Do you ever get attacked by surprise-naps? They strike when you least expect them to and when they’re the most inconvenient. Often, they’ll creep up when you decide to get horizontal on a bed with a good book or on the couch to watch some TV between running errands or appointments. One minute you’re eagerly awaiting to learn if Kim K actually managed to get pregnant again and the next you’re opening your eyes to a pitch black room and darkness outside.
That’s how my evening at Tambourin began.
I opened my eyes to darkness and confusion. I sprung to my feet and checked my phone. “6:20PM” the screen glared at me. I had forty minutes to shower, change, get to Tambourin, and look alive. This was my first time going to Kempinski and it happened to be on an invite for a pre-launch press dinner from EatOut Kenya. I wanted to ‘look the part’. With the time crunch, that didn’t look like it was going to be possible. A black tank top, grey cardigan, dark jeans, peep-toe kitten heels, and red lipstick was all the effort I could afford and still make it out the door on time.
When I got to the entrance of Tambourin I was greeted by Shikha Nayar the E Commerce Manager and Amit Sharma the Director of F&B at Kempinski. They remarked at how punctual I was; it was 6:59 PM. I smiled my thanks as I headed into the restaurant shaking off the remaining hints of sleep that lingered in my mind . I knew nothing about the restaurant and lounge before entering their space outside of the fact that they served mezze (small, usually for sharing) plates.
Thankfully, the evening began with an insightful tour of the restaurant from Amit.
When you walk into Tambourin, there’s a little hallway with dried apricots, dates, and nuts displayed and a long bar-like counter in the room directly in front of you. With the high-arched ceilings and the brightly tiled floors, you immediately get the feeling that you’re stepping into a different world.
To the left of the bar area is a dining room and to the right is a lounge. Set up in the lounge was a long dining table specially set up for our dinner.
Tambourin is an extremely inviting restaurant, from the staff to the decor. All the furniture is authentically Arabic in design with rich browns, maroons, ambers, reds, and gold accents throughout the room. This decor is exceptionally apparent in the lounge with couches intimately sectioned off by amber hardwood with Arabic curvature and aesthetic. In these sectioned off cabanas, you’re welcome to order shisha, and drinks as well as from the mezze sharing menu. This is perfect for a group of friends who want to enjoy a relaxed evening out.
As the tour continued, we headed to the dining room next. Much like the lounge area, there was seating around the perimeter of the room and glass panels across the top-half of the walls to allow for a beautiful view of twinkling Nairobi lights but also for fresh air to circulate through the restaurant.
There was a large table in the center of the room almost dividing the dining room into two sections. The table was raised and had comfortable couch-like seating with cloth draping from the ceiling around an ornate light.
This table was made for large parties or a celebration of some sort.
After seeing the dining room, we headed back to our table where mezze plates were already coming out of the kitchen. The specialty cuisine offered at Tambourin is food from the Levant region which covers a large area of the eastern Mediterranean where a lot of culinary traditions were shared in the Turkish-Ottoman Empire. Countries included in this region are: Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel and Syria among others. The man taking charge of this culinary operation is Chef Naji, the Jordanian Chef de Cuisine. Chef Naji has had over 18 years of experience in the culinary field particularly in the Levant region having worked in Aman, Dubai, and Jordan to name a few countries.
We were offered a sampling of the menu that will be available at Tambourin once they’re open. The menu was separated into cold mezze, hot mezze, and dessert. You may view the full tasting menu here.
Everything about the meal was beautiful: from the serving plates and the food’s presentation to the actual flavor of each dish. What I love most about food from this region is that it’s extremely flavourful yet clean tasting. Often flavourful food will leave an taste or oily texture of butter (or other delicious things) in your mouth. The food at Tambourin on the other hand tasted fresh and healthy without leaving a lingering aftertaste.
I’ve always really enjoyed tapas, mezzes, or other small-plate offerings because when you’re as indecisive as I am, there’s nothing better than being able to try a little bit of everything. I honestly could not get enough of the food in front of me and basically ate to my fill before the hot mezzes had even come out. There were classic dishes on the menu such as Hummus and Baba Ghanoush but there were also modern twists to classic dishes such as Basil-infused Hummus and Chicken Balls which were stuffed with pistachio nuts and halloumi cheese and wrapped in a othmaleah pastry. The Chicken Balls were definitely a crowd favourite that evening.
There’s something about sharing small plates with friends and strangers that makes a dining environment intimate yet lively. You’re forced to ask people you may not know to pass the salt or hummus and sometimes that helps break awkward silences and turn them into conversations.
We shared food and stories as we ate with our hands on a large communal table which gave a sense of togetherness and familiarity to the group. Along with a glass of wine, people really let down any barriers or reservations they may have had and some genuine friendships were made.
We ended the meal on a sweet note, with a bite of Baklava and an offering of either coffee or mint tea.
If you think you like Baklava, you haven’t tried anything yet. This homemade flaky pastry drizzled with honey has a nice crunch and is a great dessert that isn’t overly sweet. After a huge meal I could only really fit one piece of Baklava in without becoming full enough to require a stretcher to roll me out of the restaurant. With a cup of coffee in hand, the conversation slowly transitioned from around the dining table to around a coffee table in a little cabana.
As we sat sipping our coffee, we learned more about the effort to make each guest’s experience authentic at Tambourin. Save for the availability of shisha from Turkey, Tambourin will also have a 15 minute belly dancing show 4 to 5 times each evening in their lounge. Interesting tid bits such as these differentiate Tambourin from other restaurants serving Levantine cuisine on their menu. It makes Tambourin the only restaurant in Nairobi to really provide an authentic experience.
I would go back to Tambourin in a heart beat and probably will when they open on October 16th. When you go, you definitely need to order the following items: Muhamara (an incredible hot pepper dish that goes well with everything), the Chicken Wings, the Lamb and Chicken Kebab on Ouzi Rice, and the Basil Scented Hummus… Or just reorder everything we got that night on the tasting menu, you won’t regret it.