Gavin’s name might well ring a bell for those of you who have been reading this column for many years. I have interviewed Gavin – yes, Gavin Bell – more than anyone else in the 27 years this column has been going places. He has taken me through a number of those places where he has been a manager: the Siana Springs camp on the edge of the Masai Mara, the Mayfair Hotel in Parklands, the KFC at the Junction, Roast at the Hub and, of course, a few of his Kengeles restaurants and bars in Nairobi.
Now, Gavin has a broader perspective and a more complex challenge. He is the Director of Development and Marketing of the Tamarind Group, whose establishments include in Mombasa the Tamarind Restaurant, the Tamarind Village apartments, the Tamarind Dhow – and in Nairobi the Carnivore, the Tamarind and Tamambo Restaurants at the Karen Blixen Coffee Garden, the Roast restaurant at the Hub shopping complex in Karen. Last week I met Gavin at the Group’s newest property, the Tamarind Tree Hotel.
This newest of Nairobi’s four-star hotel’s is in the extensive and leafy grounds of the Carnivore. I asked Gavin why the Group has planted the Tamarind Tree there. He had a very ready answer. The idea had been growing for about seven years, he said – making use of the grounds alongside the Carnivore, and recognising the advantage of being next to Wilson Airport, near JKIA – and close to the city’s business and entertainment centres, as well as those of Karen.
‘We wanted to create,’ Gavin said, ‘an up-market, fun and four-star category hotel with five-star food – and five-star food is what the Tamarind has built its reputation on over its 46 years.’
‘Fun’ was a word Gavin used a number of times as we talked over lunch and as we walked around the hotel. I could see why. There is nothing heavy about the place. Apart from the dimly lit and snug bar, the architecture is light and airy; the main colours are pale and fresh – mirroring the greens of the garden and surrounding trees. And even in the bar there are pillars that change their deeper colours as you walk round them.
There is also a sense of fun in the way – however much the style of the hotel is contemporary and global – you can never forget you are in Africa.
Two photographers, Georgina Goodwin and Neil Thomas, were commissioned to create a number of exhibitions around the public rooms. There is a striking array of African faces, for example. In the breakfast area, there is a superb collection of photographs depicting daily life in the towns and countryside of Kenya. And there is a series of enhanced aerial photographs of the Rift Valley lakes.
I think the staff are well into the fun, too – in a serious kind of way, because fun methods – group drumming, for instance – initiate a lot of the effort to enhance teamwork and build a culture of quality service.
Gavin took me behind the scenes, though the kitchens and into the staff canteen. On the walls there are eight colourful posters that define the Tamarind culture, with each one picking out a letter from the name Tamarind to introduce a principle. One takes the letter N for ‘Nothing beats a smile’. It goes on with, ‘A smile is a message of happiness… A smile is contagious’. The staff do smile – and not in a forced way. True, the Tamarind Tree comes across as a happy place.
There is a lot more that could be said about the Tamarind Tree – the ‘state-of-the-art’ conference facilities, for example, the well-equipped gym, and the heated swimming pool. And I mustn’t forget the five-star food. Gavin tells me that the Sunday lunch is very special. I believe him.