Sunday, 9 July 2017

Sugarcane Restaurant: Nairobi's Real Caribbean Cuisine

Whilst living in Nairobi I rarely come across Caribbean Food. That sizzling smell of jerk chicken, sweet plantains and colourful clatter from the kitchen that you would often see in big cities like London or New York where the Island Community population grows in numbers and with it fantastic food, culture and colours. Thankfully on my last trip to do some much needed shopping at Garden City Mall in Thika, we walked passed Sugarcane in the Foodcourt area of GCM. Tired from shopping and in need of sweet sustenance we took up a whitewashed wooden table in between the potted plants and got quickly stuck into one of Nairobi’s only Caribbean eateries…

For drinks we decided to go big and order three different ones as we really miss the types of canned and fresh sodas and juices you find at the little eateries in Brixton or the Bronxs. We went for the Tamarind Drink, which was sweet and spicy but smooth with a consistency a little bit like tea and light shimmery brown in colour. Absolutely delicious. We also tried the Guava Drink again sweet and light and a lovely fresh red-pink colour but a little mellow in the cordial  flavour – like a natural Ribena which is great if you don’t want a huge sugar kick. 

My personal favourite though was the Ginger Beer (which goes well with hot spiced meat! on the left) strong, ginger, tangy, like a very strong Dawa and goes straight for nasal notes so also great if you are feeling under the weather (or hungover!). As our spirits picked up we ordered a large cocktail which tasted like a gentle infusion of all drinks rolled into one called a Rum Island Punch (on the right). This drink smells orange and citrusy and really packs a punch on the alcohol side with undertones of ginger.

The Menu
Now we were hungry and the menu’s, clipped on to boards and popping with colour were both atheistically pleasing as well as showcasing an exciting array of dishes including a mix of burgers, small things or ‘tings’ and salads.

Main Meals

We ordered the Jerk Chicken and the Jerk Beef Burger. Although the service for these was  a little on the slow side, we put this down to the chill island vibes Sugarcane was trying to recreate and as the restaurant is in the middle of the Foodcourt it was a great spot to people watch, gossip and watch over the playpark (if you are trying to keep an eye on your kids at the same time as enjoying a cocktail or two!). 

Once the food arrived we were not disappointed. The jerk chicken was perfectly seasoned and extra hot with all the great jerk spices you’d expect to see. The meat was soft and tender and worked really well with the soft sweet potatoes and the rice and peas. The Rice was crispy and dry which was great as it absorbed the heat of marinade and the firmness of the peas added an extra element to the dish overall. 

The Beef burger (FYI it was 2-4-1 when we ate!) was a bit on the small size and the buns I think could be sourced from another establishment as they didn’t taste super fresh. However again the meat itself did not disappointed, finding it hot and tender. The fries serviced on the side were great and again helped ease off the heat of the spices as well as the tasty side salad as well.

Overall – Hot Deliciousness
Overall we really enjoyed our experience at Sugarcane and would definitely return with a bigger group so that we could really sample the menu in full as it’s a great place to clink cocktails, share plates of sizzling meats and while the day away after a hard day of shopping. The is a little island paradise in Nairobi – check it out this week!

To get to know Sugarcane, I caught up with Subrina Crossman, Manager at Sugarcane to get to know the story behind the soul food hub.

What was the idea and inspiration behind sugarcane?
Sugarcane is the brainchild of Kathleen (Kathy) Creavalle, a Kenyan resident of Guyanese descent. She is extremely passionate about cooking and found a gap in the Kenyan market with Caribbean food.

Where you get your ingredients from?
We source all our ingredients locally – supporting the local farmers and suppliers. We import from London all of our spices but all our other ingredients are local including the chicken, rice and vegetables. We employ over 11 members of staff and all our chefs are from Kenya. Training sessions on Caribbean cooking were held at Kathy’s house and we even had a Jamaican chef come in and do the training – so all the food you taste today has the original authentic flavour. 

Your current client base and how it's been received by Kenyans?
Our client base is currently those who know of Caribbean food and experimental foodies. The Caribbean offering has not yet caught up to the mark we would like it to, so it’s perhaps a waiting game. Our location at Garden City also probably deters residents on the other side of town from trekking there. Overall, the reception has been great! Good comments from people, in terms of nationalities Kenyans, Tanzanian and particularly Nigerians love the heat.

How large is the current Caribbean population in Nairobi? How have they got involved?

The Caribbean population is not large, but big enough to host Republic Days and festivals at the restaurant. We occasionally host community dinners and private gatherings. Sugarcane opened in June 2016, and although there isn’t a big Caribbean community the majority of community here are from Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaican –we have over 19 islands in the Caribbean so their maybe others out there we haven’t met yet!

You can find Sugarcane at Garden City Mall, Thika Super Highway, Nairobi (GCM Food Court, Level 1).  

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