Katy Fentress

Observing, Understanding, Exploring, Eating, Drinking

On the Ethics of a Free Lunch

One of the benefits of being one of three total foodies at UP Magazine, is that I am occasionally invited to attend foodie press events, or “junkets” as I believe they are called, where I get wined and dined alongside members of Nairobi’s esteemed press.

The objective of these events is to demonstrate how utterly amazing the menu, service and general atmosphere of a given establishment is and to discreetly encourage us to go out and spread the message amongst our readers who will, as result, hopefully go and dine in the aforementioned restaurants.

There is no obligation following one such event to write an article, or even to necessarily sing the praise of the establishment. Nevertheless common courtesy generally dictates that if someone invites you to dinner and plies you with delicious food and drink, it is the done thing to write a thank you note or, in the case of a journalist, pen a few kind words in one’s publication.

What does a self-respecting foodie journalist do, however, when the food with which one was plied turns out to be exceedingly underwhelming? This was the case a few months ago when I was invited to a Portuguese restaurant in Lavington. After being served a large lunch, I decided that my morals prevented me from singing fake praise and I wrote a critical article on how the food was really not very authentic. I doubt my article went down very well. I imagine angry phone calls to the people who had organised the event, enquiring why someone who had gotten a free lunch had just turned around and bitten the hand that had fed them?

What am I to do? I have yet to take the time to google the exact protocol in these cases. Do I, like my boss suggested, simply not write anything? Condemn by the power of omission? But is it not the case that people want to know what kind of food an establishment is serving? Don’t people see right through reviews that go no further than singing their praise? Isn’t the whole point of restaurant reviews to give someone an informed, fair and unbiased appraisal of the food they will be paying for?

So here goes: I was recently invited to one such press junket at the newly reopened 88 restaurant, part of Villa Rosa Kempinski. It was the first time I had had the opportunity to step into this recently opened upmarket hotel, although unfortunately I did not get to see very much as my journey took me from the basement parking lot to an elevator that shuttled me directly into the foyer of this sparkling pan-Asian restaurant.

Kempinsky 1b

The management at 88 went all out for this particular event. Attendees were greeted with a delicious welcome cocktail called the chin chin, which was, if memory serves, a mixture of whisky, honey, apple juice, cinnamon and sparkling wine. After some small talk had been made, we were invited to a presentation on the history of cocktails followed by a demonstration on how to make one of their signature Thai inspired cocktails called the Tom Khai. Next, we were moved from the bar to the restaurant where we were given a sushi making demonstration which we were then invited to try out ourselves. All the while delicious amuse gueules (that’s French for throat amusers, a random way of calling appetisers) were being passed around. And it didn’t end here: an extensive dinner had been prepared for us, so we sat down and began serving ourselves with mini portions of the many different dishes that were placed in front of us.

So, how did the meal turn out? There is a German saying that when the Chef is in love he over-salts the meal. Which begs the question, Chef Prapai (as I believe he is called), has a Kenyan beauty taken you heart? You are obviously a great cook and know your way through a kitchen like a painter through his studio, so why the liberal salting of our dishes?

All in all the food that was prepared for us was very nice. My one fear remains that as Pan-Asian food becomes more and more common in this city of ours, it will become increasingly difficult to stand out from the fray. As a result “very nice” may, in future, not be enough as it becomes imperative to make sure one’s food is “absolutely delicious” to make sure you keep the attention of the foodie crowd.

That said though, thanks for dinner guys. I had a lovely time.

This article was originally published in January 2015 on upnairobi.com

Categories: Food, Opinion, Review

Tags: , , , , ,

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