You can feel it in the air. Stress. It's D-Day and the emotions crawl up your body slowly, burrowing, and waiting for the perfect opportunity to unleash. The anticipation climaxes. What seemed a few months ago is no longer. All the hard work from conceptualizing to building to realizing comes down to one moment - when your first guest walks in. Opening a new restaurant is never easy: numbers get crunched, staff will learn new words and taste new food, recipes are perfected, attitudes are nipped, opening day misfortunes and deadlines come and go.
I won't lie, I've been looking forward to Lucca opening since my exclusive tour, months ago, when the space was still being put together - furniture draped with dusty plastic, the room smelled of fresh paint, white tiles muddled with dust - and even then, despite the controlled chaos, the promising vibe of the restaurant was unmistakable.
Still, a restaurant opening is an opening, even if it's at Nairobi's newest 5-star luxury hotel, Villa Rosa Kempinski. I braced myself as I trolled into Lucca for their first official lunch service on Thursday.
So did it live up to my expectations? Let's just say after my initial media lunch, it was good enough that I found myself having a lunch meeting at Lucca the very next day, and the following evening, an impromptu late dinner with friends. I would say a resounding, "yes." Introducing: Lucca Café, Deli and Restaurant
Entering Lucca is quite an experience, whether it's through the main crackled off-white doors, or from the al fresco seating to the left of the hotel lobby - the Café, Deli and Restaurant exudes a welcoming aura. Bright, airy, and elegant, Lucca blends the best of traditional Italian design with an updated clean twist. Otherwise quite simple in its décor, all Lucca's spaces are filled with tables dotted by beautiful and colourful fresh flowers, faux brick walls, refined wood finishing and simple elegant furniture. Guests of the deli and café area enjoy a relaxed setting with high tables and banquette seating whilst enjoying a lovely spread of antipasti, fresh baked bread, coffee and homemade gelatos and sorbets.
Every dish on the menu is Sicilian Chef Silvio Zaccareo's creation, originating in his family kitchen. The recipes - most passed down from his grandmother - are tried, tested, and proven. With recipes filled with so much passion and love, it's only befitting to hear Chef Silvio break into the occasional Italian song as he prepares his culinary creations.
"Italian cuisine is simple, usually no more than five ingredients in each dish, but the ingredients are of the best quality," Chef Silvio explains.
This could not be any truer when I indulged in the antipasti - a selected platter of some of the best cured meats, olives and cheeses, all imported from Italy. There was the Risotto Dante (KSh 1,350) with asparagus, zucchini, pumpkin and porcini mushrooms, which gently unraveled on my palate. Its creaminess was sultry and comforting. I ordered the Tagliatelle al Ragù (KSh 1,500), fresh egg pasta with the original recipe for the famed "Bolognese" sauce, and I scored a hit with this classic dish. The pasta, neither crunchy nor too soft, its texture simply perfect and the strands, coated with just the right amount of well-seasoned sauce, laid in beautiful swirls before me. Often, it is the simplest dishes that take the most skill to perfect and the plate before me was faultless.
"Check this out!"
Tilting the hot dish of Lasagne alla Bolognese (KSh 1,500), the Parmigiano Reggiano crust in full view, Chef Silvio showed off his Grandmother's recipe as he hurriedly passed me through the crowd. It's incredible aromas followed, leaving a trail worthy of following. Finally to dessert, the Pana cotta laced with the essence of vanilla pods, Mango & Kitui Honey Tiramisu (KSh 850) and Cassata Siciliana (KSh 850) - all delicate to the palate and executed with quiet confidence.
Lucca's service, in true Kempinski style, is attentive, incredibly friendly and efficient. However, I have yet to dine at Lucca when the kitchen is chocker-blocked with orders and the staff are overwhelmed - let's see how they do then?
After three meals in three days, at this rate, I just may become a regular - perhaps the only downside of Lucca since I'll surely gain a few pounds from all the good food. Since it's opening on Thursday, Lucca has undoubtedly set the Nairobi culinary scene a buzz, but Chef Silvio is serving much more than just "hype." You don't have to take my word for it, but when even the new Italian Ambassador to Kenya approves, Lucca must be good. PHOTOBLOG
About SUSAN WONG
Susan Wong is a resident photographer, an award-winning journalist, radio presenter, full-time adventurer, long-time admirer of anything edible, and a spicy food athlete at Capital FM.