Sunday, February 17, 2008

Rwanda Restaurant Reviews

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Are you listening google? I wonder if that will work? Its probably unethical or something.

Right. As regulars well know I'm pretty critical of the Kigali restaurant scene. There are bazillions (that is at least 14 zeros) of hungry consultants, Aid workers, and *ahem* 'adventure tourists' to be fed and watered, and few places seem to be able to extend themselves beyond brochette and chips.

Where are the well heeled youngsters working for Send a Cow International (seriously, they stay at my hotel) supposed to go for their steak and chips? Luckily Experimental Jifflings is at hand to provide my fellow Aid dealers with a useful guide to the restaurants of Kigali. After all folks, we'll all end up chasing the guilt money here at some stage.

I haven't covered every single little hole-in-the-wall or chop shop, but most budgets are catered for. Like many people on work trips I have eaten at many of the places with only a paperback novel for company. For this reason I've included some notes on the 'hassles' that a solo diner might encounter from the ubiquitous 'ladies of the night', or from lecherous men.

We'll kick off with the Chez Lando, since it is now Chez Leckie after I had to move out of my flat.

The Chez Lando hotel, Remera. (The rooms are alright, and the staff friendly)
Foodwise you have the choice of the atmospheric bar and grill area, which shows international football and has a friendly crowd, or the rather stale, brightly lit, indoor restaurant, which has all the atmosphere of Crewe train station on a wet Tuesday in January. The menu is the same at both venues, so unless its raining, head to the bar.

  • The goat brochette is probably the best in town
  • Steak and chips is pretty reasonable, but avoid the mushroom sauce
  • Tilapia to share between two is highly recommended, but takes a while to arrive.
  • Some people swear by the barbecued chicken. Personnally I would rather eat boiled bicycle tyres, they would be less chewy.

  • The pizza. I don't think the chef has ever eaten a real pizza, but has created this from the memory of a picture of a pizza, drawn on the side of a moving donkey by a four year old child, that he once saw 15 years ago, from a distance.
  • Solo visits to the bar. The prostitutes there are serious. There is no foreplay, they just come right up and ask you for your room number, then your phone number, then your name. Its easy to deny knowledge of the first two.
  • Same goes if you're a solo female - expect lots of uninvited male attention.
Sole Luna (Remera, near Chez Lando)
Probably the best pizzas in town - from a proper wood-fired oven, and reasonable pasta too. Smaller bites at lunchtime and reasonable red wine. Not great if its busy and if you're in a hurry, but why should you hurry? Decent music, friendly staff and a nice al fresco atmosphere.

  • House specials
  • Pizza 'Sole Luna'
  • Bruschetta
  • Pitchers of red wine
  • The lasagne sucks
  • The toilets need sorting out. No seat in the ladies apparently.
Hellenique, Kimihurura, near New Cadillac
Greek (obviously), comes with a hotel attached and a view over the valley. Its pricey, but you get proper Greek food - taramasalata, feta, dolmades, souvlaki, moussaka, and plenty of obscurities (including rabbit dishes) in satisfying portions. There is some standard pasta stuff for the philistines.

  • Visit the well stocked bar for a chat with the owners and a glass of ouzo
  • Mezze
  • Steak with roquefort sauce - mighty!
  • If you want a big night with plenty of action - this place is seriously sleepy.
  • If your budget is tight.
  • The Congolese waiter trying to flog 'art'.
Novotel, Kaciyiru
Bland business hotel from the French owned Accor chain. All the things you need from a business hotel - pool, gym, shops, internet. Buffet lunch and dinner or a la carte dining.

  • For business lunches at the buffet
  • For a small fee you can use the pool all day.
  • Eating a la carte - rubbish burgers and the usual hotel muck.
  • Drinks prices are steep
  • Buffet doesn't change much.
Indian Khazana, Kiyovu, not far from Mille Collines
Probably Kigali's best regarded restaurant amongst ex-pats. Better food is available elsewhere, but pleasant surroundings and colourfully uniformed staff give it a touch of class/crass depending on how you look at it. Busy for much of the week.

  • The railway mutton curry
  • Pretty good breads
  • OK for a sociable work dinner
  • If you're a real curry snob
  • Sitting near the artificial waterfall (you can ask them to switch it off)
Chez Robert
Opposite the Hotel Mille Collines this popular restaurant serves a la carte and has probably the best buffet in town. Friendly service and a warm atmosphere.

