For years I was saying that Lavington needed a hotel. Now it has one – The Social House. And it is a very special one.
My son, Jan, beat me to writing about it for our Going Places column in February – soon after it had opened and before the lockdown. But not all of its three restaurants were operating then, so Jan focused on the place’s quirky concept, its appealing amenities, and its eccentric décor. So Jan suggested I should write about its food. I will do that, but I can’t resist ranging wider.
I remember the intriguing writing on the roadside screens when the hotel was being built. ‘13˚ from the Equator,’ one said, ‘180˚ from the Ordinary.’ Both are valid measures, I now think. Let me pick up a couple of claims from the hotel’s website.
First: ‘unorthodox interiors’. True – there’s a Harley Davidson motorbike hanging from the ceiling in the unorthodoxly named The Living Room. Yes, the names of the rooms are not ordinary, either – for a hotel, that is. The exterior has its eccentricities, too. In The Other Room, beside the swimming pool, where my wife and I had our early brunch last Saturday, there are standing trousers along the pathway that hold up vases of flowers rather than torsos. You find that kind of Wallace and Gromit humour all around the place. And while we were having our breakfast, some staff were rehanging vertical trays of succulents on frames set along the walls.
Second: ‘unusual cuisine’. Anibal Torres, the Chef, is Peruvian. So there are many Andean items in the menus of all three restaurants: The Inca Bar and Restaurant, as well as The Living Room and The Other Room I have already mentioned.
For the Saturday brunch I put off tasting any of the Peruvian dishes because I have been denying myself bacon for some time now, and I really fancied a ‘proper’ breakfast. So I chose the Home Brunch, with eggs, toast and jam as well as the bacon. And the doneness of the bacon was just right: crispy but not burnt. Lut, my wife, was more adventurous; she chose the Quinoa Salad, with quinoa grains, various vegetables, feta cheese (replaced by nuts), honey and citrus dressing.
After breakfast we had a fascinating talk with Samuel Maina, the R&B and Events Manager – with R&B meaning Restaurants and Bar. There could be a whole article from that talk, because Sam explained so much about the philosophy of The Social House and why he was enjoying it as well as living it. Just let me tell you what he told us about ARCS – the guiding principles for all the staff.
A is for authenticity (being yourself); R for resourcefulness (coping with challenges); C for craftsmanship (finding solutions); S for sparkle (spontaneity). Notice, as Sam pointed out, they are not things you find on a CV; they are not specific to job skills; they are all personality traits. Those qualities are what the managers look for when interviewing applicants. I can appreciate that: it’s easier to teach skills than mould attitudes.
On Sunday I returned for a late lunch with friends. It was in the top floor Inca restaurant and bar. This time I chose Peruvian. I went for the Beef Anticucho: three grilled and marinated tenderloin beef skewers, anticuchera sauce, roasted potatoes and rocoto peppers. It was tender and spicy; it was delicious.
As Sam said, because of the coronavirus, this was the worst of times to open a hotel with its restaurants; but The Social House chose the best of times to reopen – as one of the earliest to do so. It has lived up to a third of its principles – attracting a good number of ‘uncommon people’. I reckon they will stay loyal. I will certainly be back to sample the marinated fish Ceviche dishes or a snack of Inca fries.
Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation