Nairobi Restaurant Week is a highlight for many Nairobi residents as you can sample a whole range of restaurants that may have been sitting on your wish list, for a fraction of the standard menu cost for both lunch and dinner.
This year EatOut invited me to review Mercado, one of the cities new Mexican restaurants which has been highly anticipated as the lack of this cuisine causes many hearts to year from fresh guacamole and crisp tortillas chips. So let’s dive into their special 2500 kes meal to find out the high and lows of this delicious new spot on Nairobi’s ever changing culinary scene.
Luckily I managed to twist a friends arm into coming along so we could sample double the menu. We started with the Tomato Corn and Queso Soup and the Shrimp Avocado with Tomato and Vegetable Sauce.
The Soup was relatively bland and although the taste of the tomato came through, overall the dish tasted watery and thin. Finding the cubes of cheese hiding at the bottom was a highlight but the barleycorn was dull and didn’t pop as expected, instead tasting chewy and flavourless. In terms of presentation it needs a spring of coriander or splash of cream to break up the rich redness that sadly lacked substance.
The Shrimp starter was absolutely amazing, freshly cooked and grilled perfectly helping the shellfish meat stand out against the spicy base. This was complemented well by the soft cooling avocado (very exciting to see as Kenya is in an avo crisis) and small coriander springs. Crispy tortillas were served but not needed as the components of the dish worked together without the aid of a carbohydrate side.
The winner out of the starters: The Shrimp Starter!
We chose the Roasted Salmon with Pico de Gallo sauce accompanied with Tapioca Fries and Turkey Enchiladas with Queso Tomato Sauce.
The salmon was grilled absolutely perfectly with a hot spicy sauce that worked well with the light weight of the fish, carrots and courgettes. Pico de Gallo should be hot in flavour and vibrant green in colour so luckily this sauce won on both fronts. The vegetables were slightly underdone and I have the strangest feeling not buttered but a substitute was used giving a slightly synthetic taste. The tapioca chips were horrendous. Stay away. Angry. Dry. Not happy to be there. Even unhappier in your mouth.
The turkey enchiladas were rich and the meat well shredded to give a smokehouse taste and texture. The enchiladas were the best corn consistency, density and weight we’ve found in Nairobi and for a city that hasn’t yet produced such a prestigious Mexican staple, this was an exciting element to encounter. Spicy sauce again and plenty of drizzled cream to lap up the meat. Our only request would have been a tiny bit of avocado to bring the flavours together. But then again, we are in a crisis.
The winner: gobble gobble. The turkey was a winner.
We chose the Chocolate Mousse Cake with Coffee Sauce and the Gellied Fruit with Vanilla Ice Cream and Cardamom Crisp.
To be honest none of the NRW desserts jumped out from the menu and what I really wanted were the hotly piped churros coming out of the kitchen that everyone else was ordering a la carte. However we were stuck with our neat little uniform selection so firstly went for the cake. It was well presented, three layers, rich and dense. The coffee sauce should have been caramel to give it a sweeter kick. The triangle of white cooking chocolate was unnecessary and looked like it had been broken off a child’s birthday cake from the night before. Little sharp blackberries hiding on the top and base of the cake were a welcome surprise but sadly lacking in number. More please.
The fruits sounded really unappealing but were very well gelled and served with a wonderful and most definitely homemade ice cream. The Cardamom Crisp was more like a taco hat and even if it did make the dish look much more presentable it tasted very dry.
The winner was: A discovery made by us of combining the delicious vanilla ice cream from the second dessert with the base of the chocolate cake from the first to create your own tasty mash up.
The Service was Two Fold.
I say this because in the first fold we were assigned a waiter who was clearly on his first day. He didn’t understand the menu and a senior manager had to intervene so that our order was correctly processed. We placed our order for two glasses of red wine (also included in the 3 course 2500kes menu) but these took over 10 minutes to arrive. After the few minutes I made eyes at him regarding our drinks. He came over in that chippish waiter fashion that almost made me think he was about to take our whole order again… Thankfully he was quickly dismissed and a fantastic new waiter took over our table and gave us fabulous service for the rest of the night.
Enter fold two. He was friendly, knowledgeable and clearly had been there since the beginning of Mercado’s presence in late 2017. He confidently cruised around the restaurant, was comfortable with the in-ear kitchen service ear buds which senior staff members seemed to have strapped and also explained in detail the items we were choosing and what drinks were good from the main menu.
Service was good but general training to make it consistent would be highly advised.
Fun, young and full of swing seats, spun cotton fabric ceilings and enough exposed lighting to throw a few hipsters at, this place hits the millennial aesthetic Europe was churning out 3 years ago. However I won’t knock it, as it’s beautifully executed and expensively maintained which is highly lacking in Nairobi, a city that will cement two pains of glass together and call it a fine finished window. Every detail from the seats to the cushions to the large private dining room are well thought out down to the plates and glasses giving this restaurant a touch of individuality.
By the end we were 2 drinks in from the Margarita menu (not included in 2500 kes deal) which helped round off a pleasant evening of beautiful decor, good but to be improved food and an overall lusting of eating a la carte the next time we dine. I am thoroughly looking forward to going back when we have the full menu to order from, although I may stuff an emergency avo in my bag.
Mercado can be found at Kenrail Tower (Floor T), next to 9West in Westlands on Ringroad Parklands. Inside, outside and bar seating available. High chairs available. Lift accessible and wheelchair friendly. Parking available in basement.