a salad bed of spring vegetables; they joined up again, along with lobster and calamari, in a seafood tagliatelle. Tilapia and salmon entered the list among the seafood mains. Over the page there were pizzas aplenty and tikkas and kebabs from the tandoori oven.

But before I had turned the page I had found what I was looking for among the grills. I could have chosen Steak Chasseur, Filet Mignon Princess, Masala Fillet, Mexican Steak – and a few others. But I went for my trusted favourite – the simple Pepper Steak with French Fries. My trust was rewarded – it was tender; it was delicious.

But I must move away from the menu, to tell you more about the place. Further up the stairs there’s the restaurant proper, with its simple and elegant décor. Even further up, there’s a top deck lounge, with a good view across to the Swahili-style apartments and down to the clear blue of the swimming pool.

On the way up, I had passed a seminar room. It, too, was very stylishly furnished – ideally for an executives’ brainstorm. Then, back to the ground floor, I glanced in the coffee shop and wished I had time to loiter in the shaded patio lounge. But I will be back.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation