28 April 2014

Ali Barbour's Cave Restaurant

Located in Diani on the beach next to Forty Thieves, Ali Barbour's is a convenient and popular spot to grab a bite while holidaying at the coast. A few weeks ago I took a weekend trip to Diani with a girlfriend, known to many as the Buffet Queen, for a much needed getaway from Nairobi. Some friends, Hot Pastis and the hubby, were also on holiday so we decided to meet up for dinner at "the Cave" one night. 

We headed over to Forty Thieves, the sister bar/restaurant to the Cave, and settled in for some sundowners and requested a reservation next door. For low season, in a bar that was mostly empty, the waiter told us it would be hours before he could get us a table next door. I’m not sure if this was a ploy to get us to stay at his table and have dinner or what but once we said we’d wait we quickly got an earlier reservation.
Once they “squeezed us in” we headed over and got settled. The ambiance is definitely the selling point here and the bougainvillea on the table was a nice touch along with soothing background music that was noticeable, but not distracting. I think you would be hard pressed to find a restaurant with a more unique ambiance than this place. We were a bit concerned it might start raining as it had many of the previous evenings, but were informed there was a sliding roof overhead, reassuring us that our dinners would not drown. It was also nice that there were mounted fans for those humid Diani evenings to keep us from sweating to death. 
Candlelit dining at its best
Checking out the wine menu was our first course of action and a bit of a disappointment. First off, the wine was overpriced by an extravagant amount. Everyone expects to pay more than one would at the grocery or liquor store, but the mark-up was extreme, 300-500% for some bottles. Also, you would expect a seafood place to have a better white wine selection. There were plenty listed, however everything we attempted to order was unavailable.
The free stuff: the breads were good, but, according to Hot Pastis, they could not compare to the gloriousness she remembered from her Ole Sereni bread basket experience. However, I’m not sure that anything can make her as happy as their bread selection did. Next came some complimentary beef meatball appetizers which were sitting in a delectable sauce. They were very nice, indeed.

We ordered a variety of dishes so we could sample each others' choices:
The white snapper was very garlicky and buttery (just like I like it) with a side of delicious mash and mixed vegetables that were not so mixed, but tasty nonetheless.   
White snapper
Mr. Hot Pastis’ barracuda with wasabi mash was “certainly much better than last time.” (Sometime prior, the Hot Pastis family came home with a bad case of food poisoning. It took some convincing to get them to try it this place out again.) While he enjoyed his sides, “it was nice and wasabi-esque” (not one for the adjectives, apparently), the verdict was "the food is better than anything you can find in Juba". The collective opinion was that pretty much anything beats Juba restaurants so this really wasn’t saying much. This is what happens when you dine with aid workers on R&R from the field: low standards. 
too busy eating to pause for a photo
Hot Pastis’ pili pili crab was very pleasant but she was disappointed with the rice being dry, especially since she had requested mash.
pili pili
Buffet Queen ordered the kole kole, also garlicky and buttery, and a new fish to all of us, and was pleasantly surprised with how good it tasted. 
Surprisingly delicious!
I am not a dessert person, but I will try crème brûlée just about any time I see it on a menu. I was pretty stuffed from the fish, the portions were quite large, but I did steal a bite of Mr. Hot Pastis’ dessert. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it was overdone. The top was probably about twice as thick and crunchy than it should have been and the inside was very warm. I like the top to be a thin caramel crust that unlocks the way to the cooler (ideally, room temperature) custard below.  
Blackened crème brûlée
Trying hard to overcome my disappointment of the overcooked, overheated crème brûlée, I tried Hot Pastis’ orange chocolate mousse. She thought it tasted like Terry’s chocolate orange and thought the chocolate should overpower the orange taste, not the other way around. I, on the other hand, disagreed, I thought the combination was excellent.  
If you love slammable chocolate oranges, you will love this
Buffet Queen went for the simple ice cream dish with a dash of almonds. While you can’t really screw up ice cream, her only complaint was, “they should at least buy the London dairy and not the cheap Nakumatt brand.” I’m not an ice cream connoisseur and really couldn’t tell the difference. Ice cream is ice cream in my opinion. 
Who doesn't love ice cream face?
Overall, it was a nice change from the buffet at our hotel, but not as nice as the personal cook the Pastis had at their cottage. In the end, with mains, desserts, and wine we each paid around KES 2-3,000 per person which is not terrible for this quality of restaurant and on par with what we would have paid in Nairobi for a nice meal. If we had to rank it, it would get a 6 ½-7 on a scale of 1-10. But does it really matter? We’re only here for the ambiance anyway.

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