Let’s get one thing out of the way first: the Artcaffé Gastro Bar is not in an exclusive location or a hidden gem — just somewhere I hadn’t heard of before.
Nevertheless, what I discovered is its cocktails. They are gorgeous.
As soon as the Kitenge Cocktail hit my tongue, I knew I was in trouble. (Hot tip: Ask for Cyril (alias Suju) to make you one. Tell him to recount his footballing days and you’ll get two for the price of one. He had me at hello.)
Located right in the heartlands of Nairobi’s Westlands Square, I told myself that I will only be there for one hour, two hours max.
Okay, three. I ended up leaving at 2 am, and just because I had an early morning the next day.
Gastropubs are essentially an amalgamation of the words gastronomy and pub, placing an equal emphasis on offering good food alongside good drinks.
The Artcaffé Gastro Bar is selective yet welcoming. Admission is restricted to anyone below 30 years.
Now on its 54-branch in Kenya, ArtCaffé has upped its game to compete with local coffee chain Java House and global brands, including KFC, Subway, and Big Square, which have also been on an expansion spree fuelled by private equity investors.
The music is rather loud, but then again, Nairobi is loud. This gastro bar is for the big boys, a grown-up bar for those who know what they want and how they want it.
ArtCaffé may be onto something here, stripping the space back to sparse furniture and painting it in calming shades of grey and black and white.
Perchance your eyes start darting across the room, you will land on playful wordings that, depending on your sense of humour, might draw a chuckle: “If only walls could talk. Mixed drinks about feelings.”
The seating is presently spaced out, just enough to ensure those people who like eating off other people’s plates look ridiculous with their ludicrous attempts.
Added to which that laconic, stuttering style in the ambience, duelling with the metronomic relentlessness of having a good time and you won’t mind fishing out your wallet.
The handcrafted menu is detail oriented, a mini booklet which in other words is simply saying if you suffer from choice overload, like yours truly, you just better settle on a category and toss a coin in the air.
Whatever it lands on, take it. The promise is flavour, and I am happy to announce that they did not break the promise.
We start with the ‘Clasicially British Fish and Chips,’ deftly described as ‘beer battered fish with tartar sauce.’
The Signature Supplì — house-made Italian croquettes with spaghetti, pork bacon, and mozzarella, severed with fresh tomato sauce and basil — does sacrilegious things to my mouth that, frankly speaking, should not be legal.
But it’s the Tunisian Chicken Fricassée — fried brioche layered with chicken, potato, egg, pickled lemon, and zhoug spice — that threatens an unholy union with my tongue.
It starts off crunchy then explodes in the mouth, and if you are not blown away, then you probably never will.
That client who is taking too long to think about that contract? Bring them here.
Order the fricassée then watch them acquiesce. This is food that lubricates conversation, rather than trying to be the focus of it. It’s interesting without being too niche or trendy.
Just a varied menu, nicely done and cooked.
In between, my date ordered sausage pizza but I cannot, in good conscience, get myself to eat pizza. The cellulite threatening to burgeon and bludgeon my thighs is just not worth it.
Four mixologists make the cocktails ab initio.
The menu is updated every six months to coincide with the seasons of Kenya, particularly, what flavours and fruits are in season.
Maembe Julep monikered a herbaceous, spicy sweetness whose main feature is the tangy mango flavour, is the highest-selling cocktail followed by the Daisy Ndogo.
In case the name hasn’t given it away, the Daisy Ndogo — small but sensationally sweet with Tanqueray 10, rose, raspberry, and lemon — is a ladies’ favourite.
I loved the Paloma Blanca with Don Julio Blanco, agave, turmeric, orange, and lemon. It’s not too out there, but it isn’t reserved either.
If your liver is up for it, you can try the Hard Candy with Bulleit Bourbon, vermouth, Campari, and bitters.
The whole experience set us back some Sh20,000 — give or take some change — but you cannot put a price on good times, can you? Which is still way below what locals spend there daily.
A good waiter whispered that the average expenditure, on good days, is somewhere between Sh30,000 and Sh40,000. But by the time you are going there, the price, really is not what’s on your mind.