Friday, 14 April 2017

Nairobi's first real French bakery: Le Grenier a Pain

Le Grenier a Pain soft opened around 6 months ago and we were the first to bag a table at their Sunday Brunch. We’d heard small things about this newly founded French café, and followed the gossip of a basement bakery on Riverside producing the flakiest croissants, the crustiest baguettes and the sweetest tarts. Hungrily, on the back of these rave reviews our party of 12 hungrily poured over the menu surrounded by funky Ikea style furniture, exposed ceilings and iron wrought lightening trying to wrestle between Quiche Lorraine or Croque Monsieur. The results were delicious, buttery and rich.

Fast Forward to 6 months and I decided to visit Le Grenier a Pain again for a proper sit down brunch. In the time between my visit today and today the establishment has taken full shape. As you enter the middle section has been carved into a rounded pod with display pods soon to show off the delicious delights from the bakery below. Currently these are housed in the long curved glass cabinet at the back of the café next to the upstairs kitchen, producing the main meals, soups and salads other diners were hungrily devouring. Walking up to the counter, todays offerings include the infamous fresh croissants, pain aux raisin and tarts of varying colours and ingredients including lemon, chocolate and raspberry.

Spotting these made me ravenous and a friendly waitress observantly seated me on the stylish curved sofa that looked out on the rest of the light airy Riverside café. Quickly, I ordered a cappuccino perfectly illustrated with latte art and served piping hot and extra strong, a sign of high quality coffee and an expert barista who knew his way around the machine. Turning to the menu, options on offer were wide and varied – it was a hard struggle between the Salad Nicosie, the Vegetarian plate or the Ratatouille on toast. However, it has to be the Croque Madame, a French favourite which I hoped has been well exported to Kenya.

This of course, did not disappoint. The Madame is a French sandwich served on three fresh baked pieces of bread, evenly layered with cheese, turkey and topped with a beautifully fried egg with a rich yellow yolk. The side salad, dressed in soft olive oil and fresh cherry tomatoes partnered well with the richness of the cheese. The ingredients tasted fresh and rich which for the price was impressive at only 1000 for one of the best ‘sandwiches’ you can find in Nairobi today. Unashamedly I ordered two tarts to help was down the calories, choosing the Lemon ‘Citron’ Tart and the Chocolate Tart.

The Lemon was sweet but held the citrus taste well and expertly set around the crumbly case of pastry that is a feat of sheer wonder with Nairobi’s altitude. The citron was complimented well with the flaked pistachio on top and the sweet raspberry placed in the middle giving it a colourful fruity flourish. The Chocolate was equally delicious and much richer and darker than on first appearance, which I presumed would be hard and set but actually reveal a two tone style cake. The top was dark and soft, a deep cocoa – whilst the middle was light and airy with a mousse style consistence and expertly crafted once again around the buttery pastry. This must be consumed with another cappuccino.

As I devoured my two tarts and lay in a dreamy Parisian food coma I noticed the other customers drinking, eating and enjoying the buttery goodness of the cafes delights evenidenty showing the popularity of Le Grenier a Pain on the Thursday lunchtime. The sunlight trickled through the large glass windows, as the friendly staff delivered steaming hot cups of coffee, freshly baked scones and hands down the finest Croque Madame and Monsieur this side of the Masaai Mara.
                     You can find Le Grenier a Pain on 9 Riverside Drive, Nairobi.


To find out more about this wonderful French delight, I sat down with Yan Welffens, General Manager of Le Greiner a Pain to find out more…

Where did the idea for a French Bakery come from?
It has been a long and fun journey bringing French food to the city. I ended up in Kenya 2011, taking a break from working in It and Engineering in Europe. I started backpacking and came to Nairobi on a stopover to hike Kilimanjaro, where friends insisted I stay and find an opportunity here in hospitality. My first hotel job was with Tribe hotel in June 2011, and the idea of a quality bakery came during this time. I began to wonder why there was no good bread, no good croissants, why is there nothing here? There are ingredients and a strong middle class, so lets try and make it happen.

Why Le Grenier a Pain?
Originally we thought about doing it our selves but I hadn’t studied baking although I love to cook at home. I knew the business requirements but didn’t have the skills. Therefore, I travelled to India, to see if a successful bakery in India – why? How did they do it? I spent a week in Mumbai and Delhi and worked with the owners of ‘Salon de The’, a chain of high end bakeries that were proving very successfully and this gave me the confidence to know that if it worked in India then it could come to Kenya.

