I remember when my mother used to treat me to a meal at the Flame Tree restaurant at Sarova Panafric as a child. At the time, I was eye-level with the tables and ran around the outdoor patio, excited for my meal and time spent by the pool. They are fond memories, yet as I grew older I found myself spending less time at Sarova Panafric for no particular reason.
I returned to the Flame Tree restaurant about a week ago, when I was invited to try their new menu. A rush of fond memories invaded me as I looked around the restaurant which structurally, looked the same.
Now, my reviews usually start here, once I’ve entered the restaurant but I can’t begin this review without mentioning Joshua. Joshua was the kind and polite driver from the Sarova who picked Jacquie and me up that day. It was such a treat to have door-to-door service for a review! Obviously Jacquie and I needed to document the moment.
I started the evening at the bar. The bartender was serving special “Obamarific” cocktails in light of Obama’s upcoming visit to Nairobi. The Obamarific was made of sweet and creamy liqueurs (Amarula, Kaluha, Grenadine syrup) which made the drink too sweet for me to enjoy but it was definitely festive and fun.
The bar at the Flame Tree is a great place to enjoy a cocktail or watch a sporting match with friends on the big screen behind the bar. Plus, hotel bars are unique in that you can always meet interesting people from around the world.
Sampling the new menu was the main attraction at the Flame Tree restaurant that night so shortly after getting my drink, I headed to the dinner table where I learned about the Chef behind the menu, Chef Avraj.
Chef Avraj is the executive chef at Flame Tree and conceptualized the new menu with his team. Originally, Chef Avraj worked at Sarova as a trainee in 1994. Since then, he’s worked in South Africa and Dubai (among others) and has even worked under Gordon Ramsay! Being a Food Network lover, I had to know more about Chef Avraj’s experience working with Gordon. Was he as rude as he is on TV? Did he swear a lot and use hilarious (often profane) insults that are only funny when they’re not directed at you? Chef Avraj chuckled a little, remembering his days with Gordon and said that there was definitely some intense shouting in the kitchen when Gordon was around. However, he learned some valuable tips working with Gordon and one of them was always remembering to stick to the basics using simple cooking techniques and letting the ingredients shine.
Chef Avraj’s experience is definitely reflected in the new menu; it’s a simple, single-page menu featuring traditional meals that are cooked with a modernist technique. Favorite dishes on the old menu such as the lamb shank and pork chops are still available but with upgraded plating and cooking technique.
I was fortunate to be joined by Jimi Kariuki, the Marketing & Sales Director of Sarova Hotels and Chef Avraj for dinner. As the meals were served, I learned about each dish presented. We started our meal with an amuse bouche, a single-bite hors d’oeuvre. On that day, the amuse bouche was chicken liver wrapped in bacon and a duck confit.
Chef Avraj has an exciting way of creating the amuse bouche for the Flame Tree. Everyday, a different chef in the Flame Tree kitchen is tasked with creating an amuse bouche. Each dish cannot be a repeat of any of the amuse bouche that have been previously created and therefore he calls the tradition 365 Amuse Bouche. I think this a great exercise in creativity and also makes every dining experience at the Flame Tree unique.
Next, we enjoyed a sampling of two starters – the Dusted Calamari and the Vietnamese Spring Rolls. The Dusted Calamari was a fresh seasoned calamari ring on a bed of mixed peppers and fresh green chilis in a citrus dressing. The Vietnamese Spring Rolls were served cold and seasoned with classic South East Asian flavors: soy, citrus, and a sweet and sour dipping sauce.
We then tried a trio of soups: the Mediterranean Bisque, Tomato Soup, and French Onion Soup. The Mediterranean Bisque was warm and thick with deep briny flavours of seafood stock. The French Onion Soup was light and a little salty with a cheese crouton garnish. The Tomato Soup, my favourite soup of the evening, was the perfect balance of acidity and sweetness with a hint of creaminess. The dish tasted was my ideal comfort food and made me want to curl up on a couch with a warm blanket, a grilled cheese sandwich (to accompany the soup), and The Food Network.
Can we take a minute to admire that presentation? The Bisque was served with three pieces of seafood: fish and prawn. The French Onion Soup was served with a cheesy crouton, and the Tomato Soup was creatively served with a cherry tomato and a salted crisp!
For the main course, Jimi, Jacquie and I each ordered a different entrée. We decided to try the three most popular entrées on the menu: the Pork Chops, the Lamb Shank, and the Chicken Biriyani. I had the Lamb Shank which was served with cauliflower, wilted spinach, and a grainy mustard mash. I really enjoyed this dish, the lamb fell off the bone with the touch of my fork and was melt-in-your-mouth soft. I also enjoyed the accompaniment of vegetables. Often, lamb shanks are very heavy dishes (primarily potatoes and lamb) with very few vegetables. This dish although still on the heavier side, had nice balance, and like the new menu promises, clean yet bold flavours.
The Pork Chop was roasted with cumin and pepper and served with mashed potatoes.
Jacquie’s Chicken Biriyani was beautifully presented in a traditional manner (little metal tins that compartmentalize the meal) and served with raita and a tomato mango salsa/chutney.
At this point, I was painfully full but anyone who knows me know I’m not a quitter (when it comes to dessert). The final sampling was a dessert platter: a walnut chocolate brownie, a strawberry white chocolate flourless cake, an Oreo tiramisu, and a New York cheesecake.
I don’t think I could’ve been happier ending my meal with a dessert sampler. I started with the Oreo tiramisu because Oreos might be my favourite cookie ever. I’ve eaten a 24 pack of Oreos in one sitting without shame… In fact, if my birthday was an Oreo themed party, I don’t think I’d be mad. The tiramisu was creamy and smooth but a bit heavy handed on the alcohol, I’d consider it a “boozy tiramisu”. I would have also enjoyed more Oreos in my dessert but that’s probably because I am the Cookie Monster. My favourite dessert of the evening was definitely the New York cheesecake: it had a balanced tangy/sweet flavor with a smooth and dense consistency. When cheesecakes are made right, they’re some of the best desserts available. I’d definitely recommend this dessert to anyone dining at the Flame Tree.
As you can see, the presentation of food at the Flame Tree has become extremely modern and appealing to the eye. Isn’t that the saying “you eat with your eyes”? The Flame Tree definitely feeds your eyes and stomach with their dishes. Each dish made me want to whip out my phone and take an Instagram which (in my opinion) is the 2015 verification of a well-presented dish. Each of the courses showcased the dishes ingredients and were still well-seasoned. The new menu is a breath of fresh air to the Flame Tree restaurant at Sarova Panafric.
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If you haven’t been to the Flame Tree in a while I’d suggest giving it a visit, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the changes. It’s a great venue for a romantic evening with a special date, or for a family lunch on the outdoor patio.
When was the last time you visited the Flame Tree? Let me know about your experience in the comments section below. 🙂