  • The buffet is quick and has a great selection
  • The long wait for a la carte orders
Karibu, Avenue de la Paix
Relaxed restaurant in town. Offers a lunch and dinner buffet of the usual Rwandese fair, a la carte pizzas and pastas aren't anything special.

  • The breakfast buffet is popular at weekends.
  • High expectations
Republika, Kiyovu
A bar / restaurant that goes on until the early hours. Republika has established itself at the top of the Kigali nightlife tree. Early doors its full of expatriates eating in large groups, who are then replaced by Rwandese movers and shakers who stay until late. The decor has an upmarket safari lodge feel.

  • Mutzig beer on tap
  • Sambaza - tiny fried fish
  • Steak Republika
  • The view from the balcony restaurant
  • The girls who congregate at the bar at the weekend
Havana Club, Next door to Novotel, Kaciyiru
Laid back pizza and pasta joint, not a patch on Sole Luna's food, but the atmosphere is fine and the prices are reasonable. Great for a meal or just a few drinks.

  • Mutzig beer on tap
  • Sweet and savoury crepes
  • The annoying American contractors who sit by the door spouting their racist, homophobic Republican views in front of whichever confused looking prostitutes they're sleeping with this week.
Barn Thai, Kimihurura, next to New Cadillac
Great, a Thai restaurant. No, I take that back. Barn thai has the longest menu in the great lakes region, illustrated by colour photographs of each dish. Don't get excited though, most things are not available. The food itself, when it eventually comes, is averagely disappointing. During a powercut we sat in darkness for 20 minutes while the waiting staff acted as if they'd never encountered a powercut in Kigali before.

  • If you want some Thai flavours to break the brochette monotony.
  • If you like to be able to see what your eating.
  • If you've forgotten the mosquito repellent
Nouvelle Planete, Remera, by Chez Lando
Slightly lower budget alternative to Chez Lando, with a very similar set up. A few more Rwandese specialities on the menu too.

  • If you're on your own and don't want to attract the attention of the Chez Lando girls
  • If you fancy a side order of sombe, or an omlette
  • The best lunchtime buffet in this neck of the woods
  • If you're with a group and want somewhere more atmospheric - try Chez Lando.
KBC, Kaciyiru
Probably the best and most popular lunchtime buffet in Kigali. Queue up with your plate for great avocados, and a good dollop of groundnut sauce. Friendly staff, and decent fruit juice.

  • For a quick lunch at a bargain price
  • It can get busy sometimes, so be prepared to share your table with random folks.
Papyrus, Kimihurura
Going rapidly downhhill. This place used to incorporate a cooking school specialising in Italian food. So - great pizzas, fresh pasta. Now it has been revamped and serves a shorter menu with very loud hip-hop of the type listened to by white American 12 year olds. For some reason they thought it would be a good idea to be yet another place serving brochette and chips. My bet: Revamp before August, or close down by December.

  • If they revert to proper cooking.
  • If you can't tolerate corporate hip-hop at high volume.
Unnamed Chinese, by Novotel/Ninzi Hotel, Kaciyiru
Nice vibes here if you can get one of the little snugs. The food bears no resemblance to anything Chinese, but a lot of Chinese people eat there... I suspect there is a secret menu.

  • If you can get hold of the secret menu.
  • A few nice pork dishes.
  • Watch out for the prostitutes on the street outside, 'Arse-biters' according to a colleague of mine.
  • Don't go expecting Chinese food
Hotel Mille Collines
Upper floor restaurant with great views and passable hotel food, poolside bar/grill with the usual brochettes and good-time girls.

  • For a quiet meal with a good view.
  • Relaxing by the pool during the day at the weekend.
  • More brochette boredom in the bar
  • Occasionally pushy prostitutes
Chez John, Kiyovu
Tucked away, you'll have a job to find this one. A nice airy space is let down by slow service. Franco-Rwandese international cuisine. Yeah right.


  • Not much, the fish - capitaine - is quite nice.
  • If you want to eat your food before 11pm.
Ice and Spice
The budget alternative to the Indian Khazana, some (including me) argue that the food is better. Ice and Spice is cosy and laid back, and has an extensive menu.


