I have a new obsession when it comes to eating out, and it’s all about meal preparation. It has nothing to do with the fear of a dirty kitchen, or worse still, an irate chef wanting to teach an insufferable diner a lesson. It also has entirely nothing to do with the thought that someone inhumane might decide to spice my food with unpalatable ingredients, like how the servant in the movie The Help added poop to a pie and gleefully watched her master gobble it down!
Watching the process of cooking and plating gives me such comforting pleasure. One might argue that, the surprise element of a delectable and delicately plated meal retrieved from the kitchen after a worthwhile wait, takes the cup. But I beg to differ, because standing at a live station is like watching a magician do their thing, except that they don’t get to keep any secrets from you.
A few weeks ago, I came across a post on Instagram detailing Pan Asian Yao’s brunch offering. It was a quick video that showed a cocktail of seafood- prawns, crab, mussels- resting on a bed of ice. A hand that was only half visible seemed to prong the seafood and drop them somewhere that the videographer did not deem necessary to showcase. Below the video was the caption “Seafood Sundays with our Weekend Wok brunch.”
I wasted no time sending that link to PK of The Good Earth Group, the company that owns Pan Asian Yao, Nyama Mama and a host of other establishments.
“Is this for real? A seafood station over brunch?” I typed.
“Yes. You’ve never been?” He typed back.
“Obviously not, and it’s a travesty! I live for seafood and live cooking you know.” I added a sad emoji.
“How about I make a reservation for you. How many people and when?” He typed.
It is at this point that I should have said “ten people” or perhaps even “fifteen people” seeing as the invite was open, but the traces of wisdom I possess reminded me that I needed to save my reputation for future invites.
“18th November, just the usual suspects-the mister and the girls. I’ll need a voucher for two of my readers as well for a later date.” I typed, and waited.
“Consider it done.”
I beamed with gratitude, the joy of such small feats reminding me that my writing is not in vain.
A week later, on a Sunday afternoon after church, we drove to Gigiri. It was mostly quiet in the car, the kids napping having had an early start, the mister nodding to the soft sound on the stereo and me marvelling at the abundance of greenery on the other side of Nairobi. It was just a few minutes shy of one o’clock and the weather was perfectly warm, great for the outdoors.
Pan Asian Yao is in every sense not your typical restaurant, from the ambience to the food offering. First of all, its layout defies easy description. You go past the entrance imagining that you are walking into an enclosed space only to find an open space, leaving you unsure of the direction to turn to. But then, you spot a narrow entrance on your right and instinctively go past it. A hostess stands behind a desk. She asks for your reservation name and checks against her register, then ushers you in. You walk into a seating space which looks indoor but with an outdoor feel. It’s more like a huge gazebo so if you are centrally placed, you feel like you are indoors. Otherwise the exterior is open, letting in fresh air and even better, inviting scents from the brunch station outside.
Once you step out to the real outdoors, you spot the brunch station and immediately feel depressed over the fact that the human stomach can only accommodate so much. It’s like when you go on holiday to a spellbinding resort and before you even unpack your bags, you start stressing about it coming to an end. From my vantage point, I could see most of what was on display. There was a dimsum station, a massive salad bar, a wok station, a curry station, a sushi station, the cocktail stand and a dessert bar. Even the seafood that caught my eye on their Instagram page was present. It was a pleasurable feast for our eyes, one we all couldn’t wait to indulge our tastebuds in.
Most of the sitting space is inside so if you are an outdoor lover, make sure you specify while making your reservation. Our table had been reserved inside, but thanks to PK who spotted us the minute we walked in, a quick arrangement was made and a table for four placed right next to the dimsum station. He took us on a quick tour of the setup and right after, the kids made a dash to the live wok stand. The chef, an elderly Chinese guy gave us a passionate induction of the noodles on display. I left the kids and the mister to their lesson of Chinese cuisine and walked over to the soup station. There was the Singaporean laksa soup and the onion soup. I picked two bowls of each and set them on the table, then went back to get the kids from the wok station. The Singaporean laksa soup was deliciously comforting while the onion one was equally flavourful.
Not surprisingly, Xena settled for ‘grass’ noodles. They looked nothing like grass but she must have been curious to know how a cow’s favourite food tasted going by her careful inspection of the cooking process. I later found out that they are actually glass noodles and not grass, so I now know not to trust the Chinese pronunciation of English words. Their L’s are non-existent and promptly replaced by R’s, just like our friends from central Kenya!
Once done with the soup, the kids immediately dug into their noodles, which needless to say, tasted nothing like grass or glass. They were an explosion of piquancy and one could easily go for a second helping in the absence of other items to try out. I helped myself to several dimsums (chicken, vegetarian and prawn) as well as tofu baos which were so good, I was no longer interested in the seafood stand.
Next on Xena’s agenda was a bowl of stir fry mussels that she enjoyed shelling as much as she did munching them. The mister had a plate full of prawns and crabs and afterwards got himself some sushi. It later occurred to me that we totally forgot about the salad bar, such a shame given their painstaking preparation and elegant display. I walked over and surveyed it once more, then settled for the Vietnamese rolls. They tasted like a bourgeois version of spring rolls, what spring rolls probably aspire to be when they grow up and move to the leafy suburbs.
Bongo music played softly in the background, a slight disappointment as I kinda expected Chinese Chuigushou or Indian bhangra or Mor Lam from Thailand to be the obvious choice of music. Nonetheless, the sounds of Diamond and Harmonise from Tanzania serenaded us as we washed down our meals with such refreshing cocktails prepared by Benu, the Group Beverage Director. The theme was vodka based cocktails and I almost gave it a pass (because I don’t trust clear drinks) but Benu persuaded me to try the Capiroska, a vodka version of the mojito. It was so good I found myself asking for a Capiroska over my usual whisky sour at a party, a week later.
The trampoline provided much-needed play for the kids while Mr Bamboola kept a watchful eye over them. Afterwards, I hesitantly rounded up the kids and we had some desert, passed our gratitude and goodbyes to P.K then left. Later that night, as I lay in bed on my back, I reeled from the abundance of cuisines paraded at the Pan Asian Yao brunch. In only three hours, we had travelled through South East Asia while basking in the glory of the African sun.
Frankly, I doubt I’ll be trying out any other brunch offering in Nairobi in the near future. Because, when a restaurant affords you a parade of global recipes, half of them whipped up as you watch, it becomes very hard to enjoy another dining experience.
**Pan Asian Yao (formerly Emerald Garden) is located in Gigiri on UN Avenue. Their palate-blowing Sunday Brunch runs from midday to four O’clock at KSH 2,500 pps with soft drinks or KSH 3,500 pps inclusive of cocktails. They also have Supper Wok Tuesdays with ramen and wok stations with a selection of noodles, rice, meat, veg and a dessert accompanied with a glass of wine or Tusker for KSH 1,500. I intend to try this out next week.
Now for the exciting part, one of you gets to win brunch for two. If you were paid to go to any country in the world and all you would be allowed to indulge in is food-no shopping, no sight-seeing, just one week of taking in the county’s culinary delights, where would you go and why? Drop a comment below and cross your fingers for the brunch voucher!
Lastly, this is a sponsored post but my opinions are not paid for! **