Life & Work
A taste of West Africa at Le PalankaThursday October 02 2014
Le Palanka is the name of a rare black Angolan antelope, and this restaurant offers a rare combination of West African cuisines in an upscale setting amidst leafy gardens in the Lavington suburb of Nairobi. Murals painted on the entrance gate and garden walls depict a collection of African leaders, denoting the restaurant’s proudly African feel.
With the success of the original Le Palanka restaurant in Paris, the Nairobi outpost maintains the menu of signature dishes from the various countries of West Africa. Conceived by celebrity chef (and opera singer) Christian Abegan, the dishes are expertly prepared and presented versions of traditional home-style meals.
The setting includes comfortable indoor and outdoor seating, with a children’s play area in the expansive garden and private ‘huts’ for intimate al fresco meals. An outdoor bar area offers cushioned seating areas which encourage shared tapas and unhurried conversation over cocktails.
We began our journey with an assortment of starters and tapas, to sample several cuisines. Ivorian-style Aloko of fried sweet plantains with a light tomato sauce was the perfect dish to please a diverse crowd, the plantains ripe and delicious.
The spicy chili sauce served as a dip was notably hot, but with a mellow smoked tomato flavour adding depth. Beef Pastels did not seem to represent a particular cuisine, but were a welcome snack consisting of aromatic spiced minced beef in a pastry shell.
Tabouleh-style Atheke consisted of a couscous-cassava salad served with gambas (shrimp) and octopus. The octopus was slightly overcooked ending with a chewy texture, the small portion overshadowed by the tasty gambas. The couscous salad had excellent flavours with a mix of crunchy vegetables adding texture.
A tart passion fruit dressing further enhanced the dish.
Chicken Ballotine had excellent flavour, served tender and moist with an especially delicious ripe avocado and cucumber salad. The salad alone would make an ideal starter or side dish.
Among the hot pot items, we chose the The Amiwo—a typical Benin dish—comprising house-smoked and roasted chicken in a piquant tomato-based sauce with a light corn paste. We opted for a side order of mashed sweet potato, potato and butternut – a generous and delicious addition to the meal.
The highlight among the main dishes was the King-sized Gambas skewer - perfectly seasoned and cooked, satisfying in its seeming simplicity but with complex flavours from the signature blend of spices.
For dessert, the Chocmint slice was more like banana bread without notable chocolate or mint flavours. Ice creams tasted store-bought and artificially flavoured. Perhaps desserts are not a strong tradition in typical West African meals, and the inclusion on the menu is more to satisfy Western palates.
Cappuccino was served lukewarm and weak, with barely any froth on top. Opt for the banana éclair - though misnamed, a clear favourite at our table. It was, in fact, a fried banana – sweet, sticky and satisfying.
Le Palanka offers a chance to sample tasty traditional fare from a variety of African cultures in a comfortable and convenient setting.
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