  • For better curry than the Khazana, at a more competitive price - you can live without the waiters in silly hats right?
  • The egg curry. You'll be suffering in the morning.
Carwash, Kimihurura
A great place to watch the football on the big screen. Carwash does the usual brochettes and steaks, but its the Kenyan style Nyama Choma (roast goat meat) that does the business. Take your friends and order a pile of ribs with plenty of beer and greens.

  • For Nyama Choma, and big football matches
  • Not much seating if it rains.
La Fiesta, Kimihurura
Bright little mexican restaurant with no pretentions. Swift friendly service, and a garden area for daytime dining, and bizarrely, volleyball.

  • Sizzling fajitas for a big portion
  • Slightly smelly waiting staff
Serena Hotel, Nyarugenge
Does bar food and also has a 'fine dining' restaurant. Both are expensive. The food in the restaurant is bland mutton-dressed-as-lamb but at foie gras prices. Serena is the kind of place that people with no palette go to 'have a nice meal'.

  • The club sandwich in the bar isn't bad (but it costs 7,000 francs)
  • Why bother when you can spend half as much somewhere else for something better?
  • Hanging around in the lobby late at night... for the usual reasons.
Gorillas, Kiyovu
A hotel with decent grub. Pizzas are OK, steaks and the usual franco-international stuff. Lots of well dressed Rwandese about - seems to be a place to go for special occasions.

  • Better than most hotel offerings. Pretty reliable grub.
  • Steaks cooked at the table - always nice to have a bit of culinary busking.
  • Service can be a bit on the slow side
Bourbon Coffee, Union Trade centre
What's this? Some sort of upmarket starbucks-esque coffee joint with wireless internet access and leather sofas. Normally in the UK I'd run a mile from this sort of place, but here... ahhh. Local coffee in all shapes and sizes, muffins and cookies, and a menu that wouldn't look out of place in an Islington cafe.

  • The coffee - marvellous
  • Sitting out on the balcony
  • Great sandwiches
  • If you're annoyed by American college students having 'an experience' in Rwanda during their vacation.
Cafeteria at UTC, Union Trade Centre
The hub of the UTC, order a pizza or buffet lunch from one of the windows, sit at a dirty table and wonder exactly how many days your food has been sitting around for.

  • I suppose its OK for people watching
  • Eating anything
Cafe at La Galette
Laid back cafe attached to La Galette supermarket. Perfect for resting your feet post-shopping. Sandwiches and brochettes seem to attract throngs of ex-patriates on Saturday afternoons, and there is a noticeboard advertising all the usual ex-pat gubbins - cars, rooms for hire, etc etc.

  • Meeting friends on a Saturday afternoon.
  • Service is a bit slow when its busy.
Lalibela, Remera
Ethiopian. This one used to be in Kimhurura, and I thought it had closed down until a colleague pointed it out. Basic and a bit brightly lit, the food can be variable, but its worth a go for something different.

  • Beanyatu to share
  • Doro Wat

  • Having meetings in confined spaces the following morning.
OK, there are few left out here. Notably Cactus, Legends, and that one by UTC that I can never remember the name of. I'll get round to them eventually - its worth having a few visits before deciding. Apparently I can go back and revise the blog. Don't know if it works though.

In-Flight Meals

I love aeroplane food, no really. Its one of my guilty pleasures. Actually, no. I love the idea of aeroplane food. Those little salty portions remind me of going camping for some reason.

My work means having to endure the tedium of air travel on a regular basis. Up until relatively recently I would forgo most of the heated food parcels and take my own butties, or if I was really organised a little plastic tub with some fruit, a roll, perhaps a wedge of cheese. These days you can be shot for even thinking about taking such a thing through airport security. That apple could be a cunningly disguised dirty bomb, and you'd be surprised how much damage you can do with a bunch of celery, or perhaps some elderberries.

