An afternoon at Que Pasa Karen

For those of you who may not know, “que pasa” is Spanish for “what’s up?” or “what’s going on?” and in this case, Que Pasa is que pasa. This neighborhood joint in Karen has been frequented many a time by my friends and I on weekend nights out. On Friday or Saturday nights, you can always find good music, good drinks, and familiar faces. It’s an intimate hangout spot with dim lighting perfect for adventurous nights with friends. Unfortunately, because I’ve only known Que Pasa as a going out spot, my recollection of the restaurant/bar isn’t vivid and probably consists of an hour’s worth of memory. So, when Que Pasa invited me for lunch, I was definitely excited. Friends had told me good things about their lunches, especially their homemade pizzas. I wasn’t going to turn down the venue that’s provided me with great nights out. So on a warm Saturday afternoon, Jacquie and I met at Que Pasa for a culinary treat.

Que Pasa is located in Karen shopping center and, unless you know it’s there, it can be easy to miss. It’s a “three walled” restaurant tucked into the bigger building of Karen shopping center. I say Que Pasa is “three walled” because the entrance is made up of beaded trim hanging from the top of the entrance ceiling. Remember those beaded curtains you used to have on the door frame of your room when you were younger? Well, envision those a hundred times classier and much, much bigger, that’s what’s hanging on the doorway of Que Pasa.

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As we entered the restaurant, we were engulfed into the bar area. The room is dimly lit to create an intimate, almost romantic atmosphere. Lucy, the resident sommelier and manager on duty, happily greeted us. I explained to her why Jacquie and I were there and she introduced us to the bartender Johannes, and the head chef Anthony. As I mentioned earlier, it was a warm Saturday afternoon so I was thirsty. We hadn’t had a warm afternoon in Nairobi in too long.

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I headed to the bar with Johannes to find out what the most popular cocktails were. He referred me to the Pina Colada, Classic Mojito, Margarita, Whiskey Sour, and of course, Dawas. I love whiskey so I ordered a Whiskey Sour which I noted comes “with or without a dash of egg white”. Now keep in mind, although I love whiskey, I had never had a Whiskey Sour. Johannes invited me behind the bar and began to explain how to perfectly concoct a Whiskey Sour. As we put together the drink, I was told it was important to chill the rocks glass we were going to use to serve the cocktail on ice. Our ingredients were Johnnie Walker Red Label, a portion of lemon for the ‘sour’, and yes, an egg white. First, we cracked the egg and poured the whites into a cup, checking to make sure it hadn’t gone bad. We poured the egg white into a shaker with two portions of Johnnie Walker Red. Johannes closed the shaker and handed it to me to shake, explaining that the alcohol emulsifies the egg white, basically making it digestible raw. It also creates a nice foam to the top of the cocktail.

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Next we added lemon to the Johnnie Walker mixture and shook it again. Finally, we poured the cocktail into our chilled rocks glass with a garnish of a lemon wedge and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Voila! A Whiskey Sour was made.

Clearly over eager to give the cocktail a try.
Clearly over eager to give the cocktail a try.

The Whiskey Sour tasted…. Well, sour. The sourness nicely cut the whiskey though, especially when it was poured over ice. It was a refreshing drink, but probably not one I could drink more than one of because it was very sour.

Jacquie and I were then led into the kitchen where I had the opportunity to “help” (he really didn’t need any) chef Anthony prepare my meal!  Chef Anthony let me know he’d be preparing broccoli encrusted steak with a baby beetroot salad and chapati bites. As we were preparing my meal, Chef Anthony and I got to do a little talking. He told me about his background, Chef Anthony had studied at Top Chef culinary institute in Westlands where he learned the basics of French and Continental cuisine. As a child, Anthony loved to cook. He was one of four boys in his family but would always help his mother with the cooking. Apparently, at the age of 8, Anthony’s mother told him that one day, he would be a chef. Today, he has a unique cooking style which he says is influenced by his mother, his background, and the local ingredients available in Kenya. He likes to cook light dishes with clean flavours that highlight the natural flavours of the ingredients he uses.

Chef Anthony
Chef Anthony

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As we were cooking l began to get impatient as I smelled the delicious aromas of my meal, I was excited to try it! When the final product was plated, it was beautiful… Almost too pretty to eat. But I was hungry, and my body was ready.

Proudly presenting the final product
Proudly presenting the final product

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From appearance alone, I could tell my steak was cooked perfectly. It was medium rare and tender underneath my steak knife. I can definitely see Anthony’s aesthetic in this dish with it’s clean flavours and each ingredient highlighted in a simple way. The baby beetroot puree was probably my favourite component of the dish. Anthony told me that baby beetroots are sweeter and when he added honey, lemon, orange zest, and a splash of chicken stock, the puree came together beautifully. It was a balanced sweet and savoury sauce which complimented the lightly seasoned steak. I was in my happy place.

This could be the cover of my biography… Me and my shark teeth.
This could be the cover of my biography… Me and my shark teeth.

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As I sat at my table for one, I got a chance to take in the restaurant around me. Que Pasa has ambient lighting which might be missed if you’re there with a bunch of friends to enjoy a night out. The room had a soft glow to it, making it a great spot for a romantic dinner for two. The restaurant also has some interesting African decor, from the paintings on the wall to the statuettes placed in the nooks and crannies of shelves.

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Last, but most certainly not least, I indulged in what Chef Anthony said was the most popular dessert at Que Pasa — the Que Pasa chocolate bar with chocolate ice cream and chocolate mousse.

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The mousse sat on a bed of what tasted like gingersnap cookies. It gave the dish a bit of bite, kind of like a cayenne infused chocolate bar, it was nice! Then, there were two dollops of ice cream each served on top of a delicious vanilla cookie. The star of this dish was definitely the chocolate mousse, it was rich and chocolatey homemade goodness.

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Overall, my Que Pasa experience was very pleasant. Que Pasa has a little something for everyone. It showcases culinary talent with adventurous dishes but also has staples like pasta and steak. I can definitely see myself coming back for some wood oven pizzas on a Friday night with friends, enjoying the laid back atmosphere, and staying for the evening rumba.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll catch you at Que Pasa one of these Friday or Saturday nights. 🙂

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