06 June 2013

Habesha Revisited

Not much has changed at Habesha since I last visited, which was probably at least a year ago since I've been traveling, the service is consistently terrible, and I prefer to eat at restaurants that value their staff and customers. While I hadn't given up patronizing them entirely, I typically chose other Ethiopian restaurants over them.

This evening I made an exception for a friend's return to Nairobi. She loves the cuisine and Habesha is the only Ethiopian restaurant in the immediate neighborhood open in the evenings with any ambiance for a group meal. However, if I had expected, or even dimly hoped for, a change in management style at my old haunt I was sadly disappointed pretty much immediately upon arrival. A chilly night, we requested to sit near the fire pit. The servers refused because the open table sat eight and they claimed it was reserved for larger groups of 10-12. The other empty table was for  management. Because, obviously, non-paying customers should be the most comfortable. To make their argument more ridiculous, after we offered to move tables if a larger party came in and being refused, not one large party arrived during the entire two hours we sat there. It was a Wednesday night after all, it's not like we were asking to prevent a large group from being seated on a busy weekend night. I'm so glad that the 10-12 top of imaginary diners were warm and comfortable during their non-existent dinner while we shivered a table over, just out of the reach of the fiery warmth. For the record, if management thought about the comfort of their actual customers and not those that may or may not appear, they would most likely have made more sales. We would have stayed for at least another round of drinks after dinner, but left quickly, ready to escape the chill. 

In fairness, it's not the waitstaff's fault their management is so over the top trying to uphold rules that prevent them from keeping their customers happy. If I worked there I'd be terrified of upsetting the management too. I have seen one of them scream at a waiter in the middle of the garden, in front of a crowd customers, for some unknown error.

The waiter this evening was more on his game than any other server I've interacted with there. He was friendly, brought the correct dishes in a timely manner, and we didn't have to call out a search party to find him anytime we needed something. While it's too soon to tell if the rare kitfo we ordered did a number on my stomach, the food tasted pleasant as always. They also now have automated receipts which was a nice surprise. You can read your bill and know whether it's correct without needing a translator.

All in all, I can't say I'll be back. For ambiance, I'd recommend Abyssinia; for convenience I'd try Sabrina's again. My first visit wasn't the most successful but the staff was lovely and it's located not far from Habesha, just a few minutes down the road in Lavington on Mbaazi Road, a block off of Gitonga near James Gichuru. As for lunch I'd stick to the Pink Lady (also known as Queen of Sheba) in Hurlingham off Argwings Kodhek. The only downside is that it's a bit confusing to find; at first glance it appears to be someone's house in the Metropolitan Court compound. Their food is inexpensive and so very delicious; it's a much less expat-y and much more authentic experience.

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