Hemingways Nairobi opens, Chef Barry Tonks and his steaks wins hearts

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steak josper chef barry tonks hemingways nairobi photographed by susan wong 2013

Hemingways Collection, has recently opened its new city boutique hotel that features 43 junior suites and 2 presidential suites, adding to its Kenyan collection of properties to three: Hemingway’s Watamu, Ol Seki Hemingway’s Mara, and now, Hemingways Nairobi.

Nestled in the leafy residential area of Karen, Hemingways Nairobi enjoys expansive views of Ngong Hills.  Guests will enjoy unparalleled hospitality with their individual butlers (trained by a consultant from the British Guild of Butlers) catering to their every need and ready to create an unique experience of luxury.

And the luxe experience will not just stop at service and spa treatments – great food is also a big focus for Hemingways Nairobi.

chef barry tonks hemingways nairobi photographed by susan wong 2013

ENTER: Chef Barry Tonks and his ‘New York-styled’ steaks

“My ethos is from farm to plate and I just want to keep it real.  It’s simple: free range and fresh every day.  If we can’t make it here [Hemingways Nairobi] we won’t sell it,” Executive Chef Barry Tonks shared at an exclusive sneak-peek unveiling in April.

A few weeks in, the critics may be divided over Hemingways Nairobi’s brasserie – the portions are too small and it’s ludicrously high-end – but everyone loves a bit of colonial-era glamour sometimes.

I’m not going to pretend that Hemingways Nairobi’s Hollywood-themed restaurant offers anything groundbreaking (perhaps the fine dining restaurant will once it opens, or the exclusive chef’s table in the wine cellar with a live video feed from the kitchen pass will).  But ‘groundbreaking’ doesn’t always mean great food.

Few are going to talk poetically about steak, but in chef Barry Tonk’s hands (he’s ex-London restaurants, a top CV entry, the only chef in Kenya who has been awarded a prestigious Michelin Star, and has been a judge for Kenya’s annual Taste Awards), this simple pleasure transforms into something life-changing and simply, splendid to the palate: a savoury, crispy, well-seasoned and golden-brown crust – the result of natural flavours and sugars of the meat caramelizing, encapsulating morsels of juicy beef.

The Hollywood-themed brasserie at Hemingways Nairobi is a calm little place, yellow painted walls with fashionable film set-inspired lamps, gold tin ceiling, quirky yet wise quotes painted on one wall, Robert Welch designed cutlery, and nearly a 9-foot-tall majestic chrome replica of Hollywood’s most famous statuette and trophy, Oscar, receives hungry guests.  But it doesn’t need to try too hard or seem pretentious: its guests are happy with the consistently great cooking and a genuine heartfelt welcome.

There is the sense of getting the most out of the best ingredients throughout the menu, one that showcases some of Tonks’ classic specialties that he has perfected during his culinary career.  Fresh olive bread from the in-house bakery, Beetroot ‘like Carpaccio’ with Cashew Nut Dressing, Riviera Salad that’s more of an interpretation of a Nicoise, Butternut Squash with a drizzle of Sage Pesto, Red Snapper ‘a la plancha’ with Coconut Curry Sauce, and Risotto of Tomato Essence.  Delicate desserts such as Soft Meringue with Custard and Sugared Almonds, Gâteau Opéra with Chocolate Syrup, and Baked Cheese Cake with Mango and Basil are all delicious classics that delight the palate with precision and purpose.

During an exclusive tour of Hemingways Nairobi’s new glistening kitchen, Tonks revealed that the Club Sandwich was the same as the one he use to make during his time at London’s 5-star hotel The Dorchester 20 years ago.

“It’s a classic, there’s really no other way to make such a delicious Club Sandwich.”

All of the key dishes that have made an impact in Tonks’ career have stayed with him, including some of the best steaks Kenya has yet to fully grasp.  Inspired by his fond memories of researching for a steakhouse he was going to open in London, Tonks believes his kitchen will be serving steaks as good as the New Yorkers do.

“Our kitchen is replicating the same delicious crispy crust that you’d only find in a New York steakhouse, where the best steaks in the world are.”

Almost stealth-like, a black beauty, an oven, stood at one end of the kitchen.  Tonks told me it was a ‘Josper.’

“It’s a kick-ass oven!”

Judging from Tonks’ excitement and twinkle in his eyes, the Josper must’ve been his latest culinary toy, which probably didn’t come cheap, but does whatever it’s suppose to do that much better.

The Josper is a charcoal-powered machine that can only be found in kitchens of those who are passionate about grilling.  Reaches temperatures as high as 1,000 °F, the Josper, optimally cooks and sears meat, resulting in the unique flavour of a delicious crust and preserves the texture and juiciness of a steak.

Tonks remarkable kitchen is filled not just with tools and equipment that he meticulously selected, but also the spirit of the Chef himself.  Hemingways Nairobi’s kitchen is as close to Tonks’ dream kitchen as it can get, with every detail meticulously selected by him.

So, it doesn’t really get any better than this: the freshest of ingredients cooked by a passionate Michelin-starred chef who’s lucky enough to call his kitchen his ‘dream kitchen.’  You better believe it when I say the food at Hemingways Nairobi is delicious.

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riviera salad nicoise chef barry tonks hemingways nairobi photographed by susan wong 2013
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SUSAN WONG

Susan Wong is the Editor of Capital Lifestyle, a resident photographer, an award-winning journalist, radio presenter, full-time adventurer, long-time admirer of anything edible, and a spicy food athlete at Capital FM.

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