It was the fastest BlogOut dinner with EatOut Kenya that I have ever attended. Honestly we were in and out of Clay Oven in about two hours. Are we vets to the process? Sure. Were we tired after a long day of work? Probably. Was the food a little lackluster? Unfortunately, yes.
With such a large Indian community in Nairobi, there is no shortage of fantastic Indian cuisine. From more street-like environments like Diamond Plaza to fine-dining at Haandi’s there’s food for every occasion. I personally think I get some of the best Indian food Nairobi has to offer at my best friend Chan’s house. Growing up, I split my time between Chan’s place and my own and was constantly fed roti with matar bateta, bhinda, and bhajji. To Chan’s mom’s delight, I ate every meal enthusiastically unlike Chan who was used to her mother’s Gujarati cooking and more often than not would have preferred to be eating a pizza. To date, her mom will ask (yell) “Soni why aren’t you eating? In high school you could eat so much more” this is after I’ve eaten two heaping servings of food… Mothers, I tell ya. After eating way past my fill, I drag myself up the stairs and plop onto a bed as the food coma washes over me. Every damn time.
We headed to Clay Oven, located in Fuji Plaza off of Wayaki Way (where Iguana used to be but unfortunately went under). They’ve got a nice space, equally divided between indoor and outdoor seating.
The restaurant’s ambiance has a very old school feel. The set up is very run-of-the-mill, waitres don all black suits with maroon ties (I assume to compliment the table cloths) and waistcoats. Now, there’s nothing “wrong” with an old school look and feel, however you never want that to translate into the ambiance. Being a Tuesday evening, Clay Oven wasn’t very busy and it just felt kind of drab. The music on the speakers was solemn and the waiters/waitresses didn’t seem to have much energy to them.
Once everyone had arrived and was seated, the appetizers started to flow. There was Papadam, a Veggie Roll, Chili Paneer, and Tandoori Chicken to start.
The Tandoori Chicken was my favourite starter. Chicken is always a winner in my books and a simple tandoori seasoning with a nice grilled char can make anything taste good. The chicken was moist and the grill was perfect. I really wished the chili paneer had packed more punch. I love spicy food; If I’m not sweating, it’s not spicy enough.
Thankfully, there were sauces in the middle of the table, a chili sauce, a chutney and a mint sauce. All of these helped aid the otherwise bland starters.
The starters flew by, we didn’t seem to be making too much conversation as a group. I think we were all awaiting the main dishes, hoping for more robust flavours that are commonly found in Indian cuisine. Whether it’s North or South Indian, you know that there’s always going to be flavour, that’s why a lot of people love it.
Out came the main dishes. There was a Mixed Vegetable Curry, Chicken Tikka Masala, Mutton Rohan Josh, and an assortment of naan.
I love bread. Who doesn’t? Naan holds a special place in my heart. It should be warm, fluffy, and have a slight chew to it. It resembles the consistency of a pizza dough but is airier and lighter. This naan was none of these. It had good flavour but was cold, crispy, and thin. I was pretty disappointed.
The dishes were mild in flavour. Again, I added a lot of the chili in the middle of the table to all three of these dishes. The best main dish that we tried was the vegetable curry that had a bit of sweetness from the sauce and sweet corn.
We ended the evening with a bowl of kulfi, a cardamom-honey-pistachio icecream. This was a rich and creamy dessert dessert. Full of the bold flavours you expect from Indian cuisine.
Clay Oven was a fun experience but mostly due to the lovely ladies I attended the dinner with. Unfortunately, many of the dishes lacked flavour. If you’re new to Indian Cuisine or for some reason don’t enjoy the complex flavours found in Indian Cuisine, maybe you could give this place a try. However, the ambiance was also lacking. I’m sorry Clay Oven, but this was disappointing considering the endless options of fantastic Indian food available in Nairobi.
All photos courtesy of Karan Khalsa