Kafe Utu Tasting Session - Part 1

February 17, 2019 Ivan Teh - RunningMan 0 Comments

Kafe Utu Tasting Session - Part 1
12 Jiak Chuan Road

Opening Hours:
Tue - Sun: 8am - 5pm (All-Day Brunch), 6pm - 11pm (Lounge & Tapas),
Closed Mon



https://kafeutu.com/

https://www.facebook.com/kafeutu/

This was an invited media review. I did not pay for the meal during the free hosted tasting session, but I did pay the standard price during subsequent visits.
Attended with representatives from Chubby Botak Koala, Purple Taste, Emily.EatingThyme, MsJaniceEats, Fonda Tjang, Geeky Elephant, Alter Alter Ego, msginginly, Her Pen And Fork, and NAHMJ Food, Travel & Lifestyle Blog.



Cocktail Malaika (SGD $16)



Delicious Kenyan & Liberian Dishes (Part 1 of 2)

(Ratings: On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 = Worst and 10 = Best)
Overall: 8
Ambience & Setting: 10
Food & Beverage: 8
Service: 8
Value for Money: 8
Budget about SGD $35 per person.


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Opening in early January 2019, Kafe Utu is an all-day brunch and lounge bar concept which brings a little slice of East Africa and West Africa to Singapore. Established by owner Kurt Wagner (trivia: X-Men Nightcrawler has the same name), who owns a chain of successful restaurants in Nairobi, Kenya, the name 'Kafe Utu' loosely means 'Cafe Personality / Humanity' in Swahili. An exciting, novel dining destination with a unique character, my main concern with Kafe Utu is that the average Singaporean would find African cuisine too exotic, and generally be unable to visualise it. Fortunately, the dishes at Kafe Utu are not just visually pleasing, but delicious as well.

Kafe Utu Signage
Kafe Utu Signage


Kafe Utu Facade
Kafe Utu Facade



Ambience at Kafe Utu is amazing. Kurt has designed and decorated the place beautifully, styling it like a comfortable living and dining room. No expense has been spared, and I'm secretly glad that they've stayed away from African clichés like wildlife decor or savannah themes. Instead, the warm lighting and sturdy wooden high tables and booths are comfortable, clean, and welcoming. I notice most of the wooden tables are really solid, hand carved from a single tree trunk. There's indoor and outdoor seating, spread across 3 levels, with spaces set aside for 2 lounges, and 2 bars.

Kafe Utu Logo
Kafe Utu Logo


Kafe Utu Exterior
Kafe Utu Exterior


Kafe Utu Interior
Kafe Utu Interior


Seating Outdoors
Seating Outdoors


Seating Indoors
Seating Indoors



The Bar on the 1st level functions as a coffee bar, supporting their all-day dining menu. By contrast, the Bar on the 2nd level is the typical cocktail and drinks bar, supporting their lounge and tapas dining menu.

Bar


Bar
Bar



The Lounge on the 2nd level acts as a comfortable living room, decorated with artwork and books, with the 2 centerpieces being the plush sofa with sturdy wooden coffee table, and the wall length, hand carved mirror. The Lounge on the 3rd level is more open, allowing children some space to play, but also hosts their wine chiller and coffee grinder.

Lounge
Lounge


Lounge



The low hanging, warm lights overhead on the 2nd level are clad in hand woven Rattan Lamp Shades. The Stairs are lit for easy guidance day or night, and the Lounge has several showcase photo books and paintings from around the African continent, such as A Window On Africa Ethiopian Portraits By Hans Silvester.

Rattan Lamp Shade
Rattan Lamp Shade


Light & Plant
Light & Plant


Stairs
Stairs


Volkswagen Beetle Wire Frame
Volkswagen Beetle Wire Frame


Book - A Window On Africa Ethiopian Portraits By Hans Silvester
Book - A Window On Africa Ethiopian Portraits By Hans Silvester



The solid, heavy wooden doors are hand carved from Mninga (African mahogany wood), by Swahili craftsmen and artisans. There are 2 distinct indigenous design patterns. The Carved Door, Zanzibar Design is on the 1st level, beside the entrance. It features a lotus flower surrounded by palm leaves, symbolising prosperity and protection. The surrounding rosette patterns symbolise the sea, and seaborne trade. The Carved Door, Kenya Design is on the 2nd level, separating the Bar from the Lounge. It features a blooming sunflower motif, symbolising happiness and health.

Carved Door, Zanzibar Design
Carved Door, Zanzibar Design


Carved Door, Kenya Design
Carved Door, Kenya Design



Several paintings by mixed media artist Janet Taylor Pickett decorate the Lounges. Her artwork has strong themes of flora and fauna, alongside humans / people, usually adorned in bright, colourful clothing, in settings of everyday life. A gallery of larger-than-life photographs adorn the wall on the 1st level. These portraits of indigenous people in traditional garb watch silently and stoically over diners. Short descriptions below each photograph briefly describe the subject, bringing their stories to life.

Artwork Her Offering Was Illuminated By Janet Taylor Pickett
Artwork Her Offering Was Illuminated By Janet Taylor Pickett


Artwork An Offering & They Came With Offerings By Janet Taylor Pickett
Artwork An Offering & They Came With Offerings By Janet Taylor Pickett


Photograph Wato Dilo
Photograph Wato Dilo


Photograph Wato Dilo


Photograph Aichatou Boulanza
Photograph Aichatou Boulanza


Photograph Aichatou Boulanza



Service at Kafe Utu is personable and engaging. The Founding Team feels like a family, which bodes well for owner Kurt Wagner, as happy staff are generally more productive and less likely to leave. Staff are friendly, showing good product knowledge on the menu, able to make recommendations, and introduce dishes when they serve. They are proactive, offering to clear away finished plates throughout the meal, as well as changing cutlery for the upcoming course. Staff also clean up quickly when diners leave, resetting tables for the next guest. I like that they check for feedback on the dining experience.

Kafe Utu Founding Team, Source Credits: Kafe Utu


Kafe Utu Founding Team
Kafe Utu Founding Team, Source Credits: Kafe Utu



Barista Mark Chan works the Espresso Machine, a LaMarzocco Leva, producing aromatic, award-winning brews with Japanese Hokkaido milk and Coffee Beans Ubuntu; the latter a blend of 3 coffee beans sourced from Uganda, Brazil, and Mexico. The result is a signature blend, less acidic than elsewhere, with deeper nutty chocolatey roasted flavours - hints of cashew nuts and brown sugar, subtle notes of red wine, caramelized apricot acidity, with an intense dark chocolate finish.

Espresso Machine
Espresso Machine


Coffee Beans Ubuntu
Coffee Beans Ubuntu


Brewing Coffee
Brewing Coffee


Barista Mark Chan Brewing Coffee
Barista Mark Chan Brewing Coffee



Mixologist Chris Alvarez heads up the bar, creating beautiful and tasty cocktails. They only use premium liqueur here, none of the average stuff. Even their syrup mixers are home made.

Making Cocktails
Making Cocktails


Mixologist Chris Alvarez Making Cocktails
Mixologist Chris Alvarez Making Cocktails



Food at Kafe Utu is focused on Kenyan cuisine, Liberian cuisine, and American cuisine. It would be inaccurate to say they offer African cuisine, because that's so broad and varied, it's the equivalent of saying Asian cuisine. Instead, it's better to describe their offering as East African cuisine and West African cuisine, focused on all-day brunch, local snacks and desserts, and signature recreated indigenous dishes. Helming the kitchen is a talented young Singaporean Chef, Darren, who through understudying the Kenyan chefs from the original chain, and through trial-and-error, has recreated the textures and flavours from the continent. His dishes are approved by not only the owner's family, but also Kenyan and South African customers. In fact, 90% of their items are made in-house, from desserts, to jams, to sauces.

Menu All-Day
Menu All-Day


Menu Beverages
Menu Beverages


Menu Lounge
Menu Lounge


Menu Premium Liqueur
Menu Premium Liqueur



Dishes are hearty and filling, about medium to large for an individual, and may be shared. Textures in each dish are distinct, standing out clearly. Flavours are bold, punchy, derived from the freshness of the ingredients, alongside several imported ingredients to ensure a close authentic taste on the palate. They've also adopted a novel idea for storage of their stock; simply place them in large bowls, and lay it out in the open, lending a fresh, vibrant aesthetic to their lounge living rooms. The Kenyan cuisine and Liberian cuisine here is at once comforting and familiar, yet novel and exotic. Prices are mid-range, comparable to most other restaurants, budget about SGD $35 per person for a meal at this dining destination.

Meal Flat Lay
Meal Flat Lay


Bowl Of Lemons
Bowl Of Lemons


Bowl Of Chili
Bowl Of Chili



They serve glasses of Water (SGD $Complimentary) in a square mug, which is a little tricky to drink from. I found it's best to drink from a corner of the water glass, to reduce spillage. These glass mugs are hand blown by African artisans, and are called 'Kitengela'.

Water
Water (SGD $Complimentary)



The Fresh Berries Smoothie (SGD $9) features a thick, grainy, rich berry smoothie, a blend of blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and unsweetened Greek yoghurt, topped with a cherry. It has a fruity sweet sour flavour, refreshing and sharp on the palate.

