27 March 2014

Eagle's The Steakhouse at Ole Sereni with a prelude at Black Gold Cafe at The Panari Hotel

This is the Restaurant Week meal that almost wasn't. Initially, my friend (who I've decided to nickname Hot Pastis for the purpose of this post) and I decided to visit Black Gold Cafe at the Panari hotel off Mombasa Road despite warnings from one Curry Delight that he thought the hotel was worthless and it was a waste of our time to drive all the way out towards the airport just to try out their restaurant.

Never one to take advice without experiencing something for myself, we ventured ahead. After sitting in crazy late evening Nairobi traffic, Hot Pastis and I finally arrived at our destination to discover that the restaurant was little more than a glorified cafeteria cafe with a fancified menu for the event. Strike one came quickly: despite claims that the cafe "will give it the feel of a street cafĂ© at the same time a comforting atmosphere of a game lodge as it faces the National Park", the ambiance was at best, lacking. The only view we had was of a florescent Korean Air sign and Mombasa Road. As Hot Pastis pointed out, "If I'm spending this much money on a meal, I don't want to stare at an airline sign." Strike two was close to follow and probably should have sent us running, but it was late and we were hungry. The entrance of the cafe featured a glass heater case full of meat pies and pastries that appeared to be "a bit dodgy", but we convinced ourselves that the Restaurant Week menu would be better than what was on display. Undeterred, we allowed ourselves to be seated and attempted to order a drink off the menu only to discover that just because their menu lists wines by the glass, does not mean that they will actually serve you wine by the glass. Looking around we slowly realized that of the handful of patrons in the restaurant, not one was eating. We took this as a sign and quickly skedaddled without committing to an entire bottle of wine. 

Now, I'm not saying never go to Panari. I hear they have an ice skating rink for the kids. And their website shows another restaurant, Red Garnet, that might have more promise. (It does boast a buffet option, if you're into that kind of thing.) Or if you're willing to experiment with day old pies left sitting out, in an albeit warmer case, give it a whirl and let me know how that turns out for you. 

Fortunately for us, we realized that Ole Sereni was just a hop, skip, and a jump across the highway and hightailed it over there before they closed. Located on the fourth floor, Eagle's Steakhouse, was a breath of fresh air compared to the "competition" across the road. With an actual view of the park and a lounge dining room it was noted that "at least it feels like a real restaurant". The ambiance was quite nice and you almost forget that you're in a hotel. Hot Pastis and I settled into our booth and got comfy with a glass of wine we ordered from an iPad wine list. The selection was decent and we settled on the South African Boschendal which was delightfully crisp. 

They drew us in with the bread selection. "The bread was pretty spectacular," Hot Pastis announced and even speculated that it might be the best bread offering in a Nairobi restaurant. The cheddar and onion bread was totally amazing and the sourdough was also really good. I thought the presentation of everything was done very nicely from the silverware to the butter on a rock.

A surprise appetizer of crayfish cappuccino was a nice touch although a bit frothy and Hot Pastis had mixed feelings. For starters we went with the carpaccio of Masaai farm ostrich on a mini ostrich burger with white truffle mayonnaise and the crumbed goats cheese with grilled pineapple salsa, roasted pepper coulis, herbs, seeds, and flowers. The goat cheese was good on its own but the sauce made it for us. However, the ostrich burger was by far the better of the two. The dish was well rounded with the side of carpaccio and overall felt more complete.

Crumbed goats cheese
Ostrich offerings
There were three main course options and Hot Pastis went for the tasting plate of 'Eagles Beef' with a sampling of Kenyan filet, cheek and oxtail, red wine onion jus, and smoked butter creamed potatoes. I passed on the vegetarian option of risotto that also looked tempting and ordered the grilled red snapper with crushed potatoes and baby carrots in seaweed butter sauce. 

'Eagles Beef' tasting platter
Of the beef tasting platter, the meat pie (the cheek cut), mash, and vegetables were all good and the platter presented very nicely. Unfortunately the beef was underwhelming, quite the disappointment for a steak house. It was ordered rare, and while tender, it was most definitely not rare. The gravy was strong and overpowering and the steak did not taste like a normal filet cut. It was just bad steak.

Grilled snapper
On the other hand, the snapper was presented well and tasty. It was a small dish but nice and filling.  It sounded the least appetizing of the three options but ended up tasting better (out of the two we tried). 

On the dessert front we were given two options, a peanut cylinder and toasted meringue with caramel sauce and raspberry sorbet or Brown's Cheese with homemade grape chutney, biscuits, and an apple. We are cheese heads. We definitely went for the cheese. Obviously we got a little excited and started chowing down on our cheese before I remembered to take a photo. 

The cheese platter was less exciting than anticipated. Granted, I am a regular customer of Brown's and know their selection quite well so I am never going to not enjoy an opportunity to partake. However, this platter was a little wanting. The bread was a bit dry and the white cheese was pretty but nondescript. The best pairing was the apple and blue cheese. The manchego cheese did not have the characteristic sheep's milk aftertaste to our tasting and the goat cheese was not as tart as expected. All in all, cheese is cheese is cheese. I love it all but this platter would have benefited from a more creative selection. 

Overall, I would say that Eagle's is really close to being a *very* good restaurant. It just promises more than it delivers and did not live up to the presentation. The presentation, service, accessories, and ambiance were great while the food was only variable. It's a shame because there were a lot of nice touches, but it's only just on the verge of actually being excellent. Hot Pastis did concede that if she had ordered the risotto her perception might have been a bit different, but it's a steakhouse! You should be able to order a really good steak and not leave disappointed in portions of the selection. I think sometimes the special selections, while they should be samplings of the best dishes on the menu, end up being the least expensive and easiest options to make. I'd consider returning to try their entire menu and see if that helps push them over the edge for me. 

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