Jiko: rooted in Africa

Village Market has benefitted from a significant facelift in recent years, with the construction of its modern shopping wing and the adjacent Trademark Hotel. There have been changes, too, within the luxury Tribe Hotel in the opposite corner of the complex, including a revision of the menu at the African-inspired Jiko restaurant. My wife and I were keen to try it out, so we reserved a spot for a late lunch last Saturday afternoon.

Tribe reopened in February earlier this year, after a two-year Covid closure provided an opportunity for a refurbish. As well as an overhaul of the menu at Jiko, some major changes have been made to the restaurant’s layout and décor. Externally, their geometrically patterned swimming pool has shrunk, and it now has a classy marbled turquoise floor. The natural feel provided by the bold rocky water feature on the edge of the pool is enhanced by many clusters of dangling plants across the patio. The tables outside are spread beneath a curved shade sail, or under the broad canopies of mature palm trees on an elevated platform.

Inside, the contemporary African décor mirrors the elegance of the rest of the hotel. On either side of the main space, warm light glows through tall fretted pillars, drawing the eye to two large paintings at the other end of the room – bold pieces from Steve Nyaga’s African Beauty Series.

Soon after we sat down at a table on the patio, we had the chance to chat to Jiko’s Executive Chef before the busy evening service. Mohamed Yakat Ali, or Chef Moha as he is also known, told us as much about his own culinary journey as that of Tribe.

It was refreshing to speak to a Kenyan head chef of a top Nairobi restaurant, in an industry dominated by international talent. He started out 20 years ago as a kitchen steward at the Landmark Hotel, before working his way up in restaurants in Uganda and along the Kenyan coast. Before Covid hit, he was the Executive Sous Chef at Jiko, and he also helped with the opening of the Harvest restaurant at the Trademark Hotel.

Now, the changes he has made at Jiko are more aligned to the restaurant’s original concept. ‘Jiko was inspired by African flavours’, he explained, ‘but we weren’t really serving African cuisine. So, we changed the menu completely to offer a fine-dining experience more rooted in Africa.’

The result is a very inventive selection of dishes influenced by traditional recipes, ingredients and spices from across the continent. For example, among the mains are the Kondoo Mchuzi (lamb, oven-baked ugali, sautéed kale, puff pastry), Sukuma Ravioli, Tandoori Lobster (butterflied lobster, berbere vegetable rice, roasted vegetables, coconut beurre blanc), and Kale Pesto Rock Cod (curry leaf, coconut and raw mango sauce, sautéed amaranth, mukimo).

We opted for a delicious panko crusted and Ethiopian-spiced Malenge Lasagna, and crispy Shiro Fried Plantain. They followed a portion of Smoked Eggplant Samosas, and the curiously-named Cauliflower 65 ­– an exceptional creamy starter of cauliflower, curry leaves, julienne ginger and yoghurt. We washed that all down with a couple of punchy signature cocktails, mixed by Jackson behind the bar.

We thought we were full until the dessert arrived – a neatly presented dish called Textures of Chocolate. Jiko’s Pastry Chef, Jane, popped out of the kitchen to talk us through it. There were three parfaits – milk chocolate, white chocolate and dark chocolate – with different fillings, surrounded by edible flowers, strawberries, meringue drops, blueberries and gooseberries.

The prices are high as you would expect (mostly around KES 1,500 to 2,000 for the mains, and upwards for some meat and seafood dishes), but the quality is high, too, and they don’t skimp on portion sizes.

To browse through the menu and book a table, head to http://www.jikoafrica.com, and keep an eye on their Instagram page (@jikoafrica) for any news of upcoming events.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation