Swollen clouds hung menacingly over the Ngong Hills, and as the rain fell I was glad to be indoors. But given the luxury of my surroundings, I had no desire to be outside anyway. I was sitting on the terrace of the Karen Blixen Suite of Hemingways Nairobi, looking out towards the drenched garden through the sprawling branches of a bombax tree. Needless to say, I was quite content.
As the junior presidential suite of a five-star boutique hotel, the Blixen Suite is as lavishly furnished as you would expect. It’s a tasteful blend of a classic colonial aesthetic – touches of brass, mahogany and leather – with the contemporary chic of textured fabrics and Italian marble. This fusion of styles is epitomised perfectly by the 40 inch TV screen, which rises from within a faux vintage travelling chest at the push of a button.
Beneath a high vaulted ceiling is a spacious living and dining area, leading to a kitchen with butler access, and a master bedroom with a walk-in closet in the en-suite bathroom. The 43 executive and deluxe suites aren’t as large, but are similarly furnished, and descend down the terraced garden in attractive white and pale green double storey blocks. At the top of the property is the American plantation-inspired main building, flanked by the swimming pool and spa.
It was at the spa that my indulgent weekend began, in the hands of supervisor Esther Wanjiku. The treatment I chose was an hour-long aromatherapy massage, using a blend of African essential oils in a warmed and darkened room. The long strokes and soothing tunes lulled me into a deep sleep pretty early on, so I can’t give you a detailed review. But I can tell you that I emerged feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. Topping it off with a fruit smoothie and a smoked salmon canapé was a nice touch, too.
The main reason for my invitation to Hemingways last weekend was to sample their new cooking lessons. I was joined for lunch by the Hotel’s General Manager, Richard Kimenyi, who said that the idea stemmed from guest requests to learn how to cook Kenyan dishes.
Together with talented Executive Chef Archie Alvin Athanathius, they formed a plan to utilise the vacant kitchen attached to the old fine-dining restaurant to host lessons for guests and anyone else interested. The focus will be on traditional Kenyan fare, but requests can also be made to cook any of the dishes on the hotel’s à la carte menu.
To get a feel for the experience, I joined Chef Archie in the kitchen of the Hollywood-themed Brasserie Restaurant, to cook my own dinner. In stark contrast to the smooth and dimly-lit restaurant, the kitchen was a hot flurry of activity. Archie introduced me to the Executive Sous-Chef, Knight Lodenyi, who took me through the preparation of my selections for the evening: Chilli Paneer Tikka Skewers and ‘Watamu’ Prawns Masala.
I’m not a particularly competent cook – I can make you a decent omelette – but I must say the chefs were impressed with my chapati rolling skills. For dessert, I was led to the pastry section, where Commis Chef Jesee demonstrated the delicate construction of the popular ‘Double Chocolate Sphere’: a delicious chocolate treat set on a cinnamon crumble with caramel ice cream.
The following morning, I was invited back into the kitchen to observe the more frenzied preparation of the Sunday Brunch and Jazz, which for Mother’s Day the weekend before had attracted 160 people. It was considerably busier than the dinner service, but they still managed to put out an impressive buffet spread with intricately assembled delicacies.