ACHOLA ROSARIO GOES UNDERGROUND IN SEARCH OF CULINARY DELIGHTS
(Posted 12th December 2020)
If time creates perfection, then 180,030 years should be about right enough to create the perfect setting for an atmospheric restaurant. And it takes a crazy pair of eyes to see the vision of what this restaurant can become.
Thirty years ago, my parents, sister and I were on our first holiday in Mombasa, when my late Father discovered this magical cave of wonders and brought us for dinner. I never forgot it, and vowed to return. At the time the place was being run by the founders, George and Jackie Barbour, a charismatic couple who also operated the 40 Thieves, a kicking beach bar nearby that I will touch on more in my following episode. Now it is in the capable hands of Hans Strydom, a close personal friend of George Barbour, who has stayed true to the vision and also added a few touches of his own in the gastronomic delights served here.
I walked up to the restaurant in the dark night, a deceptively small bungalow set at the end of a lane, a good 200m from the beach, saluted the Samburu guard who sanitized my hands, and stepped inside.
The ground level immediately fell away in front of you, directing you to a descending staircase on the right. Rocks created a tunnel overhead as I tried to delicately pick my way down in heels, trying not to gawp like a villager when getting to the bottom and entering a cathedral of stone, laced with Swahili furniture and glowing glass orbs in natural wall crevices.
A sturdy barman was hand-crushing some sort of spice or herb in a pestle and mortar at the bar to the right, while a couple in the foyer by the bar, dressed for a first date, were giggling into each other’s necks.
The floor descends again as you enter the vast cavern, truly majestic in scale, mysteriously illuminated, with Bose piped music in hidden recesses complimenting the ghostly rustle of the light breeze from the natural skylight swirling into the bowl of the cave. I had arrived just as the protective roof for bad weather was being slid back to treat guests to a starry night. The heavens were not the only things shining that night. Copper accents in the form of antique trays reflected the light from the numerous candelabras, and guests preened in their best frocks. Even the tables were well dressed, ankles properly hidden by double linen, Victorian style, silver service and glass water bottles proclaiming the status of patrons here.
A lovely bottle of Australian Clearwater Rosé with peach accents was placed at my table in a silver ice bucket, a standard one third measure poured into my large crystal wine-glass by a hovering waiter who never seemed to really go away. I am not used to eating while being watched, but it came in handy when one needed a refill.
The olive and sunflower seed bread was so warm and soft the butter just caressed it and melted. Even without the butter, dipped in extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar and topped with a little beef carpaccio rocket and parmesan and washed down with the Clearwater Rosé, it created a sensation akin to fresh tangy velvet.
The rocket was not too much, the parmesan was authentic, and the carpaccio was velvety, not dry and flaky as most restaurants serve. The carpaccio is made under the supervision of Hans, using his own recipe.
Next came my entrée, Prawn Pili Pili with mashed potatoes, again using Hans’ secret recipe. The pepper sauce is made out of a specific type of pepper that is slightly sharp and tart on the first intake, then develops into a wasabi-like bomb, before diffusing into a fruity flavor and disappearing from your tongue. A very interesting experience.
The prawns were garlicky large and succulent, the mash smooth and buttery. I didn’t have desert, I was too full and didn’t want to ruin the cinched waist of my jade camouflage mini-dress with a protruding belly. A quick check in the fresh toilets, the only part of the cave that was built up, confirmed everything was in place and I was free to slay.
To make a reservation at Ali Barbours write to:
+254 714 456 131
To watch Episode 50 of The F.O.M.O. Travel Show:
The Magic is Real – which is why they call it #MagicalKenya