When I spoke to the developers of The Hub Karen before it opened in 2016, they were enthusiastic about the mall’s open-air architecture, and particularly about the large piazza. They said that the design was inspired by the squares of Europe, surrounded by pubs, cafés and Sunday markets. The piazza is still very much the focal point of the mall today, and it owes much of its European feel to the small Italian restaurant in its corner.
The exposed red brick walls and scattered outside tables of La Cascina lend themselves well to the image of a town square in Italy. As described in their menu, ‘La Cascina’ actually translates to a typical Italian country house made of brick or stone, with a charming atmosphere. The design is certainly homely, particularly in the interior where the lighting is warm and framed pictures of Italy hang on the walls.
The restaurant reopened recently, but much of the interior has been closed off because the space is too small to allow for social distancing. There are still plenty of tables spilling out into the piazza, though, and on both occasions that I passed by for lunch last week, all the tables were full. I imagine many Nairobians are bored of home-cooked meals and takeaways, and have missed the experience of dining out.
When I last went for lunch I sat down with the Manager, Piero, to find out what measures they had put in place to enable them to reopen. He told me that the tables had been moved six feet apart, separated by markers on the floor. The staff, who are all tested every two weeks, frequently wipe down the tables and check the temperatures of customers with those slightly unsettling thermometer pistols. They still do takeaways and deliveries, too, and shut at 5pm every day.
One thing that customers can be assured of is the quality of the food, which is excellent. They have a great range of risottos and pastas, in particular, with plenty of delicious creamy options for vegetarians like me. I’ve recently been attempting to expand my palate by ordering dishes I wouldn’t usually go for, and in that spirit I tried out the pasta aglio & olio (garlic and oil with chilli) and pasta cacio e pepe (parmesan, pecorino cheese and black pepper). The latter is a dish that my father-in-law makes very well, and the former is something that I’ve tried to prepare at home with very little success. La Cascina’s versions of both are exceptional.
Also on the menu is a range of traditional starters, such as bruschettone and piadine – variations of flatbread with mozzarella, parma ham, salmon and lots of other choices of fillings. There is a long list of pizzas, too, and lots of main courses ‘from the grill’, such as the beef fillet in porcini mushroom sauce, which my brother ordered and enjoyed. My wife opted for the risotto creamed with taleggio, asparagus and parmesan off the specials menu, which changes frequently.
La Cascina is also popular for its ice creams and desserts, such as the lemon meringue tart that we shared. It’s worth mentioning as well that the well-known ice cream shop in Watamu, Non Solo Gelato, has opened up a stall at the Artcaffe at The Hub. In addition to their famous ice cream, they also serve cannoli – rich Sicilian pastries with a creamy ricotta filling.
My lunches at La Cascina were the first for a long time in a lively restaurant, and it was a nice indication that things may slowly be getting back to normal again. So if you haven’t made any plans for lunch today, why not head to the homely Italian at The Hub. To book a table or order a delivery or takeaway, call 0705 469427.
Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation