Sunday, August 31, 2008

New hotel, Novotel

Enough. After spending months in the Chez Lando I've finally upgraded to the Novotel. OK, Lando might still have the best bar in Kigali (I prefer my bar grotty with good service, rather than chic with bad service), but the breakfast was beginning to grind me down, as were the constant demands to move out of my room to accommodate the weekly truckload of earnest adventurers who have been overlanding in search of 'the real Africa' or whatever it is the brochure has convinced them they're going to find.

So here I am in the Novotel, my rough and ready credibility in tatters. The room is nice though, and there is a fridge, and a pool and a bar, and a bad restaurant where the beers cost more than double the price of the Chez Lando and the waiters have been lobotomised. Nextdoor is the Havana Club though, preferable for its plastic tables, great staff, and massive mugs of mutzig.

Its only for a few days, and I'm nearing the end of this trip, so I need a place just to keep my head down, spend some quiet time, and not have to ask twice for everything. Novotel is good for that, although I'm finding a strange lack of privacy about the place. Like many hotels in African cities the Novotel Kigali is one of those places where people not only stay, but also visit to do business, grab a sandwich from the bakery, use the gym or the pool, have a meeting in the bar, or even have their wedding photos done (4 separate weddings on the lawn yesterday, with 2 more backed up queing to get in).

So those moronic Republican contractors who I met in a bar the other night now say "Howdy" over breakfast. Colleagues pop in to use the gym. I have to hide from that weirdo NGO person by the cash machine. Now and again I see someone I like and am happy to exchange a few friendly words with while buying a sandwich at the bakery, but more often than not its somebody I really don't want to speak to, especially when I'm padding around in flip-flops with bad hair and an old t-shirt on, or lying by the pool sunning my gut and writing blog posts.

See. Its tough in the tropics.

The breakfast is a notch up on my old gaff though. Despite headless chicken style service, the bread and the fruit are fresh, and you can get a couple of fried eggs or a crepe freshly prepared by a woman who seems to really enjoy making them. I'm into the crepes at the moment. Small thin ones with a dab of sugar and a squeeze of lemon. A few slices of fruit on the side, maybe some goats cheese on a slice of wholemeal bread. Its beginning to sound like a healthy and fulfilling breakfast.

This time next week: Brunch at the Intercontinental Hong Kong.
Mood: Coffee
Soundtrack: Children splashing by the pool
Current grip on reality: Tenuous at best

Monday, August 25, 2008

Fame at last


I think I have been recognised. The owner of a restaurant I've reviewed, eyes like a rabbit in the headlights. Slowly the cogs are turning... thinking...

That's the bastard...

Perhaps I shouldn't have put my picture up on the blog.

I wonder if they spat in my mojito.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Fruit Salad

Sitting hunched over my fruit salad and coffee in the Chez Lando breakfast room I tune into the conversation of two Ugandan fellows on an adjacent table. One wears a relaxed looking linen suit with a peach coloured shirt and no tie. His companion is more formal, wearing a navy double breasted affair with gold buttons, shiny tie, and the label of the suit still attached to his sleeve cuff. His shoes are very shiny.

Linen suit: "How do you say 'eight' in French?"
Navy suit: "Its 'eight' same as in English"

I sigh into my fruit salad. They haven't changed the fruit salad since I started staying here in January. I've eaten this at least 150 times now, as part of a drudging daily ritual of getting something healthy inside me before I get to work.

Linen suit: "Are all the numbers the same then? The same as in English?"

My coffee cup smells slightly of fish.

Navy suit (after a pause): "No, just some of them".

A large American woman across the room raises an eyebrow, then pretends to look out of the window.

Linen suit: "Which ones then?"

Navy suit: "I only know up to ten. It goes 'Un, deux, tree, quarte, sink, six - that one is the same - sept, eight - same, nine - same, dix'"

I decide that it's time to change hotels.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Latest from Kigali

For all my bleating, things are actually looking up foodwise in Kigali. There have been a few new openings, and I've had happy visits to a few old favourites. More fuel for Kigali Restaurant Reviews.

Its been over 2 years since I first visited La Sierra in town, and I was overcome with feelings of nostalgia while enjoying a cheese and ham butty there with a colleague earlier in the week. A proper butty: well filled on brown slice bread, cut into triangles. They do do a mean samosa there as well. A shame its so far from the office as I could happily eat there every lunchtime.

Revisits to Heaven, New Cactus, Khazana and Papyrus were a bit mixed. The burgers are still good at Heaven, and roast poatoes hit the spot. I was pleased to see no flouncing about on the shop floor as well. Still that expensive wine list to put right though.

Visiting in Papyrus with a table of fussy philistine eaters was a bit grim, as was my four seasons pizza. Chewy dough and half melted cheese sent them way down in my estimations. My neighbour's taglietelle was dry and lukewarm, as if it had been hanging around for a while. Perhaps it was because it was very busy (with good vibes as a result), with a few large groups to cater for, but they need to be able to cope with this.

Indian Khazana: The only non-white diners in the chock-full restaurant were sitting at our table. we made a couple of gags about it being 'Muzungu Khazana', but its not that funny really. Breads are still good though.

On a largish work gathering at New Cactus my neighbour leaned over and asked quietly if I thought that New Cactus might be the best restaurant in Kigali. Mulling it over a while, I think it might very well be. A broad but quality menu, reasonable wines by the carafe, very cheerful staff, no problem with large groups, and no problem with drunken consultants. Right now its my number 1. Another colleague politely asked if anyone would be offended if he ordered the veal. I shook his hand in encouragement.


Flamingo Chinese Restaurant
Flamingo has re-opened in a tasteful, though less dramatic venue in Kimihurura, which is fast becoming Kigali's restaurant district. I think this is where the Rwandese middle-classes are eating in preference to the Khazana these days, and I don't blame them. The menu is bursting with choice and unusual (for Kigali) dishes, and the service is friendly, if a little forgetful. I enjoyed the searing hot towels which perked me up on a week night when I was feeling a little tired.

Spring rolls were a bit samey, but crisp and fresh. Won ton soup was bursting with flavour, despite the dumplings being a bit on the gloopy side. Szechuan chicken relied too heavily on onions, but came with a welcome chilli kick and a side of crisp vegetables and noodles. Next time I think I'll go for one of the sizzling dishes which I enjoyed watching as they emerged dramatically from the kitchen. A large group of Chinese visitors staying at my hotel seemed delighted with the performance.


As a little post-script: I'm currently working on a page for Anglesey and Bangor restaurants. Since I'll be passing through in September I'd welcome and appreciate any suggestions of new openings, or any other little gems I should visit, otherwise I'll probably end up in the same old places.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Rubber Cheese Shortage

Back in Kigali, and there seems to be a shortage of rubbery Gishwati cheese. Thankfully there seem to be a few new cafe and restaurant openings in Kigali, so I'll be working my way through those for future bloggage.

Out on the tiles the other night and I was greeted with inebriated embraces by the owner of one of Kigali's most popular restaurants, then mobbed enthusiastically by the head waiter and chef from one of his rivals. Strange. I wonder if they've been reading Kigali Restaurant Reviews? Maybe I'm spending too much money at their establishments.