88 restaurant brings Orient home

With international hotel chains flocking the region, the art of fine-dining and culinary exploits is an emerging trend. Eighty Eight at the Villa Rosa Kempinski in Nairobi is dedicated to the tastes of the Orient.

Eight, a lucky number in Oriental cultures ranging from East to South Asians, considered to herald wealth and prosperity. At Eighty Eight, the contemporary pan-Asian cuisine is served with a double-dose of ambience.

I stuffed myself with the sushi and sashimi, with bits of wasabi to kill any micro-bacteria on the raw food. The sushi bar at the entrance of the Asian restaurant is done in warm orange colours and minimal deco. It features tobiko (shrimp eggs), unagi (eel), octopus and Hamachi (a yellow bony fish tail.)

“The pan-Asian is a new concept in town,” said Kithure Mwingirwa, the PR and marketing manager at Kempinski. “You could begin with a Japanese appetiser, have an Indian dish for the main course, and top it off with a Thai dessert. It’s like a one-stop shop.”

A few more foods appear on bamboo stalks to appease the buds.

The steamed prawn dumplings in caskets with roasted sesame sauce are delicious.

The discussion on food centres on the love for food with exotic spice-laden dishes. A few decades ago, Asian restaurants became popular in Europe. Today, Asian cuisine is a household feature in European kitchens.

In the same vein, someone in our group comments on how Asian cuisine is gaining popularity in the East African kitchen.

We continue our feast with glass noodles with mango and chilli lemon dressing as a tantalising light salad, while the crab soup in the asparagus adds tangy hints to an otherwise bland veggie.

For the 20 people at the table, the choice of nine main dishes fills every available space.

From India, there’s the lamb curry marinated in spices, and stir-fry Szechuan chicken from China – I love the garlic and herb flavours in it.

The steamed grouper in coconut milk complements the rich taste of the spicy potatoes, while the Nasi Goreng — fried rice from the Indonesian and Malay kitchens spiced with tamarind and garlic and served with eggs and bits of sea fish — and Shangai noodles create a base for all the meats and fish.

For dessert, I choose the sweet and spicy Eastern delights to cap the night.