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Food & Travel: ‘Meat’ me at the Carnivore!

ON the last night of our recent eight day safari as guests of Kenya Airways, the Kenya National Tourist Board and other travel practitioners, a much anticipated “wrap” party at Nairobi’s world famous Carnivore Restaurant was the highlight.

During the few years when things went reasonably right here, proprietors of the Carnivore were part responsible for constant rumours they would open a branch in Zimbabwe, probably in Harare, possibly Victoria Falls, conceivably both.

Then we had the land chaos, electoral chicanery and various other tragedies culminating in cholera…and Carnivore went to Jo’burg instead!

In Nairobi it’s a licence to print money and packed every night with everyone passing through this hub of East Africa from well-heeled bespoke safari clients and international film-makers to back-packers and overlanders.

They once served every sort of nyama the tourists had seen during their week or so in the fauna-rich national parks of Kenya, Tanzania or Uganda. Grilled giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, warthog, bush pig, Grant’s and Thompson gazelle, impala etc were all on the menu, dripping juicily straight from the braai.

Choma nyama, the Kenyans call it. It means “roast meat” in Kiswahili.This seems to have changed: or had the night of our farewell do.

Waiters, having brought trays of Kenya’s excellent Tusker Lager, good South African wine, freshly squeezed fruit juice and  wonderful mountain mineral waters, whipped out pads and pens and asked the unlikely question: “Anyone vegetarian?”

I suppose some Sikhs and Hindus may have answered in the affirmative; there was a deafening silence from our table.

The soup, however, was cream of vegetable and very good, too, with dinky still hot rolls and pleasant butter.

I think we’d had the thankfully brief and humorous speeches earlier.

I’d seen a big, heavily-boned Arab with huge hands draped languidly in the rear seat of a stretch Merc limo, stuck next to us in endless traffic jams between the airport and our hotel, the InterContinental in downtown Nairobi, close to parliament.

He was the tourism minister!  We saw or heard no motorcades or cavalcades in Kenya, but they wouldn’t work: solid gridlock for the miles rather than kilometres Kenyans still refer to.

The supposedly 16km trip from Jomo Kenyatta International to Nairobi’s CBD took substantially longer than our flight had from Mombasa to the capital!

The minister told us the travel sector had committed half-a-million euros to flight a campaign aimed at getting tourists from Africa to visit Kenya this year.

Then he was dragged, protesting, onto the dance floor by a svelte bimbette broadcaster MC; that’s the last we saw of him!

I don’t usually go a bundle on these sorts of braai/buffets. You can allegedly return as many times as you want, but the reality usually is that, bored with queuing, punters pile plates perilously.

They take more graze than most folk could eat in a wet weekend; much of it is unappetisingly cold before the half-way mark.

Apart from a dozen different meat and fish offerings there’s often the almost compulsory mopani worms and over cooked “traditional” vegetables.

Carnivore waiters brought a double-tier Lazy Susan with pickles, condiments, rice and fresh salads. Then a big platter of excellent baked jacket potatoes.

Then we were offered principally “conventional” meats: great pork sausages, chicken drumsticks and smaller huku morsels, honey glazed spare-ribs, chicken livers, lamb chops. A leg of lamb was presented at the table impaled on a Maasai spear and expertly carved into almost translucent slices to order, the waiter using a lethally sharp carving knife. The same was done with legs of pork and rare beef roasts.

The only slightly unusual culinary item offered our table was crocodile tail, which I am quite fond of, first sampling the dish in the then really excellent Bird and Bottle Restaurant at the New Ambassador Hotel, in what was Salisbury, around 1976, when a certificate proved you’d eaten “Croc-Tail Cocktail!”


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