It is all about food and who does it best – Kampala is getting spoiled for choices


(Posted 18th May 2014)

Back in the late 1980’s, after Sheraton took over the management of the then Apollo Hotel, was the city of Kampala bereft of any places of culinary finesse, the civil war barely over, the mop up in the North continuing and the capital still coming together again, healing from the wounds of dictatorship and upheavals. The interest of most Ugandans back then was to put food on the table, for one and perhaps two meals a day, full stop. Hence, there were no restaurants worth talking about and the two functioning hotels were the Sheraton and the Nile Hotel, where those with international guests would head to for a meal, carrying a bag full of currency bricks to be able to pay, 100 and 200 Shilling notes bundled, tied and sealed, making the transaction easy but for the small change of which there was none to be had.

The Sheraton then operated the Victoria Grill, the one and only fine dining there was in Kampala while at the Nile in those days one would get local cuisine with some international dishes, nothing fancy but a good square meal.

As peace prevailed and economic growth set it, so did restaurants arrive on the scene, many from across the border in Kenya where they had built a name and thus making sure that their fame preceded them when they set up shop in Kampala. The Sheraton, no longer alone in the market, had to compete for clients and when the Nile Hotel was in 2007 turned into the Kampala Serena Hotel, the Sheraton truly had their work cut out for them.

Individuals like Kwashie Gebedameh and Ian Burgess set the focus on F&B and service delivery and GM after GM arrived to veni vidi vinci after that only to reach the vidi stage but not quite conquering the hotel’s former standing back.

Chris Pollard, the immediate past GM, then drove the agenda afresh and when the current GM Ian Duncan arrived, he did so with the intent to add the vinci to the veni and vidi, and in earnest this time.

Changes at the top level of the hotel after Chris’ departure allowed Ian to recruit a team whom he believes he can rely on to bring the fame of the olden days back and the new chef lineup is impressive to say the least.

Executive Chef Danushka Kumara, a Sri Lankan now heads the team after his very recent recruitment, and he is assisted by 6 chefs, two Ugandans and four from the international scene:

Mehmet Demirogullari is from Turkey and offers that special East Mediterranean touch, Wahib Hassan from Lebanon adds his skills with expertise of Middle Eastern cuisine, Thomas Somad from the Philippines lights up the taste buds with his South Asian recipes and Rana Prempal Singh offers the Indian food spectrum to the new menus which are now slowly gaining shape. The two Ugandans are Ben Mutagubya, the Executive Sous Chef and Elijah Kaseregenyi, who is dedicated to the pastry department where he is already thrilling aficionados of Danish pastries, croissants and more.

Last week, on Mother’s Day, did all the chefs pull out all the stops for the launch of the inaugural brunch, a revived Sunday tradition the Sheraton kept for long, before inexplicably dropping the spread for which many Kampaleans came to the hotel, to indulge and then perhaps to pay a visit to the health club or the pool to start working off the almost inevitable weight gain. Now once again available along with speciality evenings during the week and the lunch options for busy executives who like to be seated, finish their meal and be gone again in the space of an hour, will the new menus no doubt be stirring fresh interest among Kampaleans who by now of course are spoiled for choice and will only part with their money for exceptional quality of food and great service.

The new chefs are now gelling together to form the culinary attack ninja team of Kampala with the one task, to restore the Sheraton’s food and service rating to the top of their profession in the city and claim back market share, as others seem show the same complacency which once had taken root here. Been there, done that only counts as long as it is redone and done over time and again and the success is measured first and foremost on the daily covers sold and not by looking at trophy cabinets where the old ones gather dust and where the space for new ones stays conspicuously empty.

Competition on this level is healthy and the news from the grapevine that the owners of the Kampala Sheraton, Constellation Hotels, have apparently okay’d a princely sum of money to ring in another round of refurbishments and upgrades which will no doubt keep the Sheraton in the news – so keep watching this space.

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