Some say that European charm is a thing of the past in this part of the world. But step into R Club, tucked away in a cul-de-sac off Ndege Road in Karen, and you are transported back to your favorite memory of a unique establishment in Paris, Rome or Geneva—even if you’ve never been there. Rudi Honneger is the Swiss mastermind behind what has to be one of Nairobi’s most inviting and romantic finds. A cook, pastry chef, and a graduate of hotel management school, he cut his chef chops traveling all over the world as a steward for Swissair. “I was always hanging around in kitchens in the U.S., South America, Asia. Mingling with chefs and kitchen crew, loving all these different cuisines. Fantastic!”
After a stint in St. Moritz, Rudi’s love affair with Africa began. His first restaurant in Nairobi was an Argentinian steak house, Churasco’s, followed by the purely Swiss affair, Rudi’s, both situated near YaYa Centre. Then, nine months ago, came R Club. With just seven tables, the main room features high, timber ceilings, soft lighting, a crackling fireplace and plush, floor-length curtains on the French doors. “It’s international cuisine with an Oriental twist and Swiss touch.” Energetic, mannerly and as engaging as warm toffee, Rudi glows. “Cooking is not my profession. It is my passion. So, let me introduce you to an evening of chef’s surprise.”
On the back terrace, we are immediately seduced by the house cocktail: A generous portion of Hendrick’s gin (“Made from the best juniper berries and a bit of cardamom,” Rudi enlightens us), a dash of freshly-milled pepper and cucumber, served with a chilled Tonic. The chef’s choice for our first starter, duck ravioli with an arrabiata sauce, a touch of chocolate and baby cherry tomatoes, is rich with the robust flavors of game and a chili kick. Homemade with a touch of cognac, the prawn bisque is divine, most notably for its grilled giant prawn that adds a subtle smokiness. And ah, a 2009 Altos de Raiza, Rioja Tempranillo, has got legs, it’s got body, it’s smooooth.
The red wine accompanies our next dish, a creamy, earthy morel (mushroom) sauce which sublimely complements tender veal fillet, and a buttery tumble of carrots and green beans. Throughout our dinner, the courses are perfectly paced, the service discreet, and Rudi’s wit and courtliness appear at just the right moments. “Smashing,” one of my friends quips. “ I love it when somebody’s personality really makes the place.” Dessert is Swiss chocolate cake, Toblerone mousse, crème fraiche with berry coulis and a mille feuille of passion sorbet, all dusted with dark cocoa. We finally toast this gourmand getaway with a limoncello on the house. To quote the famous Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw: “There’s no more sincere love than the love of food.” And we are utterly in love.
By Anyiko Owoko