Predators in the African bush certainly love meat. So was our group who met for the first time on a Saturday evening in Nairobi. Going to dinner together and sizing up each other while anticipating our itinerary ahead usually follows that first group meeting. So with no trepidation we all trooped to Carnivore - a popular restaurant known for its game meat.
What greets diners right away is the sight of a huge roasting charcoal pit with all sorts of skewered meat: rump steak, pork & beef sausages, leg of lamb, leg of pork, turkey, chicken wings, pork spare ribs, lamb spare ribs, ox balls, ostrich and crocodile meat. Vegans need not worry, they do serve the green stuff.
It was a busy night, lots of mzungus (Swahili for foreigners) and well-off Kenyans. While waiting for our table, we sat down at the bar and each ordered dawa (magic potion). It was a pleasant house cocktail that set our mood and got us fired up to know our travel mates more - a mix of Americans, Brits, Aussies, Kiwis and one Singaporean who was to become my roommate.
With a set price of $40 per person, Carnivore certainly ain't cheap. Ambiance is spot on African with muted lighting. Instead of menus, our long table got a white flag perched on a tray. A variety of roasted meat is served one after the other just the way it's done in a Brazilian churrascaria. For as long as that white flag stays up on the table, the parade of meat never ends.
|Getting more slices of ostrich|
Service is quite attentive. After handing out small plates of sides dishes (salads and sauces), we each got our own sizzling cast iron plates. First to be carved straight into my plate was steak, then came sausages, chicken, spare ribs, lamb. All juicy, tender and flavorful, especially when given a good kick from a variety of sauces on the table.
Opened since 1980, Carnivore got the attention of safari-bound visitors with its game meat. Back in the days, they served zebra, wildebeest, even giraffe. Things changed after the Kenyan government banned the sale of game meat to deter poaching. Carnivore now has their own farm and raise ostrich and crocodiles for consumption - which is exactly the only game meat we were being served.
|Croc meat or what's left of it|
My eyes opened wide as the roasted croc meat was served - this being my first time to see it without its more expensive skin (quite difficult not to imagine how it looks when still alive!). It tasted gamey, chewy, with bits of bones. I took another bite and another, slathering it with sauce at one point. There's nothing really extraordinary with croc meat to say I'd crave for it again.
It's a different thing with ostrich. Less in fat content than the meat on your freezer, it actually tastes more like lean beef (while others in our group thought it was like veal). This got me excited that I actually asked for another serving. Never have I thought such a big bird could surprise me big time. I'd certainly eat it again.
But was it worth visiting Carnivore? Despite all the buzz (even getting the nod from UK-based Restaurant Magazine as one of the "world's best 50 restaurants" in 2003), I find it's just too overrated and too touristy for what it is. If exotic meat is not in your African agenda, you could still do well with the usual stuff in less expensive options elsewhere.
Having ticked that meat-eating frenzy off our list, our group pulled the white flag down. Our sights are now set on wild animals doing their feast right at their own turf.