Stalking Nairobi’s pop-up restaurant Marley’s Kitchen

marleys kitchen jerk chicken with plantains nairobi kenya photographed by susan wong 2013

“Your jerk chicken is marinating as you sleep…” With a post like that on Facebook, who can say no to stalking the new pop-up restaurant in Nairobi – Marley’s Kitchen – definitely not me.

After learning about the pop-up through a friend on Saturday, equipped with my camera and salivating taste buds, I woke up Sunday morning with one mission – find delicious Carribean food, specifically Jerk Chicken, in Nairobi.

Learn more about Marley’s Kitchen and where they will be next here

I was met with disappointment when I learned that Marley’s Kitchen had to close down at Gecko Carwash.  But thankfully, organizers managed to move the pop-up down the road to Captain Grill Restaurant, and so the stalking began.

The heavy air around us sniffed like a smokehouse with aromas of allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, molasses, dark rum and chillies.  Visiting from London, UK, Chef Romie Gardner, occasionally checked the oil-drum that had been refitted into a smoker, patiently turning the chicken and basting each piece with care.

Despite the change in venue, threatening rain clouds and a long wait, what made all this sing is the food Marley’s Kitchen offered with it.  The first time I ate Jerk Chicken emerging out of an oil-drum smoker fired with charcoal was at a tailgate party on the streets of Toronto during the annual Caribana Festival a decade ago.  Smokey, juicy, spicy and full of robust flavours; Jerk Chicken is as perfect and simple a meal as you could wish for.  Like reliving a dream, morsels of Marley’s Jerk Chicken on Sunday reminded me that my experience wasn’t a one-off and more importantly, that authentic Caribbean food existed in Kenya.

On this particular day Beef Hamburgers and Jerk Chicken were on offer, both for Ksh 650.  The hamburgers were chunky, juicy and substantial in size.  Aside from generously slathering the house barbeque sauce on the beef patty, I would suggest sandwiching a few of the fried plantains as well – you’ll thank me next time. Served with a side of coleslaw, fried dumpling and plantains, the Jerk Chicken was expertly grilled.  A very large glass of cold beer paired perfectly with the mouth-watering chicken.  I couldn’t get enough of the barbeque sauce either.  It was the kind that you’ll imminently find on your t-shirt in the late afternoon, but you’d wear the stain proudly like a badge with pride.  Marley’s Kitchen’s Jerk Chicken is a dish that would make the world feel like a better place (albeit not for the chickens).

Something as good as this cannot remain unsung: great Caribbean food coming to a neighbourhood near you.  Sunday’s impromptu authentic jerk Caribbean barbeque at Captain Grill Restaurant was a taste of what’s to come in the near future – a Marley’s Kitchen Restaurant, location to be determined.

This is serious, grown-up food, presented with the minimum of fuss from mis-matched silver crockery and chipped china plates, which make me, love this pop-up restaurant all the more.  What can I say?  I’ve finally found the Jerk Chicken I’ve been searching for.


marleys kitchen jerk chicken nairobi kenya photographed by susan wong 2013 marleys kitchen hamburger nairobi kenya photographed by susan wong 2013 marleys kitchen popup restaurant nairobi kenya photographed by susan wong 2013 marleys kitchen chef romie gardener nairobi kenya photographed by susan wong 2013

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