“Eating out in Nairobi is very boring. Every place looks the same. Go to any club, all of them have Egyptian ceilings with blue and green lights and there’s a ‘hundred thousand’ flat screens,” says Jaap Krijger, the contractor and owner of Marula Mercantile, as he sits at a table made of wood reclaimed from a fence put up 20 years ago.
Marula Mercantile is one of the restaurants in Nairobi aiming to bring the magic of the green ambiance and quirky décor to eating spots.
“The cuisine is a midwest/southwest-style, so we wanted to have that kind of rustic feeling. We all know the Wild Wild West movies and we wanted a little bit of that ambiance attached to it,” says Mr Krijger, against the backdrop of the makuti décor, old-school lamp shades, chalkboard menu and a series of vinyl records.
Behind Mr Krijger, a tree interrupts the wooden floor and the floor excuses it.
Both plain and colourful flower vases surround the tree. The playground, which comprises a slide and some tyres at the edge of a decent-sized lawn, is visible from the restaurant.
“Karen is green so I would not want to have a closed inspace where we sit and be formal. I wanted people to get away from Nairobi yet they are in Nairobi,” says Mr Krijger.
Foodies in Nairobi are falling in love with the green outdoors. Amani Garden Café is another restaurant with lush green eight-shaped lawn and trees.
“It is very hard to find a place that has a garden cafe and a playground for children here in Riverside,” says Reuben Gitonga, the head chef at Amani Garden Café.
“We actually have regulars who have been here nearly every weekend since it started 12 years ago.”
Whether you are enjoying a Ugandan katoko salad or a grilled-cheese sandwich, the women running Amani, an organisation that focuses on economic empowerment, have been deliberate in ensuring diners get a feel of the natural environment unlike in many high-end and upmarket restaurants.
A doll-house-looking bird feeder hangs from a tree and little birds perch on either side of it.
“We want the birds to come in. In fact, diners usually get a chance to see those they have never seen before,” Mr Gitonga says.
Like Marula’s, Amani’s cuisine matches its ambiance perfectly in that both boast a wonderful simplicity. The menu, which is heavy on salads, complements the garden setting.
These restaurants have a sneaky way of ensuring the weather does not inconvenience diners and they have curio shops with a variety of African-style merchandise such as bags, earrings, necklaces and baby clothes.
In Amani’s shop, every item has a tag with the name of the person who made it.
At Boho Eatery, Sarah Saleheen, the owner and chef says she wanted a restaurant that starts not only with the food.
Ms Saleheen’s insistence on using locally-sourced materials birthed unique ideas for the ambiance.
She repurposed sewing machines into tables and reshaped the wine bottles for the bar area décor.
‘‘Why just have a table, could they move if you seat in them?” she says, as the chirping birds provided background music during the interview.
The swinging chairs suspended under trees is more proof of her whimsical and fun style.
To get the feel she wanted, she had the furnishings done on site.
“We invested a lot of money purposefully for the décor to seem simple. It took me six months to get our furniture made. Our fundi was working on President Uhuru Kenyatta’s house at the same time, that shows you that it definitely wasn’t cheap,” says Ms Saleheen.
She would not make her menu completely vegan because Kenyans are not yet as receptive to the lifestyle. However, she hopes to attract more people to appreciate non-meat options.
“People tend to think that it’s just salads and rabbit foods. One of our most popular dishes is the zoodles—zucchini and noodles. It is a pasta that we serve in a vegan pesto sauce that has cherry tomatoes, fresh basil herbs and your choice of tofu or halloumi,” she says.