I will be the first to admit from a previous lacklustre dining experience at Baraza – Crowne Plaza Hotel Nairobi’s buffet restaurant – that I was a bit nervous about dining at Sikia, the hotel’s fine dining flagship. But when the food from a recent E&J Brandy dinner pairing started to arrive, I soon realized there was nothing to fear.
Here’s the thing, Sikia, situated on the first floor of Crowne Plaza Hotel Nairobi, is worlds away from anything else on the property. It’s quite phenomenal actually. Floor to ceiling white sheers, and ambient lighting softly reflects off of the colourful African paintings hanging on the wall. The temperature controlled wine cellar doubles-up as a wall separating the dining and kitchen space, and an intimate bar welcomes diners. Large brown Wingback club chairs surround white linen-draped tables. Though I’m not a huge fan of the sheer weight and awkward size of these chairs, one cannot deny the comfort when he or she sinks into them.
Crowne Plaza Hotel Nairobi is located on Kenya Road, Upperhill, Nairobi, Kenya
As my companions and I held our glass of brandy, allowing the natural heat from our palms to warm it; the aromas of personality, power and finesse that is brandy were released. When you don’t know a lot about the world of brandy, it’s always better to start with something not too complex but yet still very enjoyable. Most food and spirits pairings can sometimes be a little intimidating especially when you don’t consider yourself a connoisseur, but in this case, Sikia ensured the pairings were easy to grasp both in flavour and concept.
The E&J Brandy, sold their first bottle in 1938 and is known for its unique style to California with its subtle, enticing flavours and smooth mouthfeel. The American brandy has been known as one of the nation’s preferred spirits over the decades and is a good example of what you should start with if you’re a brandy novice.
Food pairing with E&J Brandy
There was the rather plain-looking Mushroom Soup that smelled of incredibly fragrant and earthy aromas. Clearly, the saying “never judge a book by its cover,” rings true in this case. At first glance, it arrived like an unlikely pairing, but the earthiness of the mushroom and subtle natural sugars were accentuated beautifully by a sip of brandy, both equally warming to the stomach and the soul. The E&J Brandy’s slight aggressiveness was also mellowed thanks to the slight creaminess of the soup. The familiarity and comfort from this pairing resembled that of seeing an old friend, one you haven’t been in touch for decades. This pairing was nostalgia at its best.
Through each food pairing, each sip of brandy is like a new discovery for all of your senses. Believe it or not, as I learned – caramelized bananas and chicken can go well with brandy, as the team at Sikia managed to convincingly execute.
There was the Roast Chicken served with Caramelized Banana Slices, Mashed Potato with a Herbed Crust, and a duo of Orange and Pepper Sauces. The chicken arrived with its skin crispy and aromas familiar of being slow-cooked in a charcoal tandoori oven floated in the air. The meat was juicy and tender, and flavours from the herb-rub permeated the flesh. Topped with slices of soft and carmelized bananas, the natural sweetness of the browned sugars paired incredibly well with the moist chicken and peppery personality of the E&J Brandy VS.
To finish, a plate of Chocolate Umali served warm with Four Sauces – coffee, butterscotch, chocolate and marmalade – highlighted the flavour profile of the brandy. Almost like a chewy and moist bread pudding, my favourite combination was definitely with the chocolate sauce.
Here’s my parting tip: To enjoy a brandy, always start with your eyes. Take in the beauty and the wonderful colours of an artisan crafted spirit, and then leave your senses to drive you to a world where nothing is more important than to share a very special moment with your companions at the dining table. Finally, make sure you finish with a great laugh, as we did at Sikia.