Adega is an attractive Portuguese restaurant that opened this year at Lavington’s newest mall, the Curve. The people behind the decor of the restaurant obviously put a lot of love into it. It sits on a high up terrace overlooking green fields and rooftops that can be pleasantly admired while lunching with one’s family and friends.
As the Nairobi gourmet crowd expands and gets more discerning, the city is experiencing a surge in international eateries. Japanese, Italian, Chinese or Ethiopian restaurants seem to be popping up faster than you can say “Haruki Murakami!” and there is no lack of Kenyan customers flowing through their doors.
It was probably with this in mind that the owners of Nairobi’s Adega decided to buy into what is a South African franchise, selling Portuguese food. If there’s a market for international cuisine there must be for Portuguese food too, right? Well, probably.
Although Portuguese food may not be my personal favourite in the world, it is however a good, simple fare with a great emphasis on fresh fish, bacalhao – salted codfish of which there are apparently nine hundred and ninety nine different recipes throughout the country and delicious meats, charcuterie and cheese. Portuguese food could definitely be a hit with the Nairobi foodie crowd and in a nice setting, there are few reasons why such a restaurant would fail.
I say few because, of course, there is one major factor that will cause a restaurant to not gain popularity. This is of course the food. The blurb on the South African Adega website carries this description: “Adega Restaurants are upmarket Portuguese restaurants that cater for a variety of tastes and styles. The restaurants offer a warm unpretentious ambience allowing the diner to feast in true Portuguese style”.
Adega Nairobi undoubtedly does have an upmarket feel; one glance at the menu and you will see that the prices are not cheap. The problem arises when we come to the “Portuguese feast” side of things. The food served at Adega seems entirely removed from any meal I have ever eaten in Portugal. From the glaring absence of bacalhao – which as I already mentioned is basically the national dish, to their generic “continental” faire, there is almost an entire absence of anything Portuguese on offer.
There is of course the Galinha Maasai (Maasai Chicken), one of the few items on the menu to make an effort to sound Portuguese. However from what I could make out the chicken was neither Portuguese or Maasai. Who’s ever heard of the Maasai eating chicken anyway? The last time I checked Ngombe and Mbuzi were more likely to be found on a Maasai dinner menu.
Adega’s deep fried prawn and chicken starters are practically interchangeable. My fellow diner joked that the only way you could tell the difference was because there was more flesh in the chicken one. And the desserts…. I hate to sound harsh but the truth is that they were some of the worst desserts I have ever had in an upmarket restaurant. Note to the management: deep fried nougat is basically a fancy deep fried mars bar… and those were banned in Scotland this year for a reason.
On a final note Portuguese food tastes amazing with nice light sparkling vinho verde (green wine). Vinho verde and other many delicious white and red wines, are the cornerstones of the Portuguese dining experience. So from the perspective of someone who enjoys a nice glass with her meal, I’d have to say that a halal restaurant which doesn’t serve wine is simply a deal breaker for me. Even if the food was nice, I just would never even consider it as a place to have a meal out with my friends.
This article was originally published on upnairobi.com in September 2014