So these days I find myself looking forward to the first fartily fragrant wafts drifting up the aisle. I relish the anticipation and relief of something to break the boredom of another Nicholas Cage film, or perhaps the latest moronic effort from the increasingly vacant Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

Here it comes... no, its the bastard vegetarian in the row in front. Hang on... 'Beef or fish sir?' (or if you're flying BMED: "You want beef or fish mate?"). Beef, of course - who in their right mind would eat reheated fish slurry? Apart from the boss-eyed gurgling woman in the seat next to me (it stipulates on my frequent flyer card 'Mr Leckie prefers an aisle seat next to a boss-eyed middle aged woman with bladder control problems' I admire the power of modern databases and the attention to detail of the Star Alliance). I peel back a corner of the lid to peep at what delights lie within, and am overcome by the smell of boiled carrots and cowshed emanating from a grey mass of protein... mmmm. Resealing the foil, I turn to the other delights on the tray:

Bread roll - enjoy these evil little bastards while they last. I've heard they may be subject to a future ban due to being dense enough to use as a deadly projectile.

Petrified fruit salad - tasteless dried up bits of fruit from yesterdays breakfast.

Pasta salad - cold, rubbery and vile. Pesto tastes slightly of diesel.

Cheese and biscuits - biscuits specially developed to explode into crumbs on contact with air, cheese triangle initally fools the eye into thinking its laughing cow (the undisputed king of shit processed cheese), but is later revealed to be made of 80% chalk and 20% used chip fat.

'Lemon fresh' wipe - I do not wish to smell lemony, nor do I wish to smell of lemon fresh wipes. Why not just give each passenger a handful of prawn cocktail crisps to rub around their greasy mouths, it couldn't make them smell any worse.

So, after all my initial excitement I feel disappointed and slightly violated. Fighting the urge to push my plate custard-pie style into the face of the fish-slurping cretin next to me, I drop my shoulders, sigh, and start shovelling down the murky slop like all of the other cattle in economy.

Don't even get me started on 'breakfast'.

But have you been in business class? I was once accidentally put up at the front of the plane on the way from Kigali to Heathrow via Nairboi. Right at the front - no plebs, no tourists stinking of booze and the latest duty free perfume purchase. Just behind the driver, or pilot, as I believe they are called.

Now the food here is fresh, it comes on a proper plate, with decent wine in a proper glass, and - feck - is that a cheese board with a selection of British and continental favourites, cut fresh from the truckle? The bread is fit for human consumption, and the meals are made from something which is identifiable as real meat.

Anyhow, thought I'd mention a few heroes and villains of economy aero-cuisine. I'm excluding low cost airlines (absolute abominations) and regional African airlines, and sticking with the bigger players.

British Airways - Manchester to Milan
A classy do this. A shortish flight with a pleasant lunch. On the way out to Italy you get a salad with parma ham, and some little italian chocolates, but on the way back to blighty you get a mighty ploughman's salad and a Cadbury's thing shaped like a cone. Travelling home for Christmas one time I watched the Italian man in the opposite aisle (anything to avoid eye contact with the inevitable drooling chimp on my left) sizing up his little plastic portion of Branston pickle. He took a cautious sniff, consulted his wife, and then tried to surreptitiously watch what I did with mine. What a dilemma, do I:
Apply pickle as normal to the ploughman's, thus gently introducing my interested Italian friend to one of the many delights of British cuisine?
Dip the chocolate in, and watch Johnny Foreigner follow suit?

Oh come on. Would I?

Royal Air Maroc (Heathrow - Marrkech, and Casablanca - Dakar, same meals).
Food was mostly middling - the usual blandness really. But... Moroccan red wine - a good one as well. Better than the French and South African muck that usually gets palmed off on aeroplanes. Better still, a bizzare orange sachet... soap? no, on closer inspection, a individually wrapped slice of smoked salmon, with a little wedge of lemon. Nice work.

Mrs Jiffler recommends Delta (flying to Jo'burg I think). Everything on your tray is branded. This sounds pretty grim as everything is covered in some sort of vulgar coca-cola logo, but here is the trade off: hagen-dazs ice cream for your pud.

What about the bad boys? *takes deep breath* BWIA (British West Indian Airlines, AKA: Better Walking if Able, Bloody Waiting in Airport etc), who are now called Carribean Airlines (and who knows, may have transformed their catering). 10 hour flights with one meal served after take off. Starving passengers complaining - I remember once a group of large German men almost got into a punch up. And the meal itself? In the 2 year period that I flew with them on various routes the menu never once changed. The only variation was whether they had bread but no butter, butter but no bread, or bugger all bread and butter. The meal tray was absolute filth, like the stuff that accumulates at the bottom of the bath in a student house. On the one occasion that we were served two meals, we just got given the same one twice over.

