‘Cooking is an art. It’s a passion, not a business. It’s like therapy for me’. Paola Mazzonello is the owner and head chef at Caffè Concerto, the new Italian restaurant along Kirichwa Road in Kilimani. It’s a modest place, with a handful of tables lining a single room, and scattered across a small courtyard. It’s simple, but charming, and complements well Paola’s passion for cooking rich, homemade Italian meals. There’s no question of style over substance at her restaurant; the food is very much the centrepiece, and it doesn’t disappoint.
It has only been open for about a month or so, but Caffè Concerto is already garnering a bit of a reputation for its delicious pasta dishes. Diners have the option of fresh (tagliatelle, pappardelle, ravioli) or dry (spaghetti, linguine, penne, fusilli) pasta, with a range of sauces and accompaniments, including gorgonzola and rucola, smoked salmon, and il pesto di Paola. The homemade ravioli is filled with ricotta cheese and spinach, and is served with either pomodoro e basilico, burro e salvia or gorgonzola sauce.
The menu is quite brief, and fits on an A4 page, if you don’t include the specials. Alongside the pasta dishes is a variety of salads, seafood and meat mains, including giant grilled prawns, pepper steak and beef fillet in mushroom sauce. There is also a selection of starters – such as carpaccio di manzo (dry, thin sliced beef with rocket and parmesan shavings), and parma ham with melon – as well as desserts, including affogato al caffè and tiramisu.
In light of the positive reviews she had received about the pasta, my fiancée thought fit to order the fresh pappardelle – as recommended by the waiter – with the gorgonzola and rucola sauce. I opted for the pepper steak, with thick, hand-cut chips. Both dishes were excellent: the sauces were creamy, and the pasta was rich and flavourful.
As we enjoyed our food, Paola went round and chatted to the diners at each table – not that she had far to walk. I counted just four tables inside, and eight outside, under two large parasols. When she came round to us I asked her whether she had any plans to expand, but she actually wanted there to be fewer tables. I can appreciate her reasoning for this, as the restaurant’s small size provides a sense of intimacy, and lends itself well to the comfort of Paola’s home-cooked meals.
Sitting outside, it does feel like you’re at a street-side café in Italy. Sandy walls envelop the courtyard, with rows of rounded clay roof tiles, and ferns in hanging baskets. Chimeneas and warm up-lighting provide a cosy atmosphere in the evenings, and during the day sunlight filters through the large arched windows separating the interior from the courtyard.
There is still work to be done with the décor, according to Paola, but there are already a few pieces of art on the walls, and most are in line with the restaurant’s musical theme. On a shelf above the bar is a saxophone and a violin, among a number of other instruments. There was an eclectic mix of music playing in the background, too, from Moby classics to what I can only describe as romantic Italian pop songs.
In addition to the décor, Paola hopes to finish off the construction of a pizza oven. So she has big plans for her small restaurant.
‘I want to make sure that people walk in with a smile, and walk back out with a smile’, she said. We were certainly charmed by the modesty of the place when we arrived, and the quality of the food ensured that we left with smiles on our faces, too.
The restaurant is open everyday from 12.30pm to 9.30pm, and for takeaways call 0716910963. You also can find them on Facebook, or on Instagram (@caffeconcertonairobi).
Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation