Now that we have two very young kids, going out on a date night with Oko mi is almost like preparing to run a marathon. First, we gotta start planning like one whole year in advance for someone to watch the kids. Then we have to pray that on the actual day, we are not so exhausted, that we’d rather take a nap than go out (yes, we’ve done this before, don’t ask). For our 6-year wedding anniversary, a dear friend was gracious enough to watch the kids, while we went out to dine at Swahili Village, a Kenyan restaurant located in Beltsville, MD.
I called Swahili Village the day before our anniversary –
“Hi, I’d like to make a reservation for two please.”
“Oh, just two? You don’t need a reservation. Just walk in.”
Ugh, these people don’t understand my predicament. How can they reject my reservation? I need to make a commitment to be there so I resist the temptation to take a nap in my quiet kids-free house. Plus, I would have thought it’d be better for their business if I made a reservation, but hey, what do I know about running a restaurant?
I’ll be honest that from perusing their website, I had a certain expectation of a fine dining restaurant. I was expecting the valet team to park our car, the greeter to ask to hang our spring jackets in a closet unknown, and the waiter to offer us a glass of wine as we read through the menu. Just kidding. I didn’t think that far, but I also never hesperred that the restaurant will be located in a just okay shopping center, sandwiched between a dry cleaner and a grocery store. Since our ancestors said not to judge a book by its cover, we proceeded into the restaurant, and I’m glad we did!
Upon entry, I was reaaaally impressed by the ambience of the space. It felt like an eclectic mix of vibes – African decor, modern lighting, and somewhat rustic woods, all beautifully put together. The waiters were also very well dressed, the space was very clean, and the lighting was just perfect to make the space cozy.
We expected to get seated right away since the restaurant was half empty. However, we somehow found ourselves watching all 200 or so waiters congregate in the middle of the restaurant, trying to figure out where to seat us. Needless to say, it was a lot awkward for us.
We finally got seated, but it was so close to another couple, that they might have as well just put us on top of their heads. As it already took a team meeting to get us seated, I figured we may need signatures from the “orange man” in the White House to change seats, so we stayed put.
The wait for our meals was a bit long, but not unreasonable. We slowly sipped our mango lassis – a thick yogurty mango drink. There was real good naija jams playing on the background, which came on and off as the invisible DJ pleased. I would have expected Kenyan music, but I guess Nigerian music is standard in most of Africa at this point? We were also quite entertained by what borderline felt like a mini-market with so many waiters parading the floors, and storming in and out of the kitchen. Another 100 or so of them also congregated at the front of the restaurant to greet new guests. I would have thought that just one person would suffice for the role, but again, what do I know about the restaurant business?
Our meals arrived, and our jaws literally dropped! The portions were huge! Seyi ordered the Swahili basket, which was pretty much a variety of Kenyan small chops. He loved it! He also ordered supu, which we thought was their attempt at the Nigerian goat meat pepper soup. P.S. False. It was basically goat meat and some of its friends, swimming in a massive pool of super thin, watery broth. The supu came with chapati – flatbread, which was impossible to use to scoop the watery supu.
I ordered Mbuzi Choma – Kenyan grilled goat, and a side of pilau – seasoned basmati rice. I loooooved every bite of my food. It was just perfectly seasoned. The goat was sliced thin, and was juicy and succulent. It was oh so yummy in my tummy.
Prices were reasonable for a dine-in experience, but high enough that I wouldn’t order take-out from them; I can get curry goat from a badass Jamaican restaurant for half the price.
I know two questions you are aching to ask. First is, did I experience Africanism? Honestly, I would give them a 7/10 for customer service. They did pretty good for African standards, so no need to have your guards up when you go there. Intent matters; even our waitress who “forgot” to greet didn’t give the impression that she was trying to be rude. She just looked slightly uncomfortable, like she was interrupting our date and wanted to appear invisible.
Second question you are aching to ask – will Simple Naija Girl go back to Swahili Village? Absolutely! Obviously because I thoroughly enjoyed my meal, but also because, my eyes may or may not have caught the whole tilapia that the couple on whose heads we sat, had ordered. It looked soooooo good, my eyes were just turnioniown. So yes, I’m going back for that tilapia!
What I absolutely loved about Swahili Village
- The food! Yum yummmy! Definitely go with a completely empty stomach because their portions are generous.
- The ambience. You’d easily fall in love with the space. In addition to the dining area, there were two semi-private sections for group events.
- The feel and vibe of the restaurant. Swahili Village is a nice casual restaurant with a good vibe. I’d love to return with friends to enjoy a delicious meal and have good conversations.
What will take Swahili Village to the next level.
- Having the mindset of excellence at all times, across all levels of staff. Establish protocol for seating the guests so there’s no debate going on when guests arrive. Figure out why the music goes on and off and fix it. These little things make a big difference.
- Additional staff training. The client-facing staff could do with some basic etiquette trainings on how to interact and have good rapport with the guests. Being a waiter is more than just topping up our water glasses and bringing out our food. Simple questions like “so, what brings you here today?” or “Is this your first time at Swahili Village?” would have gone a long way.
- Less staff. The restaurant later filled up before we left, so perhaps the extra waiters were justified. Still, it kinda felt like a rowdy situation. How ironic that they had a “now hiring” sign in front of the restaurant. Not sure where they are going to fit the extra staff.
Have you visited or do you plan to visit Swahili Village? I noticed lots of Indian-inspired dishes on their menu – samosas, flat bread, goat, mango lasi, ati be be lo. Makes me think that there’s some Indian-Kenyan history, and I am now curious to read about it. Do you know anything about this?
P.S. This is not a sponsored post (I wish it was). We paid our hard earned dollars for our meal.