Ali Barbour’s Cave Restaurant in Mombasa, Kenya

Ali Barbour’s is a romantic and reasonably priced Cave Restaurant in Mombasa, Kenya. With notably mouth-watering seafood-strong cuisine, this certainly is a night to relish and one I’m sure you’ll join me in recommending.

 

Location

Being ushered into Ali Barbour’s Cave Restaurant’s free shuttle bus and escorted through the winding and lightless backstreets of rural Kenya are not what I expected when being picked up from my Hotel Mombasa. As the vehicle ascended a hilly pass and the purr of the engine met the beat of trees’ branches slapping against the windows, I feared that the esteemed restaurant was not my intended destination. However, what met me after at the end of the journey was what seemed to be my very own cave of wonders, 30km South of Mombasa. Certainly, the remote location of the restaurant, accessible only by a trepidatious trip through fear and fauna only adds to a sense of discovery upon arrival.

 

Atmosphere

Like the eponymous Ali Baba, you really have made a travel discovery. It is believed that Ali Barbour’s cave is between 120,000 and 180,000 years old, and is comprised of a series of interlaced chambers at a depth of 10km below ground. What’s more, is that the beautiful earthen construct is illuminated by an embroidery of natural holes in the ceiling that cast a dance of moonlight onto the sitters below. Don’t worry about bad weather however, not only is it exceeding rare during your holiday in Kenya but in such case there are sliding covers that will keep out the rain and keep in the atmosphere.

Ali Barbour's Cave Restaurant, Mombasa, Kenya

My initial spelling of the restaurant’s name however, is not a mistake. George and Jackie Barbour renovated the coral cave into a holiday-maker’s paradise some 30 years ago and the restaurant is still family-run. The Barbours simply added a chamber housing a kitchen and lavatories, keeping the geological sanctuary in the heart of Kenya intact.

As you descend the enclosed staircase into the belly of the cave, you are led by candlelight dotted in crevasses embedded in the cave’s walls. This adds to the ethereal ambience of the restaurant and invites you into a romantic otherworld before even taking your seat. The atmosphere is unique and once-in-a-lifetime, ideal for a couple’s romantic trip or a meal for the family.

Restaurant Staircase

 

Menu

The food on the menu is reminiscent of Ali Baba’s treasures and is a trove of international dishes with a focus on shellfish, meat and seafood. The words ‘tasty’ and ‘delicious’ immediately come to mind. The menu offers a range of courses, from soup and salad to hot and cold appetizers, a main course, dessert and coffee. Each dish comes with a succinct but mouth-watering description that makes a selection just as difficult as refraining from asking the waiters to stop at your table when they pass with your fellow diner’s meals.

I would consider the ‘magna opera’ of the menu however, to be the seafood platter, ideal for a couple or equally easy to devour by a single insatiable appetite. However at £44, this ambrosia is not cheap. On the platter, you will find included the best of the restaurant’s seafood selection. This ranges from the Kenyan catch of the day served in a Beurre noisette, portions of seasoned and tossed crabmeat and whole King Prawns.

Beef and veal are also dishes the restaurant gets right when preparing meals for the holiday-maker. Not prepared as Kenyan delicacies but reminiscent of high-tier French cuisine. Options include the Madagascar Beef Fillet served with crushed Black Pepper Corns and a Red Wine Sauce. Alternatively, the pan fried Veal Mignons is a dish that would be at home in any Michelin Star establishment. The best compromise however is to simply have both. The plate of the two Fillets Maison serves Medallions of Veal and Beef with a creamy Béarnaise Sauce. Why not be cheeky? – You’re on holiday.

For the vegetarian guest, expect a Mediterranean attitude to the cuisine. A highlight is the wholly delicious baked eggplant cannelloni, which is filled with zingy feta cheese, leeks and butternuts. The Cannelloni is topped with traditional Italian Caprese, a triumvirate of fresh mozzarella, basil and tomato. A second option for vegetarian meal is the homemade feta, spinach, potato and dill pie, made with organically grown ingredients. The variety of delectable foods makes Ali Barbour’s one of the best restaurants in Mombasa.

Although not a poor selection, the dessert Menu is the restaurant’s weakest of consistently strong links. Granted, there are some personal touches such as the waiter individually flambéing crepe suzettes, however the focus is on ice-cream rather than a patisserie that would match the skilfully crafted main courses.

 

Drinks

Drinks are also bountiful in the restaurant, with a both an extensive wine and cocktail menu. The restaurant offers French, Spanish and Italian wines but shines in its South African selection, particularly its Chardonnay and Shiraz. A fruity option is the Somonsig Mr Borio’s Shiraz of the 2006 vintage. Here, you’ll find high notes of dark cherry and white pepper and a vivid midpalate.

 

Prices

The prices at Ali Barbour’s Cave Restaurant are not incredibly cheap but they do represent great value for money considering the high quality of the food. A typical starter costs £6, a main course costs a reasonable £13 and desserts an affordable £5. A holiday-makers treat, considering the prices restaurants charge at home, Ali Barbour’s is still great value for money in Mombasa. Drinks are also very fairly-priced. A glass of wine will set you back a mere £2.25 – cheaper than the UK! Bottles range from £15-£40.

 

Service

Service at the restaurant is consistently high. The staff are attentive, friendly and add to the charm of the atmosphere. With such polite and helpful wait staff, you are happy to tip on top of the reasonable prices.

 

Not so local

Ali Barbour’s Cave restaurant cannot boast however, to have a menu representative of local Kenyan cuisine. One you will notice on your holiday to be hearty, rustic and serve a barrage of bolshie flavours. Local Kenyan food mixes the flavoursome spices of North Africa with the meats and seafood local to a county on the Eastern coast. A personal favourite during my travels is Ugali, a meal considered to be a national dish of Kenya.

Ugali is a savoury cornmeal dumpling, stewed with a vegetables broth or curry. Ugali has the consistency of dough and so is filling yet filled with the subtly of flavours it soaks up. Ugali is often served with Sukuma Wiki, a nutritious variety of Kale. Sukuma Wiki is usually shallow fried in rapeseed oil and served with diced tomatoes, onions and the secret Kenyan spice mix- Mchuzi.

Ali Barbour Dish

For the carnivores, don’t finish your holiday in Kenya without trying Nyama Choma, a selection of roasted meats and fresh fish. Nyama Choma is often considered the pride of Kenyan cuisine, a claim that is understandable upon tasting it. The typical meats served are goat, beef and chicken and a prepared with a marinade in salt. Salt- soaking is an old technique to lock in the flavours of the cut and ensure the food is as dynamic as Kenya itself.

Ali Barbour Dish Meat

The best Mombasa cuisine is prepared by locals and served as street food. Be careful not to act too much like a fish out of water. As with most establishments in Kenya, the proprietor will be tempted to charge holiday-maker’s the increased ‘tourist prices’. Better value for money and still tasty, the local food is the vibrant reality to Ali Barbour’s dream cuisine, but it is a reality I’m not too sad to wake up to.

 

Booking

You can book via phone or e-mail and the contact details are found on the website.

If holidaying in the tourist season, it’s best to book a table at Ali Barbour’s Cave Restaurant in advance. Not only is the hidden gem hard to find without the shuttle bus service, the disappointment of being turned away upon entry is not one you would want to sully your memories of your trip to the wonderful city of Mombasa. Remember, the restaurant offers a free shuttle bus service for the trip from the hotel and with benefit of my hindsight, you know the journey is mysterious but indeed as safe as the cave itself.

Restaurant Exterior

Ali Barbour’s dress code is smart-casual, but in such a special environment, why not maintain the magical atmosphere by dressing your best? Leave your shorts and beachwear at the hotel.