Tuesday, June 17, 2008


At long long last... a place has opened in Kigali that can (almost) be enjoyed as a restaurant in its own right, rather than being 'not bad for Kigali'.

Wondering into the reception area of Heaven for the first time we were greeted with smiles and a cheery, if slightly cheesy, "Welcome to Heaven". I had to force up an eyebrow in an attempt not to look too impressed, but the sense of pride our greeter took in making us feel welcome made me crack, grinning like a a giddy schoolboy. At last, this looks like a real restaurant.

The dining space at Heaven seems at first to be of considered and precise taste. There is a touch of a luxury safari camp feel to the decor, with a bit of a modern edge. Everything has a quality look, but once you get below the surface there are a few cracks that need looking at. Cutlery is a little lightweight, and already starting to look worn, while the the floorboards vibrate annoyingly as the staff (usually the mincing husband-owner, but more of that later) trundle around the restaurant. However, artwork is varied (and for sale) but doesn't detract from the overall space, and even the tiles in the toilets seem right, reminding me of the lining in a Paul Smith suit.

I should say that this review is based on four visits, or maybe it was five, with different friends and colleagues, ordering differently each time. Since the menu is pleasingly short - one A4 page - unlike the tedious telephone directories on offer elsewhere in Kigali, I've seen most of what the kitchen can do.

Waiters are friendly (I rather like Boniface), and take drink orders swiftly and efficently, although I asked for an ashtray for our table 6 times one night, and the smokers ended up standing their dead cigarettes on end like a line of little white soldiers. Cocktails are well mixed, and beers are draught, but the wine list is mediocre given the price (100%+ mark-up on the Supermarket opposite Chez Lando).Drinks come with an amuse of chapatti chips for dipping into a tahini-like paste, the same thing every time I've been so far, but thanks anyway.

The menu goes into some detail about using ingredients from Rwanda etc etc. I'm sure this will impress visitors, but I'm a bit jaded by all this local sourcing chin-stroking, which is very much de rigeur back in the UK (more of this in future blogs). What Heaven can be proud of is that it takes this limited range of locally available produce, and turns out a creative menu of main courses that stands out from other menus in the city.

Starters are a bit samey-dippy-chapathi-yawny-yawny-didn't-we-just-have-this-as-an amuse-bouche. There is a soup, but its a bit on the sweet side. Mostly its a bit beige. Throw in a few limes and chillis here and there and we might allow ourselves to get excited.

Burgers can be the test of a chef, and at Heaven they come beautifully rare (as ordered) and herby. A triangle of local gouda rests on top. Thick-cut chips are miles ahead of the usual insipid french fry offerings, and the salad has been cut with care, with nothing wilted and manky hiding down below.

Filet mignon: Very good, and cooked to order. Cassava leaf sombe-type sauce somewhat pointless, but full marks for having a go.
Pork Ribs: Very tasty, but too small a portion. A pointless slice of pineapple.
Fish: Directionless.
Chicken: Good apparently, but this is the one thing I haven't tried.
Vegetable crepe: Large, filling, but its for the vegetarians right? Since they don't have any palate, who cares about what they eat?
Pepper stuffed with lamb and rice: my favourite, although I'd still like to see more on the plate.

Nice sorbets. But I don't really do puds.

Don't get me wrong, Heaven is a good place. The food is good. Thank heav.. I mean thank god somebody has opened up a place like this in town. But: Heaven is not as good as it thinks it is. Not yet at least. The owner, Mr Heaven, (although I suspect his wife is the real force behind this), needs to chill out a bit, or get off the shop floor. All that self belief looks a bit dumb next to the amateur waiting skills and charmlesss arrogance. I don't like to get personal in a review, but the last thing any restaurant needs is some over-confident berk flouncing around trying to be Mr Bigtrousers. Mrs Heaven does decent enough work on the floor because I suspect she cares about owning a restaurant, not about being a restaurant owner. Good luck to her.

(Post Script: The New Times - a national newspaper in the Orwellian sense - ran a piece on Heaven. The reviewer stated that the name is a misnomer since they serve alcohol. Perhaps this is what passes for humour with the cretins at the New Times. Or perhaps they're just kissing PK's tee-total ass as usual)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i think they discriminate, when it comes to service, don't expect good service as much as expats.