However logistics and costs are high in Kenya, so we approached several European franchises to see if they’d want to partner but they said no. However, before coming to Kenya, I had lived 6 months in Paris during working in IT and remembered that there was bakery on the same street, Le Grenier a Pain that served excellent baked goods and breads. I contacted the website to see if they could bring the franchise to Kenya and within 24 hours got a response and a plan to set up in Nairobi!

What makes Grenier a Pain unqiue?
The transfer of knowledge to our staff. We didn’t bring an expat chef, it’s expensive and we didn’t want to follow the hotel model as many of them were negative, people were in denial that you couldn’t get quality French made food in Kenya due to ingredients and lack of knowledge.

Therefore we employed local chefs and showed them how to learn to love the local ingredients and trained the team on recipes. Le Grenier a Pain  was also very supportive and we sent out two head bakers Wallace and Agnes to France for 6 weeks in October 2015, with the bakery’s founder Michael Gallover so they could learn the French style and bing their skills back to Kenya.

Why did you choose this location?
We decided it had to be Westlands and I actually walked from Safaricom to Lavington Green and went into every single building looking for potential space. We then contacted Knight Frank and were ad shown 3 different locations and 9 Riverside Drive was the first one we saw. In December 2015 we started fitting out the restaurant, and opened as the basement bakery, with the reputation preceeding itself through word of mouth and gossip.

How did you recruit your staff?
Of course in every country and every job it has been hit and miss. My biggest tip to other restaurant owners is to trust your feelings and make mistakes. Agnes and Wallace were core members, they had come from Tribe, and trained in France. Our head Barista had a background from Dormans and showed confidence and skills in his work. All our other floor staff and sous chefs came for a trial for a week and I paid attention to details on: ‘are they working fast, attentive, are they smiling?’. We started off with just 8 members of staff, now we have 30 and I feel proud to employ so many hard working and dedicated people.  

What’s been your favourite part of opening Le Grenier a Pain?
Proving naysayers wrong that we couldn’t open a Real French Bakery – because believe it or not, all the ingredients are local!
The only challenge was the baguettes and speciality bread, as the flour has to come from France as recommended by Le Grenier a Pain, as its actually an award winning Bread and has now been patented.

Who are your customers?
A mix of customers. One day I was sitting in the restaurant and observed the customers in our café. We had a mixed race young couple with a baby, Two young Kenyans, 3 Muzungus in a business discussion, Two Kenyas in a business discussions and an Indian family. This makes me happy, as This café really shows the people of Nairobi –the diversity of the city here.

Where are your Ingredients from?
All our ingredients are from Kenya apart from some obvious items like Lemon, Oranges Chocolate and Almonds. All our milk, butter and flour (expect for the speciality breads) – all local. Our delicious coffee is from a local Roaster, Spring Valley Coffee.

What’s your favourite thing on the menu?
For savoury it has to be the Croque Monsieur (see my shared review!) and for after, the sweet is definitely the Apple Tart with Vanilla...

And finally, future plans for expansion?
We would like to open another one in Gigiri and then eventually take this franchise to every large city in Africa. We are going to have a look at Addis Ababa and obviously I would love to take it to my home country of Cote d’Ivore as well.

You can find Le Grenier a Pain on 9 Riverside Drive, Nairobi.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Mama Rocks: The burger babes of NBO

‘What do you fancy for lunch?’ asked the Boy. I knew exactly what I wanted. ‘I NEED a burger…let’s go to Mama Rocks’.

There’s a couple of reasons why I craved not just a big mouthful of meat, bread and side but specifically a Mama Rocks burger. Firstly, I LOVE this nook of solace in the middle of Westlands. When you enter the enclave, shrouded with palm leaf tress and funky coloured walls I feel like I’ve been transported back to Shoreditch in London, back to hipster heaven, aided by a big double decker DJ bus working cohesively with the Mama Rocks (MR) food truck. Secondly, the décor at MR’s is awesome with upscaled furniture, painted barrels acting as tables and picket fences giving it a playful Americana twist, working well with the delicious burgers we were about to devour.

A moment of honesty. I have eaten here before, but I feel it deserves a proper review on all levels of taste, texture, service and pleasure. We walked up to the van, onto the little raised platform and scoured the menu hungrily…so much choice! Did we want Beef and go for a Mango Masai Burger echoing an east African vibe, or go for Chicken and grab a West African influenced vibe by chomping into a Fela Supa. Or throw out the towel with a Veggie burger delight with the Falafel Djubalicious Burger. Then to put on top we had the choice to add homemade sauces of Garlic Lemon Mayonnaise or Hot Hot Pepper Sauce with a smattering of Harissa Paste as well (for just 20 bob!). The boy stared hungrily into the distance…and ordered a Sweet Beef Mother whilst I browsed the specials and ordered the Chicken 'Kuku Republic' special burger from the blackboard.

We took our seats, and sat in excitement remembering the joy of the burgers we engulfed last time. Our burgers arrived, nestled in cute plastic baskets, wrapped in uniquely designed wrappers with the Mama Rocks logo harking an individual African vibe enhanced by our surroundings and the crockery served from cut metal cans. We took a bite and paused. The Chicken special was covered in a panko style crumb, smothered in mayonnaise and fruity relish with flecks of rocket salad. The sauce combined with the fresh meat was made even better by the brioche bun the chicken patty resting between them which tasted sweet and had the perfect texture between crisp and light. The boy similarly grunted between mouthfuls of enveloping his burger, which I deciphered as 'the beef was ground well, perfectly sweetened with potatoes and worked amazingly well with the yoghurt smoothed on top'. He's so eloquent when eating...  

From us it received 10/10, 2 thumbs up, 100% on the taste sensation factor and the surroundings just added to the overall enjoyment of our lunch break in Westlands. For Nairobi residents, expats and passerby you’ll hopefully already be familiar with this well-loved brand that you may have similarly enjoyed at lunch, dinner, before a gig at Alchemist, ordering home on Yum or already stumbling out of the club. And if you haven’t, get out there because Mama Rocks has earned a place in our hearts, and even better in our tummies.


After reviewing the restaurant on Foodies Club Nairobi I asked the owners, Samantha Mwedekeli and Natalie Mwedekeli, for an interview to find out more about the brains behind these beautiful burgers. The sisters, originally from the UK opened up about the flavors, soul and spice coming out of Mama Rocks and their future expansion plans…

Where did the idea for Mama Rocks come from? 
We had been coming to Kenya on and off for the last 7 years and saw a developing growth in the restaurant industry. We saw international brands like Dominos and KFC here but nothing African. Of course you can go for Nyama choma but this still didn’t have an international African feel that you could grow here in Nariobi and export abroad. Therefore Mama Rocks was born out of the will of wanting to build something truly African from Africa itself. 

How have you incorporated Africa and Kenya into your brand? 
We wanted to change the perception of Africa, that it is about talent and growth. Originally we started with the idea of sandals and t-shirts selling them on Pettycoat Lane in London and tried to sell the items. We then thought that food would sell better, as food is universal. We chose burgers as they feel a easily recognisable –and we’ve used them as a tool to celebrate Africa! You can see this in the way we use different cuisines to represent different regions of Africa and Kenyan cuisine, flavours and spices. Mama Rocks also incorporated a 70’s retro vibe and revival of African culture with the colours and patterns we have used which the customer can see all the way down to the colourful plastic burger baskets to the funky custom designed wrappers. 

Where does the name Mama Rocks come from? 
Mama – culturally in Africa, the mother is heartbeat of the family, the backbone in society and the one who spends some hard hours cooking up a storm in the kitchen. Our own mother is from Nigeria and she cooked delicious home cooked meals as we were growing up. We still crave our Mums food here in Kenya! 

Rocks – this word incorporates everything that they wanted to celebrate that is great about Africa. This continent rocks and we are showing the community here what is great through some beefy delicious burgers 

Give us the inspiration behind your culinary delights… 
Our Mum inspired our pallets with her delicious Nigerian food and flavours. The Fela Supa Burger is peanut crusted, a common nut ingredient in West Africa and smothered with hot sauce. 
Our Dad is Kenyan and we’ve celebrated this beautiful country through many of our burgers and in addition their stories. The Mango Masaai Mama burger. It is said that the higher a Moran can jump, the less dowry he has to pay to his wife’s family. En-Kai could not jump! The family of the bride acquired 500 cattle and his prized Mango tree that grew the juiciest and sweetest mangos. To celebrate, the mother of the bride combined a feast of roasted beef (to symbolize their new found wealth) fresh mango sauce (to represent the yellow of the sun that brings happiness, fertility and growth) and roasted red peppers (red being the colour of the Shuka, a symbol of bravery strength and unity). 
And so, the Mango Masaai Mama was born. 

