(Posted 31st January 2023)
The sign outside was lit up like an italic flash in the night, promising a swanky atmosphere
on the inside of the well-spoken about seafood restaurant perched on the corner of Harry
Thuku and Kijabe streets, right behind the National Theatre and Kenya Broadcasting
Corporation. White signs and white cloth clouds on the ceiling sailed on a scent of lemon
garlic buttered deliciousness as one penetrated the low-lit interior and pretty young ladies
clad in little black dresses showed you to your seat. This promised to be a sensory
I had been here twice before on dates wonderful enough to be memorable, slurping oysters
nestled on ice in an artistic turquoise clay bowl sloshed down with naturally sweet Muscato
wine, and being entertained by the knowledgeable waiters with quick quips on their
fingertips. But this time I came alone, determined to see if the food really was as good as I
felt on my previous visits, or if it was just the atmosphere of the date that got me going.
The main restaurant with the pendant white cloths that covered the entire ceiling and a bar
in the corner boasting mature whiskeys and hard to find labels of liquid satisfaction, gave
way to a spiral staircase besides a gold-rimmed glass fish-tank of golden carp, that led
upwards to the first-floor coffee shop and upper terrace, equally bedecked with white sails
on the ceiling and Prussian blue and white striped cushions on the seats.
Back on the groundfloor, the restaurant opens out to a freestyle pool, with tables swishing down towards it in
an arc, backed by grey stone, diamond overhead spotlights and green vegetation. But it was
the seafood here that made the restaurant its name, winner of the World Luxury Restaurant
award, in 2021 and 2022, amongst other accolades.
Good seafood is like good poetry, inspirational and long lasting. How you take one
ingredient and marry it to another is akin to the skills of a wordsmith, powerful in its
descriptive ability when done right. That is why whenever I want to test a seafood
restaurant’s prowess, I order for a ceviche.
For 3000 years, from the shores of Moche Peru to the modern tables of Europe, this simple
dish originally made of acidic chili, seaweed and raw fish, has entranced and evolved
through the centuries, when ancient fishermen and women would eat their catch straight
from the boat in marinated chili. It’s modern incantation comprising of marinated bitter
orange juice only came to fore in 1492 when Christopher Columbus landed, followed later
by the Conquistadors who brought with them lemon and limes from Asia. The chilis, and
later the limes’ acid, “cooks” the fish without fire, turning the flesh opaque and chewy 12 to
24 hours later.
But the late 19 th century Japanese emigrées to the region, with their own love for the
delicate medicinal properties of raw fish, served the fish doused in lime immediately,
preferring the delicacy fresh and uncured. Eventually the dish morphed again with the
creation of tiger’s milk or leche de tigre from Honduras, where coconut milk was added to
the acid marinade of lime, chilis, onions and garlic, and left to “cook” the fish for at least 6
hours. It is served in different forms all over South America along with sweet potato crisps,
as a filler in tacos, or with rice in some parts of Northern Peru and tomatoes and peanuts in
Here at Mawimbi, the waiter brought my ceviche with a flourish and a speech, in a beautiful
artisanal clay bowl, featuring grilled prawn and battered and fried calamari, garnished with
tiny fresh tomato cubes and petals of African violet adding pretty splashes of colour in the
creamy tiger’s milk. I suspected that they cooked the seafood in order to introduce the dish
to a more squeamish audience, as well as to ensure constant availability and consistent
quality on short notice. Deciding not to judge before tasting, I raised a spoonful of the tiger’s
milk to my lips.
I got lost in sensation as the tangy liquid hit my tongue, and enflaming my tastebuds while
at the same time being soothed by the lukewarm creamy coconut milk, before the chili
tickled my throat on the way down. I had expected a cold dish, but the cooked seafood had
warmed up the “leche” marinade in a manner that was not unpleasant. The chef had got the
balance of acid and alkaline right, in a soft but spicy liquid that lifted crisp of the prawn and
the batter of the calamari to another level of tangy sensory perception, unlike other
offerings I have tasted that tilt the balance of the lemon far too high. The little pops of fresh
sweetcorn in the leche and the accompanying slivers of mildly salted plantain crisps sealed
the deal. I loved the dish, despite the fact that it was cooked.
Followed by a roll of octopus and avocado that also featured freshly grilled crispy octopus
and was creamy from ripe avocado, I suspected that there was a sliver of pickle wrapped up
in the heavily coated sesame rice and seaweed roll that accounted for the sharp tang on the
side of my tongue. Asian cooking enthusiasts always speak about “chasing the Yum”, that
elusive balance between, sweet and sour, hot and mild, and Mawimbi’s seafood dishes are
on the right path.
Unpretentious but creative, they allow the uninitiated an introduction into gourmet seafood
dining without too much hype. The atmosphere was as warm and informal as an afternoon
breeze in the tropics, with a DJ mixing Afro-house vibes with cool Asian favourites, and a
steady hum of chatter from patrons enjoying each other’s company without showing off too
much. This place is definitely worth a second and third visit.
(Dressed for the occasion … )
To make a reservation at Mawimbi and for more information:
+254 758 956 805
To watch the FOMO Travel Show ep95: