Despite being one of the poorest countries in Africa, Burundi is one of the most beautiful, with rolling hills surrounding the capital city of Bujumbura. The city sits on the northeastern shores of Lake Tanganyika.
Locals say that the city hasn't changed much since Independence, largely due to the political conflict that has rocked the small landlocked nation for over two decades. The wide boulevards and stone pavements give this quiet little city a unique feel.
During the three months that I stayed in Bujumbura last year, I found the city to be a juxtaposition of peace and tension. While there is a palpable air of fear of conflict resurgence, both locals and expatriates dine, drink, and dance liberally.
I visited many restaurants and coffee shops in the city and its suburbs. One of my favourite was the Belvédère Restaurant.
The Belvédère is located in the upscale Kiriri suburb, where most expatriates and diplomats live. My friend and I arrived at the restaurant at around 7pm so we missed the sunset.
No regrets though, for the view at night was magnificent, with the lights on the hills and the city below shimmering like sequins on a dark canvas, and Lake Tanganyika quietly stretching like a deep blue ribbon on the northwestern side. Unlike the hot and humid air during the day, the evening was refreshed by a cool breeze.
We were shown to our table, not very far from the view, so that we could continue taking in the scenery below. The cushioned reed seats were comfortable, against the sturdy wooden tables decked with burgundy cloths, and the vases were filled with fresh flowers.
When the waiter brought the drinks menu, my friend, a diplomat with the French Embassy in Bujumbura, recommended the virgin mojito. She said that it was the best she has ever tasted. The drink certainly lived up to its reputation.
The barista informed us that the restaurant grows its own mint just next to the kitchen.
The Belvédère has a wide selection of food -- from Italian to Japanese, catering for the international community in Bujumbura. Although the waiter spoke English, I wanted to utilise my rusty French as was happy to see that he understood my order despite my Kenyan accent.
As a fish lover, I ordered the brochette de capitaine -- a Nile perch skewer flavoured with onions and olive oil.
My friend asked for beef steak and chips. While we waited for the main dish, the waiter brought us some bruschetta, a classic Italian starter. The crusty bread topped with savoury garden ripened tomatoes, fresh basil, garlic and olive oil was the best way to begin the meal.
The service at Belvédère is faster than the other restaurants I had been to in Bujumbura, so before long, our food arrived. The brochette de capitaine was delectable, and I savoured it.
Above us, lanterns hang around wooden poles giving a rustic feel and radiating a peaceful ambience amidst quiet conversations and soft French music. As we were about to finish our meal, the proprietor came to our table.
Bonsoir. Tout va bien? (Good evening. Is everything alright?
Oui! (Yes!) We both said.
We let him know that the food was excellent and could we have more virgin mojitos? He motioned the barista and two glasses came right up. We were too full for dessert, but the choices on the menu were tantalising. Next time I am in Bujumbura, I will definitely have some.