I can’t tell what I was happier about: trying the food at Caramel or the fact that Caramel thinks I’m classy enough to be invited to a business lunch. Either way, I was definitely excited to try out their two course Business Lunch.
As I hurriedly walked through the door, I ran into Allison and Jacquie (the talented photographer for this blog) who was already getting a special tour of the restaurant. Allison is the reservations manager at Caramel and if you meet her and don’t like her, I don’t know what’s wrong with you. She’s extremely friendly, outgoing, and simply put — a bubbly character. She showed us corners of Caramel I never knew existed such as the cigar/whiskey lounge and seating for more romantic/intimate gatherings.
Caramel is a dynamic venue offering more than meals and an upscale bar/lounge. As I listened to Allison speak about Caramel, it was clear this Nairobi venue has big plans for the space in the future. The cigar and whiskey cellar will be filled with all the whiskey and cigars that you can imagine. Caramel regularly holds events in the evenings and on weekends showcasing local talent with a variety of events for people of different interests and ages (more to come on this later).
The moment I stepped foot into Caramel, I felt the need to speak in hushed tones. The dining room was dimly lit, even in the middle of the day, making me feel relaxed and at home in the restaurant. Caramel has an alluring ambiance to it, with dark wood tables, and lots of use of deep ambers and browns in their decor.
After our tour of the venue, we headed to the corner of the dining room to join Ngugi (from SHK) and Beth Nduta (of The Star newspaper) for lunch. The two course Business Lunch at Caramel is ksh 1,475 and inclusive of all tax and service charges.
For starters, you have an option of: the Caramel Veggie Roll, Crispy Eggplant, or Seared Beef Carpaccio.
For an entree you’re given the choice of: Marinated Grilled Chicken, Herb Crusted Tuna Steak, Beef Bolognese, Salmon Salad, Petit Filet, and Truffled Penne Pasta.
For a little extra you can get a side of either sauteed spinach or Caramel’s famous parmesan fries.
All together, we ordered all the staters, the Marinated Grilled Chicken, Herb Crusted Tuna Steak, and Truffled Penne Pasta. Plus, we got two sides of fries and a side of sauteed spinach. I was very excited. I’ve heard great things about Caramel’s food from people who have dined there previously.
The starters came out first. The Caramel Veggie Roll was beautifully presented, with each quadrant of the roll holding a different vegetable: avocado, carrot, and cucumber. The roll was well-prepared and the outside was crusted in sesame seeds.
My favourite appetizer was the Crispy Eggplant, if/when you go you’ve got to order it! The eggplant is crusted in a tempura-like batter and tossed in hoisin sauce. It’s a sweeter dish that’s complimented with slices of fresh tomatoes to keep it balanced and savory. The eggplant is crispy and well-cooked so it doesn’t have that slimy eggplant texture that can be unappetizing.
The beef carpaccio was some of the best beef carpaccio I’ve had in Nairobi. Beautiful thin slices of raw beef lightly drizzled in truffle oil with a garnish of nutty arugula (also known as rocket/rucola). Truffles are very pungent and therefore need a careful hand to apply just the right amount. This carpaccio had great balance as the garnish of arugula (another strong, distinct flavour) balanced the taste of the truffle oil.
My least favourite entree was the Truffled Pasta. As I said, I’m not a huge fan of truffles and this dish had a little too much truffle oil for my liking. It’s a very rich dish with peas, truffle oil, butter, and a cream sauce covering the pasta which is then finished with more shaved truffles and parmesan. It was too heavy for me but if you like truffles or want to treat yourself to a rich pasta, you’ll like this dish.
The Marinated Grilled Chicken was chicken breast grilled on the bone in a chicken jus. The jus was a salty gravy, simple yet delicious. The chicken breast was placed on a basil pesto potato mash. The pesto is made without nuts so if you’re allergic to pine nuts but love pesto, you can still enjoy this dish and the beautiful pesto mixed into the potatoes. The chicken was a bit on the dry side but overall it was a satisfying dish. It’s a dish that makes me think of comfort food at home.
The final dish, the Herb Crusted Tuna Steak was definitely my favourite of the afternoon. The yellow fin tuna is cooked to your desired temperature, in this case medium rare, and served with a wasabi mash and lime soy dipping sauce on the side. The wasabi mash had just enough wasabi to get the heat and flavour without any lingering spiciness. To me, this was the most inventive dish of the afternoon, especially the lime soy sauce component. It’s a simple but well executed dish.
The fries and spinach were simple yet tasty accompaniments. I personally love the parmesan garlic fries. They’re not heavy handed with the garlic and are wonderfully crispy with a hint of salt. You really can’t go wrong by snacking on these fries at any time of day. The sauteed spinach was a nice way to get a well-rounded meal with an accompanying entree.
Overall my Caramel experience was lovely. Service at Caramel is excellent and the ambiance is unique. I think the dishes we tried were on the heavier side with the tuna dish being the lightest option. If you want to attend the Business Lunch and are looking for a light lunch option I would suggest the Salmon Salad or Herb Crusted Tuna Steak. The Business Lunch at Caramel is the kind of place you’d want to take a high-profile client, celebrate the settlement of an important deal, or treat yourself to a special lunch on a workday (I’m all about #TreatYoselfTuesday).
If you want to experience Caramel on a budget, I’d suggest beginning with their Caramel Therapy evenings or their Hip Hop Sunday events. Caramel Therapy is their happy hour offering every Monday through Friday. They offer half off on all beers (around ksh 250 each), cocktails (around ksh 500 each), spirits (around ksh 200 each) and select wines. You’ll almost always find a good crowd and great music. It’s a beautiful space to unwind and mingle.
Hip Hop Sundays are hosted by DJ Bash and G Money. If you’ve ever heard them spin, you know that they can always get a crowd on their feet. Hip Hop Sundays at Caramel offer a mix of classic, and current hip hop tracks with drink specials courtesy of Bulleit Bourbon, Ketel One Vodka, and Tanqueray. The cocktails are delicious and the music… Oh man the music is SO good. Hip Hop Sundays are a great way to round out any weekend.