Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Pearl of Africa

Dinner at The Pearl of Africa

Without recommendations or actually confirming it, I'm relatively sure that The Pearl of Africa is one of the top restaurants in Uganda. Luckily, it's in my hotel and an easy commute.

Pearl of Africa is a modern looking restaurant with some African cultural references, but mostly modern in decor. The dining room is large and expansive, even in this large and expansive hotel. The layout is serious fine dining. The captains are in suits and the servers are in proper uniforms and it's easy to see you're in one of the most serious dining rooms in the nation.

Clearing the table.

I'm seated right away and it's pretty light in the dining room on this Wednesday night. The staff is attentive and asks if I'd like some passion fruit juice to start. Soon they've whisked the non-essential tableware away and leave the table open and spacious for my dining experience.

One of the most wonderful things about Kampala is that the people are so darn nice and friendly. Everywhere I go, people say hello, greet you, ask you how you are doing and welcome you to their nation. Everyone at Pearl is wonderfully nice and very accommodating.

They know how to entertain solo diners.

One of the trickier parts of dining alone is what to do with yourself. Here I am, sitting in a fine dining restaurant, the other occupied tables are filled with couples, lovers or friends while I'm at a four top with my little camera and iPhone to keep me company. For most restaurants, this could be tricky waters, not so for these guys - they've got a selection of reading materials to offer me. I pick a recent copy of Time Magazine.

Amuse Bouche: Chicken Mousseline.

Soon, the food starts coming. First up is an amuse bouche of Chicken Mousseline. It's a simple chicken mousse that's not bad served on pickled vegetables with a sweet sauce that's reminiscent of that Chinese style duck sauce - but not that sweet.

I decided to pass on the Ksh75,000 prix fix meal and go with the a la carte selections. Wasn't sure what to try but my Captain steered me towards some selections that sounded interesting: Spinach Soup then a Rack of Lamb.

White and Garlic breads.

While I really would like to rave about how amazing the food was at Pearl of Africa and that it's one of the most delicate and incredible meals I've had of late, I can't. The food is good. It's nicely prepared and done with care but it just doesn't blow me away.

The technique is grounded in French and cooking is solid. This is good and decent cooking. I've yet to find any meal at the Kampala Serena Hotel to be unenjoyable and this food doesn't disappoint in that way. Where it does let me down is that it doesn't taste that much elevated from the rest of the hotel's restaurant operations. And that's a little bit disappointing.

Soft butter.

To be honest, it really pains me to write that. The Kampala Serena Hotel has literally been my host in Kampala and the people who work here have been incredibly friendly and welcoming and I feel terrible that I can't rave incessantly about the meal. The staff was great, the welcome warm and sincere, but was the meal that different than the other restaurants? Sadly, no.

But let me temper that thought. My meal here was nice. Nicely prepared and nicely cooked. It cost me USh70,500 - which, by the hotel's conversion rate of USh2,000 to one dollar means that my meal cost me US$35.25 - and absolute steal considering the food, the quality, the service and the restaurant environment.

Cream of Spinach Soup.

In fact the meal isn't that much more costly than eating at the other restaurants in the hotel. For thirty-five dollars, I've eaten in a restaurant with lovely decor, a live pianist (who's excellent, by the way), with Michelin 3star style service in an environment that anywhere else in the world would cost hundreds of dollars to eat alone in - and I got some reading material to boot.

Taken that way, it's really one helluva deal.

Rack of Lamb - vegetables and mushroom rice.

Cheese Plate - gouda, brie & bleu.

The Bill: about US$35.

A throne.

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