The Hilton in Nairobi was one of the the first major international hotel chains to open in Kenya in 1969. The Hilton now sits on a great piece of property in the Central Business District (CBD) surrounded by the hustle and bustle of everyday Nairobi life. Jacquie and I were invited to try the appropriately named Travellers Restaurant for their popular French Themed night. The restaurant offers a themed buffet every night of the week to hotel guests and Nairobians, you’re sure to meet a lot of people from all over the world at this restaurant. The restaurant is on the ground floor of the Hilton and the entrance is almost hidden underneath the grandiose staircase.
Much like the Hilton, the Travellers Restaurant has an older feel to it. Perhaps intentionally, it comes across as a historical piece of this huge hotel. The decor is whimsical with suitcases, traveling equipment and random odds and ends decorating the ceilings.
The furniture of the restaurant mimics that a French café and the ambiance was quiet and warm. The themed nights at Travellers Restaurant are ksh 3,300 per person (exclusive of drinks) and half off for children between the ages of 4 – 8 (a child younger than 4 eats free). You can get a taste for what was on the menu that night here.
As I walked around the restaurant looking at what I could expect for dinner, there was an entrée section, a salad section, a bread section, a live-cook station making crepes, a chef carving roast beef, and of course, desserts. I’ve never reviewed a buffet before so naturally I decided to try a little bit of everything (fun fact: I would have done this anyway).
The food was nicely presented on large silver serving dishes and I was definitely hungry after my quick lap around the restaurant. I served myself a selection from the salad station, most of the entrée dishes, a few cuts of meat, and of course carbs from the bread station.
I can’t sit down for any meal without adding sauces (mostly chili sauce) to my plate.
As I sat down to enjoy my meal, I realized that getting a bit of everything meant that I had served myself way too much food. But, as my mother always said, I had to finish everything on my plate… I did it for you.
The thing I often find main course meals at buffets is they’re often difficult to execute well. The longer food sits on a burner the more it dries out (especially meats). It also doesn’t allow the chef to really pack flavour into their dishes because they have to accommodate for a lot of palettes. Buffets generally work better for salad stations and dessert stations.
Some of the main dishes I tried at the Travellers Restaurant such as the buttered tagliatelle with the green peas a la Française, or the steamed vegetables tasted under seasoned to my palette. The sauces I picked up from the sauce station added some much needed heat and salt to the dishes that were lacking seasoning. The sliced meat from the meat slicing station was dry and the sauce didn’t add any moisture to it, only a salted gravy that sat on top. The nile perch that I tried was also dry.
On the flip side, the chicken dish was surprisingly good. Usually I would expect poached chicken served at a buffet to be dry but this chicken was not. The creamy white sauce was well seasoned and the chicken was moist. The beef bourguignon was also a winner in my books, a bourguignon sauce is a wine based sauce with onions and the sauce was a perfect balance of salty and sweet.
Next I had to try every dessert mostly because I wanted to be consistent in how I went about my first buffet review. 😉
Jacquie and I ordered two cappuccinos to go with our dessert samplings.
Instead of talking about each dish individually, I’ll give you the highlights and the lowlights of the dessert round.
We’ll start with the lowlights: generally, I don’t enjoy eclairs because more often than not, I find the pastry to be dry and bland. The eclair pastry at the Hilton wasn’t bland but it was dry, and the chocolate sauce drizzled on top had hardened so there was no moisture to the dish. To be fair, they had chocolate sauce at the dessert station that could be used to add mositure but by the time I was trying my eclair, it was too late. The tart tartin (the dessert that looks like a slice of pie closest to me in the photo above) was dry and not a very interesting dessert in my opinion, it didn’t taste like much.
Highlights: what is it about chocolate mousse in buffets? It’s almost as if chefs the world over have agreed that no buffet is complete without a mousse of some sort. I love chocolate mousse and the mousse at the Hilton was so good. It was probably my favourite dish of the night. If I ever went to a dessert buffet and only saw rows on rows of chocolate mousseI would think “wow, what a great selection of desserts!”. The Travellers Restaurant chocolate mousse was rich, creamy, and made with dark chocolate (my favourite) but sweet enough that milk chocolate lovers would enjoy this mousse all the same. I ate my mousse, finished Jacquie’s, and got a third for good measure.
The pear tart almondine was a great dessert too. It reminded me of an apple pie and when I added a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, it was a very satisfying dessert. The pears were ripe, the crust was buttery and flakey, and the dish had a delicious hint of cinnamon for a bit of spice.
The service that evening was a bit wanting. Obviously buffet is self service, but even so, wait staff are important to get drink orders and just make sure each guest is attended to. I found the wait staff weren’t very attentive. I had to ask several times to see a drink menu and when I did receive it, it was a wine list not a full beverage menu. The restaurant wasn’t very busy so I felt that service should have been top notch. Although the waitstaff weren’t as attentive as I had hoped, they were definitely friendly, polite and professional.
Overall I had a pretty good night, Jacquie is fantastic company and Eric from the marketing department was kind and easy to talk to. Would I go back? I’m not sure, I’m not a huge fan of buffets and this one didn’t really change my opinion. Maybe I’d visit on a Thursday for the Travellers Restaurant Kenyan BBQ night which is outdoors at their poolside restaurant. I don’t usually like to pay a lot of money for Kenyan food when my aunt can make me the same (if not better) food for free BUT I would be open to try a BBQ night by the pool. In my mind it’s nyama choma and beers on a rooftop watching the sunset which sounds like a good time to me.