Worse though... this was in the days that you could still take highly dangerous food and drink on the plane. A journey home from Guyana to the UK was a torturous ordeal. First off - Georgetown to Port of Spain, a small plane full of Guyanese, about 50% carrying a small plastic bag full of curried chickpeas (Channa), stinking out the cabin. At port of spain a quick breath of fresh air while waiting to be told that the connecting flight is delayed, and onto the plane again. KFC is a popular fast food in Trinidad, and is especially appealing to those travelling on transatlantic flights. Its like catching the last train home from London, only it takes marginally longer. Drop down in St Lucia or maybe Antigua to pick up the chipeaters from their two weeks burning themselves bright pink. ON they get, reeking of suncream, the latest duty free booze and perfume. And then the bring out the meals. Arghhhhhhhhhhh.....

The only solution with BWIA is to drink heavily and steadily until your eyes can longer focus and the mouth breather in the next seat is too scared to show you a collection of photographs of her underachieving children.

Your comments please readers (are there still any readers?). Perhaps, despite all the above bile when can provide some sort of public service, one more blow against the airlines who serve up this muck. Maybe one day we'll just get given a Mark and Spencers Ham sandwich and a kit-kat as we get on the plane, and then we can get on with enjoying watching Ocean's 17 or some other such egomaniacal Hollywood toss.

This blog is about two months old and has been lingering on my laptop...

Its Tabaski in Senegal, the local name for Eid ul-Adha. In celebration of the pilgrims to Mecca descending from Mount Arafat and becoming 'El Hajj'. Its the Muslim equivalent of Christmas in a way as there is lots of food, and lots of gift giving. The gifts are of food and money, to your family, and to those who are less well off than you. In a way its the ultimate celebration of the Muslim way of doing things - sharing what you have with the poor. I like it, its kind of socialist.

Anyhow, a trio of rams appeared in our garage last night, and are now chops. The city has been taken over by massive specimens over the last two weeks, as people haggle and deliberate over the price of a decent beast. The bigger the better apparently, and some of these boys are seriously big.

In the old testament, Genesis, a chap called Abraham (Ibrahima) lived in a place called Ur (in Iraq, apparently). He used to chat on a regular basis with god. One day god decided to test his faith and ordered him to sacrifice his son. Abraham agreed and, raising the knife above his head to slaughter his son, god intervened and said 'Alright, alright, I was only messing with you, that ram over there will do'. So thats why a ram gets slaughtered on Eid ul-Adha.

Our upstairs neighbours are pretty well off, so bought three rams. This morning I watched as they slaughtered them, one by one, in the back yard. THey erected a screen from an upturned table so the rams couldn't see their friends bite the dust. I think they knew what was going on though, judging by the amount of shit coming out of them.

The death itself is quick - the ram is held down facing mecca, and a large sharp knife drawn quickly across the throat. A few seconds of kicking and the animal is still. The gory bit is making sure all of the vessels are cut in the neck to bleed the ram, which requires a bit of frenzied hacking, while the blood spurts out with a violent squirting noise. I watched from a respectful distance, photographs seemed inappropriate somehow.

Once all three had met their grisly end, the fun started - skinning and hacking up the bits into cookable chunks... this is were a bloody great machete came in handy.

Sometime later in the afternoon, our neighbours invited us up to share in the first pickings of the sheep. Mrs Jiffler and I had earlier prepared a gift of the famous cookies, and our slightly botched attempt at jam tarts (I was too heavy handed with the jam), these seemed to go down pretty well with the patriarch, who was no doubt sick of the sight of ovine products already.

Our self service dinner involved dipping into a massive pile of ram-ribs, barbecued hot and fast in a mixture of vinegar, salt and pepper and some mustard, a bowl of fat livers, and assorted potatoes and sweet onion sauce. Watermelons to finish, and cups of strong Senegalese mint tea. Massive over-indulgence was encouraged, and I must have eaten half a ribcage.

The meat was dark and crusty on the outside, smoky barbecued but with a deep flavour, rather like a very robust, slightly less sweet, piece of lamb. Close to the bone the flesh remained pink and soft, its rawness reminding me of this morning's butchery. The liver was strong flavoured and surprisingly tender - I could've eaten a plateful with a side of pepper sauce, but restrained myself from being too greedy with the best bits.