The plan was a double date in the park and I was navigating the Nairobi National Park without a guide for the first time.
Word to the wise, if opting for an evening drive, an early start is necessary if you look to cover ground and save sufficient time for a sundowner.
While I thrived with the help of a map, bought at the Lang’ata entrance tuck shop, my crowning moment, was the food spread I managed at the Kingfisher picnic site.
While I was the macho man on the ground, I have to admit to a little help from a cloud kitchen service that kept my hands clean.
For those unfamiliar with the term, a cloud kitchen utilises a commercial kitchen to prepare food for delivery or takeout only, with no dine-in customers.
My date has a distaste for fowl meat. While some chicken recipes attempt to excite her palate, she strains with duck and turkey flavours finding the poultry rather rubbery.
Not on this outing though as a capably prepared Peking duck, that must-try quintessential Chinese offering, ultimately won her over.
A Pekin duck is a white-feathered breed of duck originating from China. Peking duck, on the other hand, is a cooking method that traces its roots to the country’s 14th-century Imperial Era.
The recipe perfected and reserved for the highest members of royalty took on ‘Peking’, the romanised alternative to Beijing, the capital of China.
Just like in the old days, highly skilled chefs continue to follow proprietary recipes that call for 24 to 72 hours of preparation to produce restaurant-quality Pekin Duck.
Carving and presentation also call for skill before the aromatic crispy duck skin and tender duck meat can roll up in a thin pancake together with finely shredded scallions and cucumber topped off with hoisin sauce.
It is not surprising then that many restaurants duck the complex preparation method and serve roast duck instead.
This shirking of the culinary process is the reason that led my plug, Anjili Shah, to establish the aptly named Duck House.
A graduate of the highly rated Swiss Hotel Management School where she studied culinary arts and hotel management, Ms Shah proceeded to work in several Swiss hotels where she quickly realised that her passion lay more in the culinary arts.
Upon her return, she picked up more management stints. As the pandemic conked, she finally made the move to establish her own culinary offering.
“The Duck House was birthed out of a taste for oriental cuisine I picked up during my frequent travel to China servicing a secondary business (children’s educational toys) I am involved in. Back home, I struggled to find authentic Chinese flavours whenever I went out to sate my craving save for a few that were always out of my way. This frustration led me to experiment with traditional oriental recipes working from my home kitchen,” Ms Shah says.
Positive word-of-mouth reviews soon led her to toy with the idea of investing in a restaurant.
The number of eateries that had fallen to the pandemic, however, spurred her on a more innovative path as did her baby who required constant medical attention.
All things factored in, a cloud kitchen with a staff of three committed to carrying on traditional oriental cooking methods and authentic Chinese cuisine, along with new innovative dishes was the result.
“What makes The Duck House unique is that we try to maintain the authentic flavours using the original recipe as much as possible in keeping with the region each dish originates. Our signature Pekin Duck dish, for instance, originates from Beijing, North China (the south is known for the simpler roast duck) and goes through the entire process involving a special duck oven as well as the requisite rubs of special sauce as well as wash downs with scalding water and vinegar. Respecting the process sets us apart,” she says.
She operates the cloud kitchen from Nairobi’s Runda estate.
If I had thought the flavours of the Pekin duck captivating, it is the familiar bentos accompanying it that stole the show and made for dramatic dining.
Visitors to the orient are familiar with this convenient lunch box common among school-going children and workers keen on a nutritionally balanced and aesthetically pleasing meal.
The Duck House’s bento boxes creatively pack a burner, coal, tongs, and a set-up manual doable by grill novices.
For this outing, a choice of three bentos made the spread. This was in addition to the delightful beef wonton soup (Chinese dumplings served with homemade noodles tossed in a nutty soy sauce with a dash of chilli) and hand-shredded potatoes that form part of the cloud kitchen’s menu.
The Yakitori Bento carried chicken yakitori skewers, cucumber salad, and egg fried rice while the sweet and tangy Char Siu Bento that is a popular night-out dish in China featuring pork belly, enoki mushrooms, spicy cabbage, fungus salad and steamed rice with crispy garlic pak choy.
This bento option bearing marinated Beef Bulgogi, cucumber kimchi, tofu salad and fried garlic sticky rice with carrots, spinach, and mushroom, served with bibimbap sauce was my personal favourite.
The best part, the elegantly packed portions were more than sufficient for the four healthy appetites that dug in.
And we barely have scratched the menu. The Duck House is more famous for being the only outlet in Nairobi serving black chicken (Ayam Cemani) sought after in the orient for its health benefits and known to absorb flavours beautifully in addition to cooking easy and fast.
“To add to our exotic menu that includes black chicken and wood ear mushrooms, we will soon introduce soft-shelled crabs that are edible with their covering. Foodies should also look out for the exclusive pop-up restaurants that we curate for small groups,” Ms Shah says.