One of my most memorable meals was on the terrace of Lamu’s Peponi Hotel. It was a creamy beef and mushroom pasta dish, paired perfectly with a cold beer and a cool sea breeze. The chef who prepared it was probably Ray Cournede, who in 2015 relocated to the kitchen at the Talisman Restaurant along Ngong Road in Karen. I was reminded of that Lamu meal after an equally delicious lunch at Talisman last Sunday. The standards of Ray and his team clearly haven’t slipped, and it’s no wonder ‘Tali’ has consistently ranked among Nairobi’s best restaurants over the last few years.
One of its biggest draws, apart from the food, is the relaxed garden setting. Our table last weekend was on the edge of the tiered courtyard, surrounded by clusters of potted plants and parasols. And there were plenty of people beneath the parasols, too – by the time we left around mid-afternoon, the place was full.
The décor is quite unique, with a touch of Middle Eastern influence, and with open fireplaces that contribute to the restaurant’s homely atmosphere. According to the Talisman website, this intimate and family-friendly feel were strong values of previous owners Ian and Charlie Cameron, and which the current owners – Stuart Herd and Satyan Patel – promised to maintain. They’ve certainly done that, and instilled values of their own. The restaurant is a plastic free zone, for example, and many of their greens are sourced from the organic garden by the Dojo Wellness Club – the gym and spa at the bottom of the property.
The owners have also used this difficult Covid period to refurbish part of the restaurant. There will soon be a new bar, which will be an ideal space for corporate or other functions. They have recently introduced a takeaway menu, too, featuring a selection of seasonal specials and ‘Tali faves’, such as their Feta and Coriander Samosas with Chilli Ginger Jam, and Tali Nyati Wings with Blue Cheese and Chive Dip. All their takeaways are packaged in compostable containers, manufactured by Terra Safi.
For sit-in customers there are two main menus, a classic and a seasonal, both fusions of European, Pan-Asian and African cuisines. There is plenty of East Asian influence in the seasonal ‘Sushi Room’ dishes, and in the range of classic starters, from the Tempura Prawns to the Thai Chicken Coconut Broth, or ‘Tom Kha Gai’. Individual dishes blend a variety of cuisines, too, of which the Char-Grilled Fillet Steak is a perfect example, served with Potato Bhajia, Charred Kale, Wasabi and Mustard Hollandaise.
After an obligatory round of Feta and Coriander Samosas, I opted for the Char-Grilled Tikka Paneer, with Quinoa Pilaf, Roasted Beet, Almonds, Lemony Hummus, Spicy Yoghurt and Mint Salad – which really was exceptional. The setting may be homely, but there’s nothing amateur about the presentation of the food at the Talisman.
My wife went for the Ginger Teriyaki Tofu Bao Bun, with Pickled Cucumber, Sriacha Mayo, Spring Onions, Chilli and Coriander, while my brother fancied one of their Italian dishes – the Pasta al Filletto e Tartufo (Slow Cooked Beef, Creamy Mushroom and Truffle). We finished off with Vienna coffees and an indulgent White Chocolate and Rooibos Tea Panna Cotta, from their ‘Something Sweet’ menu.
It may take some time to get used to the new norm of dining out in Nairobi, with masks, thermo-guns and spaced-out tables. But what really matters is the quality of the food, good service and a warm atmosphere. And in that respect, not much has changed at the Talisman.
To book a table or order a takeaway, call 0705 999 997. Their full menus are available at http://www.thetalismanrestaurant.com, and the restaurant is open from 11am to 6:30pm from Tuesday to Sunday.
Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation