The coolest restaurants in town

Restaurant in Kampala

Kampala foodies (people who really like to eat) have had many reasons to celebrate in recent months as the city has welcomed four new and modern restaurants into a scene that was almost devoid of culinary cool. Gone are the rickety tables, the plastic chairs, the dark, dirty bathrooms, the bland, predictable meals (fried tilapia with chips. Really?) and the unfriendly and unhelpful customer service.

In are architect-designed eateries with modern, comfortable furniture, friendly waitstaff, innovative menus and yes CLEAN BATHROOMS with actual soap to wash your hands! These stylish restaurants would not be out of place in New York, London, Dubai or Hong Kong. So please join me in welcoming to our fair city Javas Cafe, Ban Cafe (the new one), Cayenne and finally Soho Cafe and Grill. Let’s give them all a round of applause.

Not even a year after opening its doors, Javas has become the place to be for Kampala’s young and hip. Its glass facade and clean design has managed to distract throngs of customers from the restaurants view over a parking lot and a construction site. Many people head over to Javas just to have a cup of its namesake. While I am not much of a coffee guy after 8am, Javas’ java is some of the best in town.

It is true that Javas may have been hurt by its own success. Occasionally the service can be slow and the food no exactly to standard. But finding a table at lunch time remains a challenge so it seems that for most people Javas remains the place to be and be seen.

Just across the parking lot is the newest location of the Kampala coffeehouse landmark Ban Cafe. The modern, yet unfortunately somewhat dark design of the new cafe and eatery is a big departure from the more traditional look of the original location at the Grand Imperial Hotel. But the furniture is comfortable and the airy layout means that you will enjoy your lunch of coffee in style.

Want to get away from the view of the lunchtime or dinner traffic in the parking lot? Just head upstairs with a good book or a magazine (the latest Dispatch perhaps) and lose yourself in a great cup of Ban coffee. Unfortunately the food is at times mediocre and the wait staff is not necessarily unfriendly but would it hurt to smile?

A little added spice to the menu (and the waitstaff) would transform the new Ban Cafe into another go-to destination for Kampala’s young and hip as well as old and distinguished.

Far from the hustle and bustle of downtown is the newly reopened and redesigned Cayenne restaurant and bar – or is it a club? No matter, this large, open eatery – formally Blue Mango – is just the place for a quiet lunch or a stylish dinner with the girl or guy of your dreams. It is really a place to take a date when it is time to impress.

While the pool seems incredibly out of place, the menu is spot-on. From wood-oven pizzas to Asian dishes to tasty sandwiches to exotic entrees, Cayenne has it all. Normally such a wide range of selections takes away from the menu, but somehow the new owners make it work. Plus with some of the most well-trained waitstaff in town, your meal will be perfect or close to it. Go there for a quiet lunch and then come back after work or late on a Friday to witness the best dressed and best looking Kampalans as they strut their stuff.

So if you have read this far in the review and said “been there, done that”, then it is time for you to head over to Soho Cafe and Grill in the new Course View office building on a short drive up from Garden City on Yusuf Lule (next to the Irish Embassy). Open just two months, this beautifully-designed restaurant might just be the nicest eatery in town. Located on the first floor, you can enjoy a meal (pictured) or a coffee overlooking the golf course. No parking lot views here!

While the food might have looked great on the plate, the execution was not perfect. The hamburger I ordered on my first trip there was at first raw (I sent it back) and then hard as a hockey puck. But the waitress was extremely helpful and apologetic. Give the chefs a bit more time to settle in and the meals might rise to the occasion. Want to impress a new client or a new love interest? Soho is the place to go.

Never before has Kampala had so many cool places to go when you and your friends or colleagues are looking for a place to grab a coffee or a bite to eat. Let’s just hope that this new trend of friendly waitstaff and clean bathrooms catches on with the rest of Kampala’s restaurants. Perhaps that is just a dream.

By Ole Tangen Jr.