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Food & Drinks

A Return to Luxury Dining

As fine dining restaurants reopen, they are
As fine dining restaurants reopen, they are wooing more local diners. PHOTO | COURTESY 

It is about midday on a Wednesday of what would usually be the beginning of peak lunch hour for most Nairobi high-end restaurants, pre-Covid 19.

Two masked men, in what looks like a business meeting, are seated at Lucca Restaurant in Villa Rosa Kempinski. Their table has one bottle of water and two glasses.

I am so busy looking at the “new” dining environment I nearly miss the handwashing station at the hotel’s entrance. I stop, the handwashing song involuntarily pops up in my head, I clean my hands and rinse off the soap with hot water gushing from an automated tap before walking into the restaurant.

The tables are staggered far from each other. A few guests—more than I expected but less than usual—are sat, still masked, waiting on their orders. It seems that Kenyans were waiting for hotels and restaurants to reopen to go back to dining out.

The tables are a metre wide, meaning you actually seat an entire metre from your lunch date.

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It feels awkward at first. There is an unsureness on when to take off my mask and where to place it. A waitress greets me, I assume that she is smiling at me because, well I cannot see her expression behind her blue mask.

She shows me to my table and takes the drink order. For the rest of my interaction with her, she will remain a masked stranger, our eyes being the only indicators of our smiles or frowns.

It is my first time dining out since March, and I am a little excited to seat at a table, watch my food being prepared and served.

On Thursday, I head to Hemingways Nairobi for yet another outing. This is my second restaurant visit for over 100 days, assuming fried chicken and pizza takeouts do not count.

A masked concierge greets me. He shows me to the sanitisation station before walking me to a steward who shows me to my table. He keeps his distance even with the fact that we are both masked.

Here, the menu is online-accessible using a QR code that one scans using their phone or the hotel’s website. Alternatively, one can glance at the giant menu on the easel at the edge of the table.

The food is delivered hooded under metal containers for hot meals and the salads come under clear covers. They are revealed in an almost theatrical fashion at your table.

This, according to Hemingways Nairobi general manager Richard Kimenyi, is to ensure that there is no risk of food contamination between the kitchen and the table.

As several Kenyan hotels open under new Covid-19 measures, for some big hotels, the changes seem minimal in terms of seating as they already placed tables far apart for privacy and exclusiveness.

Other restaurants have had to reduce capacity by nearly half to accommodate the distancing rules of the tables being at least 1.5 metres apart and limiting the number of persons per table to four per 10 square metres.

To reopen, the staff have had to go through the Covid-19 test as prescribed by the government.

Diners also have to wear masks and have their temperatures checked before entry. Any staff member or diner with a temperature above 37.5 degrees is not allowed entry, and the premises is to notify the Ministry of Health.

New in-house protocols are also seeing the restaurant counters and furniture sanitised subtly and constantly so as not to interfere with the guests’ dining but still effective in avoiding contagion.

The hotels have further had to remove the favourite buffets that have been crowd-pullers.

“We will not be serving buffets including during the very popular Sunday brunch but we have put together an à la carte tasting menu,” says Kimenyi of Hemingways.

Tasting menus allow for multiple dishes to be selected off a menu but at a pre-set price. As such the menus are all ala carte with the meals being prepared on order.

“But these measures don’t mean that we’re scaling down our menus. Actually, we have enhanced with a few new dishes. However, we have removed some raw menu items like steak tartar and slow-moving dishes,” adds Kimenyi.

To woo local diners, the Hemingways general manager says, “the menu items are reasonably priced as we want to attract those who appreciate our cuisine.”

These high-end restaurants may have joined casual dining restaurants to woo new consumers, but they maintain that they are not switching the concept or style of dining.

“We don’t compete with casual diners, but we do offer luxury at very affordable prices in a nice and aesthetically clean and safe environment,” says Chef Manoj Aswal, executive chef at Villa Rosa Kempinski.

In these high-end restaurants, most menus have remained diverse with seafood and fine-dining items still available as their supply chain has remained relatively unaltered by the restrictions.

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