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Where African dishes are cooked in French fashion

Sa’ani is a place where you can get local cuisines done using Gaullic culinary skills and cooked to international standards, says chef, Melvin Oyamo.

Njeri Maina @PeopleDailyKe

Off Argwings Kodhek Road in the suburbs of Lavington, Nairobi, we take a nondescript slip road, which turns out to be Batian’s lane and head to Sa’ani, the African Bistro. It is a quiet hideout located on the first floor of Batians Serviced Apartments. Sa’ani has the sort of intimate ambience that makes you and your fellow diner feel incredibly close.

It is a place you should avoid if you and your date have nothing to talk about other than the weather and such mundane talks. However, if you love intimate spaces, non-intrusive waiters and class thrown in for free, look no further.

We walk into the restaurant, past some sina taabus (high bar stools), which flank a well-stocked bar and sit on some stylish couches with chest tables. The walls are dotted with photographs, which have been translated onto canvas.

The unique, stylish interior is both intricate and simple. We are in luck as the head chef and one third of the founders of the bistro are in the kitchen. So shortly after settling down, we are introduced to accomplished chef, Melvin Oyamo.

“Sa’ani is where you can get African dishes done using French culinary skills but cooked to international standards,” he says. We order bacon and leek samosas for starters. The samosas are very yummy. The dough pockets are thin— as they should be— so one has a chance to taste the stuffing within.

With every bite, one discovers the crispiness of freshly done bacon with some slight tanginess from the leeks and the creamy stringy goodness of gouda cheese. I order Kakamega Express, which is kienyenji (traditional) chicken with a side plate of crispy arrowroot slices and a poached egg.

My date for the day, John, who is also my colleague and occasional friend, orders fries and chicken wings. (The occasions we are friends are when his plate is half-full, mine is empty and I am still hungry). The food arrives after 10 minutes.

I find the chicken sumptuous; it is steeped in a very tasty sauce. I manage to eat half the serving and gladly share the rest with John, not from a surplus of kindness, but because I am full. From the sticky yet sumptuous chicken wings I manage to steal from John, I am definitely ordering them on my next visit. A delicious aroma wafts from the fries as they are not only well dried, but also well salted and just slightly browned.

Later, we decide to try their cocktails at the outdoor seating area. We sit outside on some grey rattan seats with a tranquil view of a well-manicured garden as we sample their mango, pineapple and watermelon cocktails which tastes natural and fresh.

There is also a man-made waterfall where water winds around black rocks before falling a few metres down to a pool and a metallic flamingo. This is only the beginning of my patronage at Sa’ani and an ever-growing meal repertoire.

The bacon and leek samosas are high up in my list followed by chicken wings. I am biased as I have a life-long love affair with fast foods. Their peanut tripe (matumbo with peanuts) and a side of managu and ugali is another favourite of mine.

But you will have to try for yourself as describing the complex tastes will not do the dish justice. The meals are affordable too, ranging from Sh700 to Sh2,000. The braised pork belly goes for Sh1,750 while the peanut nut tripe and chicken wings go for Sh850 each.

The masala chips on the other hand should come with a label ‘for the brave’ as the chef does not scrimp on the pepper. The last time, my sister and I had this, I specifically ordered for very spicy chips masala. Boy, were the chips spicy?

We both had teary red eyes and sniffles inflicted by the unyielding and unsympathetic pepper contained therein. The chef consulted us after the meal — I think he thought we needed medical attention. Fortunately, we did not. We just had bruised egos from falling off the spicy food athlete list. I will order for chips masala that are mildly spiced next time round. My ego and palate do not need anymore bruising…

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