Capital FM (Nairobi)

23 January 2013

Kenya: Restaurant Review - Nargis Restaurant Westlands

In two short pages, the straightforward and un-needy menu at Nargis Restaurant Westlands sums it up simply - the food is endearing and enduring. A glance of the menu may bring back nostalgic memories - of the original Nargis Restaurant on Nairobi's River Road that opened its doors soon after Kenya's independence - proving that good comfort food is timeless and spans generations.

Founded by a chef who mastered his culinary skills in the UK, Nargis' creator helped free Indian food from its high-end Kenyan stereotypes and introduced a hungry public, who knew little of it, to the way of grilling over charcoal - letting the juices of the meats drip and sizzle on the hot red coals. Nargis' Chicken Tikka to this day, is still the institution's most famous dish; tender, moist and full of flavourful, the recipe credits the secret sauce passed over a generation.

Nargis Restaurant Westlands is located on School Lane in Westlands neighbourhood of Nairobi, Kenya. The average meal costs Sh 1,500. To book, click here. Special thanks to Eat Out Kenya.

With zippy service, Nargis is a great mid-range eating-out option in Nairobi. Now with two branches in Naiorbi's Industrial Area and swanky Westlands, Nargis looks to draw a whole new generation of grilled-Indian fanatics.

The instinct for good comfort food is on full display here - no showy designs and glossy modern furnishings - simply outfitted, Nargis' décor allows the food to sell itself without masking it. Bare plastic patio tables with yellow, red and blue umbrellas scatter in the garden. Under a more permanent metal set-up, more family-sized tables fill up the covered al fresco area, making it possible to enjoy the outdoors even during the worst rainstorms. Several colourful Koi fish swim in a fish tank sitting next to the communal hand washing station. An old hardtop camper that most likely belonged on the back of a pickup truck rests in the corner and acts as a novel children dining and play space. Inside, the converted home boasts private rooms for more intimate meals and spacious seating in the main dining room. The interior décor is simple and bland like a home of a sweet elderly relative. Everyone craves familiarity's cushioned embrace; and Nargis is definitely where you can let your hair down and leave the six-inch heels back at home.

Nargis' menu knows its identity. It's not trying to be everything one wants it to be, nor to be everything to everyone. It's precise and entertainingly short. If you don't like grilled and barbeque Indian food, then I guess you're sitting at the wrong restaurant.

One of the best things was the fresh Tangerine Juice (Sh 100). Like a reminder that the drink is squeezed fresh, cut segments of the tangerine's orange flesh float in the honey sweet, refreshing and lovely juice. And, as if you had doubted...right?!

There were the 6 Daal Bhajias (Sh 250), deep-fried until a golden crispy brown, served in an aluminum dish with a coconut, mint and yoghurt dipping sauce in the center. Who said vegetarian dishes were boring? The Chicken Wings (Sh 400) were sweet, spicy and savoury. Flavours of ginger and soya sauce left the palette wanting more.

For the mains, there was the Paneer Roll (Sh 350), a naan stuffed with cubes of paneer tikka accompanied with chips and salad - an ideal quick lunch. The Fish Tikka (Sh 400) had great texture, the moist flesh flaked with ease and it's slightly charred marinated crust exploded with flavour. The Family Grill (Sh 2,000) serves four adults and includes 2 orders of chips and a sampling of Chicken Tikka, Boneless Chicken Tikka, Seekh Kebab and Mushkaki. Just when you thought meat could not get any tenderer, the Boneless Chicken Tikka and Mushkaki prove you wrong. Full of robust flavours and aromas from spices and Nargis' secret marinade, my mouth waters at the thought.

A word of caution: when your waiter asks you if you'd like it mild, medium or hot; my suggestion is to order one level lower than what you would usually ask for. Chefs at Nargis are heavy on the chilli. Or, you can always help yourself to the homemade tamarind and mint yoghourt sauces on the table to cool off the heat - there's a lot of it.

And yet for the mis-steps in décor, I can still see how something as purposely un-posh and thought through as Nargis could work, and work well. The daily steady lunch crowds stream in through the blue gate, and on the weekends, getting a seat during dinner is a challenge. If you don't know where School Lane is, it's time to familiarize yourself because Nargis Restaurant Westlands is waiting to win you over.

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