Although a bit out of your way for nightly dinner reservations, if you happen to be in Nairobi, Kenya, this restaurant is not to be missed.
In fact, it’s hard to avoid, as it seems the first question every cab driver in the city asks is, “Have you been to the Carnivore?”
The eating establishment is really more a tourist trap than anything else, with food as the central attraction. It’s about 15 minutes from midtown or 20 minutes from the international airport.
Should you choose to go by taxi, the real challenge may be maintaining an appetite after the harrowing ride. I've ridden in taxis in New York, Europe and throughout Latin America and have never seen such a blatant disregard for traffic lights, road signs or pedestrians.
Once off the main road, you negotiate a few turns through an industrial park before being stopped at the Carnivore gate. There was a certain similarity to pulling up to the San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park – the exterior displays lots of thatch, with tribal shields a-plenty.
The structure is mostly open-air, with art galleries and curio shops on each side. A long entrance lined with tropical plants ends at the hostess stand, which is placed right in front of a grandiose circular fire pit.
For us meat eaters, the aroma is second to none. Sweating chefs endlessly braise and turn the cooking meat. The flames jump and lick at their target as the juices drip into the pit.
To best describe the Carnivore restaurant, think Brazilian BBQ on steroids. Its motto, “Beast of a Feast,” may be the best definition. The menu boasts exotic choices like crocodile, ostrich and camel. For the less adventurous diner, it offers the standard red and white meat dishes – leg of lamb, beef ribs, chicken, etc. (My own favorite was oxen testes.)
In spite of the fact that the Kenya Wildlife Service animal orphanage sits just five minutes down the road, an apology is prominently placed at the bottom of the menu. It laments the fact that the Kenyan government has outlawed real game meet. A fact that the eatery is strongly in disfavor of, and one it is hopeful will soon be overturned.
Once seated, roaming waiters circle the restaurant carrying huge spits of sizzling meat. All are outfitted with a smile and a carving knife so large and sharp it could easily be mistaken for a machete. A Lazy Susan of sauces sits in the middle of the table, and each server instructs which flavor goes best with their particular offering. For drinks, the attached Simba Salon offers a full bar menu. To not have a Tusker beer in Kenya is like visiting Mexico and not having a Corona.
The place is cheesy, politically incorrect and a very bad caricature of what Kenya really is. That being said, it is extremely entertaining, has excellent food and makes for a great memory.
If you do get a chance to visit, remember to bring a sense of adventure and an appetite before bucking up to the table.