It was Father’s Day. It’s a day my family don’t remember or, if they do, they don’t recognise. So I decided to have my own indulgent Going Places. I drove off across town to sample the Off The Rocks Champagne & Oysters Bar at the Village Market.
In January my son, Jan, wrote about the Trademark Hotel and shopping complex extension to Village Market. There is a glitter about the shops, and the food court is certainly an eclectic one – with all sorts of offerings, from pizzas to pralines. The only place I have seen that rivals it in Africa is the huge Sandton shopping mall near Johannesburg.
When I first came to Nairobi in 1967, the biggest shopping centre was Adam’s Arcade along the Ngong Road. I have a photograph of the thatched homesteads that stood where the Village Market stands now – a very different kind of village.
The city’s roads were much less cluttered in those days, of course. But last Sunday the new bypass off Waiyaki Way opposite James Gichuru Road meant that my drive from Lavington lasted only fifteen minutes. It was about 11 am when I arrived; the sun hadn’t yet burned off the clouds, so the parking was easy. I walked through the old food court, up the steps by the decorative pool, and into the cavernous new building.
After a leisurely recce of the shops and food outlets I made for the Off The Rocks Bar. I didn’t need the menu. I had my mind set on the main offering – the glass of Moet & Chandon Champagne and 12 complementary oysters. The price was Ksh.2,300. But it was a special day, wasn’t it? I also had a good chat with Casper, the waiter. He told me that the busiest times at Off The Rocks are at the weekends when, as he said, ‘people have the time as well as the money’.
I felt rather like Mr Bean, in that episode where he goes out for dinner on his birthday on his own. He opens the one card he had received – one he had written and posted to himself. He orders steak tartare, realises his mistake, and gets rid of it in in a plant pot, an open woman’s handbag, and his own jacket pocket.
Mind you, I was very happy with my oysters. They were the local and small Kilifi oysters – the ones I have enjoyed a few times on the Moorings floating restaurant at Mtwapa. Spiced with a drop of lemon juice they are very tasty. But I felt a twinge of guilt when I received Whatsapp greetings from both my sons, wishing me a happy Father’s Day.
However, undaunted, I prolonged my self-treat by going on to the Chocolate Bar – to further indulge myself with what, next to bacon and beans, is my favourite food. In my teenage years there was an attempt along Regents Street to revive the chocolate house culture that had been so popular in 18th century London. Unfortunately, it failed.
And the Chocolate Bar in the Village Market is not all as rambunctious as those 18th century chocolate houses in London. The most famous of them, Whites, was a steamy and smoky den of inequity, where politicians and business men plotted their nefarious deals. Do we have such a place in Nairobi?
Our Chocolate Bar is a very quiet and decorous place. It serves, along with many other chocolatey things, the smoothest hot chocolate drink that I have ever savoured. It also sells the imaginatively presented chocolate bars ‘handcrafted in Kenya’ by Absolute Chocolate.
When in the mid-afternoon I got back home, my earlier feeling sorry for myself was shown to be quite misplaced. On the table was a Father’s Day present from my wife – a bottle of my favourite Cabernet Sauvignon.
Published in the Sunday Nation