The Lively Backyard of Valley Arcade

La Salumeria in Valley Arcade along Gitanga Road is one of my favourite restaurants in Nairobi. It’s been there for twenty years and, apart from a few places within walking distance of my office in the Lavington Shopping Centre, I have been there more times than any other restaurant in the city. It has an ambiance that is warm, welcoming and homely. And its Italian cuisine is excellent. (If Heaven was populated by only European nationalities, then the English would be the police, Germans would be the engineers, French would be the lovers, and Italians would be the cooks. I will leave you to work out how their roles would be reversed in Hell.)

The owner and manager of La Salumeria is Davide Buranello. He told me that a ‘salumeria’ is a place that sells ‘salumi’ – especially Italian cold cuts of meat and other deli products. Well, one evening there last week I was so impressed with the taste and softness of the Parma ham served in the antipasto that I asked Davide where he gets it from. He told me that it is from Flavio Trali, who has the New Italycor shop just round the corner of the Dhanjay Apartments and on the ground floor, like Davide’s restaurant.

So at the weekend I decided to visit Flavio’s shop. The shelves and coolers were stacked with Italian goodies: various cold cuts, lots of cheeses, pasta, and row upon row of fine Italian wines. And I went away with a packet of the thinly sliced Parma ham.

I walked across the carpark to where I could hear the staccato noise of youths at play. This is ArenaOne, where my son, Jan (no longer a youth), plays five-a-side football a couple of evenings a week. I stopped to read the advertising board, which tells us that it is open seven days a week and that the rules are no fighting, no alcohol, no smoking, no drugs. It promises a ‘family friendly environment’.

ArenaOne has three astro turf pitches and also the Climb BlueSky outdoor climbing tower. There is an excellent website (www.arenaone.co.ke), I was later to discover, which moves almost as frenetically as a fast game of five-a-side football. It has an interview with Zuhum Omar, the Head of Operations. He talks about how ArenaOne is in line with similar ventures he has seen in the UK and Malaysia. ‘It’s a better alternative for youngsters,’ he says, ‘than just hanging out.’

The price for the five-a-side football is Ksh4,000 per hour per group – which means Ksh.400 per person. At weekends the price is lowered to Ksh.2,500. The charge for the climbing tower is Ksh.700.

After peeking through the wire fences at the ongoing games at ArenaOne, I stopped for a cappuccino at the little café alongside. It’s called Gyros 2 Go. Its speciality is a wide variety of wraps. The chicken gyro, for example, comes with tzatziki, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, sweet pickles, sour pickles, hot peppers, mild peppers, roasted eggplant, hummus, garlic sauce and chili sauce. They offer gluten free wraps as well as gluten-free pizzas. And they serve the alcohol not allowed in the ArenaOne neighbour.

But I settled for just the cappuccino because I had a table booked that evening at La Salumeria. I might have given the wrong impression about Davide’s place, after I introduced it as a deli with its cold cuts of meat and other ‘salumi’ products. Its menu is much more eclectic than that. Along with the different pastas there are imaginatively topped pizzas, beef steaks, lamb chops, chicken breasts, and many vegetarian specialities. The desserts are tempting, too. Yummy reviewers speak well of the Tiramisu, but I rarely stray beyond the affogato coffee.

Davide told us that in a few months he will be opening a wine bar next door in the Dhanjay Apartments. So the back yard of Valley Arcade will have yet another attraction.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation