Last Saturday I got a call from Eamon Mullen. He wanted to tell me about a new restaurant he had visited – a restaurant and bar with the intriguing name, Planet Picnic.
Eamon used to be the Executive Chef of the Norfolk Hotel; he was the founder of the Pango gourmet brasserie at the Fairview Hotel – and he has cooked for many, if not most, of the rich and famous who have visited Kenya. His autobiography, ‘A Celebrity Chef in Africa’, is a very good read. So when Eamon recommends a place, I take note.
I not only took note about the Planet Picnic – last Sunday I went.
It is tucked away in the leafy Karen Connection business park just along the Lower Plains Road, which is off the Karen Road that joins the Ngong and Langata Roads. You have a choice of sitting in the garden or in the cosy roofed area near the bar. The setting is informal; the welcome is friendly.
Neil McCarthy immediately came over to greet me, and he also introduced me to a group of regular customers. Neil is the owner, and a man who has been a chef in many places – at big hotels around the UK, at the Mount Kenya Safari Club, the Tribe Hotel, and the Aero Club here in Kenya. I told him about Eamon Mullen’s recommendation. They know each other well, it seems, so that led to a few stories that are not in Eamon’s book.
Eventually, I got round to make my order – from the menu that is neatly chalked along a side wall and also above the bar. It was Sunday brunch time; Neil is English – so I thought what is called a ‘Full English Breakfast’ would be more authentic than many that go by that name around town. It was. The eggs were fried just right – the yolk runny and the white firm – along with crispy bacon, sausages, slices of black pudding, and fried tomatoes. And at 850 shillings it was very good value. All the prices are reasonable.
There were other English dishes on the menu. When I had finished my very substantial breakfast and was enjoying my coffee, I heard one of the customers at the next table order roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Yorkshire pudding! There’s a dish to challenge any non-English chef. For a moment I wondered if I had made the right choice. But I consoled myself with the thought that I could always go back for it any coming Sunday.
However, the menu at the Planet Picnic is much more eclectic than you might have assumed from what I have said so far. For lighter and healthier lunches there is a daily organic salad bar. You can opt for a crispy falafel. You can choose from a range of homemade tortilla tacos. And for something heavier, you can tackle a German sausage platter. For those familiar with Neil’s cooking, you are likely to enjoy again his famous Phoenix Burger, with beer-battered onion rings. As for desserts, the temptations include warm homemade apple pie with vanilla ice-cream, mixed fruit crumble, and English pancakes with chocolate sauce.
One speciality of Neil’s place is the picnic boxes. As he says, most hotels put together a rather boring selection for their packed lunches. They don’t take much care. But Neil does care. So for a small family picnic or a large tour group, his picnics boxes are packed with imagination and style. For more information about this or anything to do with Planet Picnic, the number to ring is 0700 939941 – or www.facebook.com/planetpicnic.
My Italian friend, Maurizio, who runs the Spanish wine bar in the Lavington Mall called La Tasca, asked me where around Nairobi he could go for roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. I now know what to tell him.