We tried out consulting with chefs but the feedback was so mixed. They told us to keep the flavours simple, don’t make things too spicy or complicated because Nairobi restaurant go-ers weren’t looking for that. We ignored that and instead followed our hearts, gained inspiration from our childhood cuisines and tested a lot on family and friends. 
The only challenge was that as we did a lot of research in the UK, we didn’t take into account how limited we’d be in Kenya when it came to different breads and cheeses, but it’s been part of the fun and we’ve made it work!

How did you find moving to Kenya? 
Moving here was very different to visiting here as teenagers when we were 14 (N) and 17 (S). (N) ‘Working here has a lot of frustrations and not everything is black and white, there’s a lot of grey that you have to get through but what comes out of it is truly unique! 
(S) ‘It’s not a lie…Meetings here take a long time. In the UK where we are from, meetings were to the point, meetings here are longer which is fine…it’s just different asking about the family, and the wife, and the home…’ 
We do love Kenya. It gave us the chance to start a new life and a business that we were passionate about. The cosmopolitan nature of the city and the number of entrepreneurs and creatives that we meet daily, people trying to do their own thing and make a mark. Its continually inspiring. 

What were the practicalities around the Mama Rocks food truck? 
There is no permit for what we have created – there’s no licence for a food truck, either you are a restaurant or outdoor catering and we didn’t really fit into either! We also had a big delay with our van…it was supposed to take 6 weeks and took 6 months! 

Did you consider any other markets? 
Kenya was so to us familiar as our father is Kenyan. Our Swahilli leaves a lot to be desired so we were comfortable here in a country where English is widely spoken. We have considered other parts of Africa. 
(S) ‘We have considered Nigeria, but food costs are very high and navigating the system would be quite time consuming. Also, getting beef in Nigeria is very difficult!’ 

What has been your favourite part of this experience? 
(N) I’ve loved receiving the feedback and the reaction to the brand. 
(S) People loving your idea, we are probably quite sheltered by what the outside market thinks because we are surrounded by the van and the food everyday, But when people are like ‘Hey that’s awesome’ you get a reminder as to what others think’. 

Where has your team come from? 
Our team of 9 has been a mixture of luck and recommendations. When we came up with the idea and the brand, we were looking for eccentric style customer service but Kenyan staff market is more chilled and relaxed though very friendly! Therefore we found a very happy medium between being cool but calm. 

Where are your products from? 
90% of sauces we make in house, and we get our bread from a special top secret baker…not so much of a secret is that our brother is the man behind the falafel burgers. He is the falafel king, because they are awesome and is very patient as chickpeas don’t play ball in Nairobi and he spends an amazing amount of time getting them right with love and devotion. 
Our cheese comes from Browns; The German Bakehouse supplied our pickles and a local Kenyan guy we found makes our honey and another man supplies our peanuts. 
We get our salads delivered every morning from a shamba on the outskirts of Nairobi. We’ve tried to keep things very local! 
Even our Papers and boxes were designed by a local Kenyan Graphic Design company and the napkinsare supplied by Chandaria industries. 

Where is your meat from? 
We get our fabulous patties and meats from Gourmet Meats in Yaya. All our meat is Boran and grass fed. We are thinking about fish burger but quality needs to be sourced first. 

What about your Make Good? 
We met Marianne, the owner of MakeGood at Organic Farmers market here at Alchemist and it was love at first bite! Her brownies are to die for! 

Who are your current clients? 
Our clients really change depending on the day, time, weather or the event that is going on at The Alchemist. 
We get a cool hipster Scene community of Social Trendy Kenyans – instagrammers and youthful blogging crowd. We are also very popular with the Asian community who recommend us to their family and then friends and then co-workers. We get a big group of expats as our brands feels familiar with what you could find in East London or New York as well. Our daytime trade with workers and office groups has also picked up as I think our price point is fair, its great to get outside and we have a unique space…and of course our burgers rock! 

What are your future hope for Mama Rocks? 
We are setting up a new space for Mama Rocks in Kilimani. Its setting up outdoor space, two containers and storage space on top with space for around 70 people. It’s also going to be a great base kitchen for our deliveries and have a cocktail bar. It’ll be a great relief for the van 
as well as we can start her on the road and also have more space so we can serve more lovely people! 

And finally, let’s talk about the van… 

You’ll be pleased to know the Van is 100% Made in Kenya. She was bought here in Kenya as just a cab front and then we had the Fibreglass unit built, and then the kitchen built by a company called Sheffield (sounds English, still Kenyan!) And best of all, all the design and graphics were done here in Kenya.