Fresh Berries Smoothie
Fresh Berries Smoothie (SGD $9)



The Malindi Latte (SGD $6) features the smooth, nutty chocolatey toasted notes of the Ubuntu coffee beans and the fullness of fresh Japanese Hokkaido milk, enhanced with a little garam masala spice. Interesting hit on the palate, and I understand this is a popular way of drinking coffee in Nairobi, Kenya.

Malindi Latte (SGD $6)


Malindi Latte
Malindi Latte



The Ibada Ritual (SGD $6) sounds strong and stiff, with 4 shots of Ristretto espresso extracted over chilled Japanese Hokkaido milk. But on the palate, it feels like a double shot, lacking the pronounced bitterness and acidity of arabica coffee beans, instead having a mild sweetness. It's an Arabic word translated to mean 'worship' or 'obedience with submission to God'.

Ibada Ritual (SGD $6)


Ibada Ritual
Ibada Ritual



With its already pronounced nutty chocolatey toasted notes, the Mocha (SGD $6) here is more rich and chocolatey sweet than elsewhere. Almost like a Hot Chocolate, except with roasted toasted coffee bean flavour. They've used Mörk Chocolate Original in this, a blend of cacao powder, 100% cacao liquor, and unrefined coconut blossom sugar. Notes of apricot, almonds, and strawberries, are rounded off with hints of toffee and lingering dark chocolate. Very fragrant.

Mocha (SGD $6)


Mocha
Mocha



The Bidi Bado (Abracadabra) (SGD $7) is a Swahili style mocha, a unique blend of Ubuntu coffee beans espresso, Japanese Hokkaido milk, and Mörk Chocolate Original powder, with a rim of natural peanut butter, pink peppercorns, and toasted almonds. This has a rich, thick texture, with a slight grainy chew. Has a bold earthy nutty chocolatey sweet spice flavour, rather deep. Novel and unique taste.

Bidi Bado (Abracadabra) (SGD $7)


Bidi Bado (Abracadabra)
Bidi Bado (Abracadabra)



The Cocktail Dawa (SGD $16) features a blend of calamansi juice, orange juice, lemon juice, honey, and white rum, decorated with pomegranate seeds and orange zest. This has a fruity sweet sour zesty tangy flavour, with undercurrents of boozy strong liqueur. Fairly jarring contrast. Served with a 'dawa stick' - a hand carved wooden stirrer of Kenyan design, made from African black wood (the same wood used for musical instruments like the clarinet and oboe). I learnt that 'dawa' means 'medicine' in Swahili, and the Kenyan community consider it the ultimate folk remedy for all ailments.

Cocktail Dawa (SGD $16)


Cocktail Dawa
Cocktail Dawa



The Cocktail Eden (SGD $16) features a blend of organic gin, pineapple juice, and lemon juice, decorated with a basil leaf. This has a bold fruity sweet flavour, with a touch of sour notes. Quite refreshing.

Cocktail Eden (SGD $16)


Cocktail Eden
Cocktail Eden



Not your usual Cocktail Gin And Tonic (SGD $16) here, they've made it into a pretty, ladylike tipple. A slender stem is filled with a blend of gin and East Imperial tonic water, decorated with strawberries, blueberries, rosemary, and edible flowers. Has delicate fruity sweet floral boozy notes. Among the best looking cocktails here.

Cocktail Gin And Tonic (SGD $16)


Cocktail Gin And Tonic
Cocktail Gin And Tonic



The Cocktail Calamansi & Cucumber Mojito (SGD $18) features a blend of calamansi juice, cucumber juice, mint leaves, soda water, and white rum, decorated with thyme and a cucumber ribbon. Has a grassy vegetal sweet herbal zesty flavour, makes for a good summer tipple.

Cocktail Calamansi & Cucumber Mojito (SGD $18)


Cocktail Calamansi & Cucumber Mojito
Cocktail Calamansi & Cucumber Mojito



The Cocktail Green Mamba (SGD $16) features a blend of fresh cucumber juice, lemon juice, soda water, and cilantro infused vodka, decorated with a green chili and a cucumber slice. This has strong herbal vegetal bitter flavours, and didn't appeal to me.

Cocktail Green Mamba (SGD $16)


Cocktail Green Mamba
Cocktail Green Mamba



Love the Cocktail Malaika (SGD $16), which features a blend of fresh watermelon juice, fresh lemon juice, soda water, and vodka, decorated with a salt rim, a bird's eye chili, a watermelon sphere, and edible flowers. This has a refreshing fruity sweet spicy flavour. Very enticing yet thirst-quenching, with a sharp fiery bite that fades quickly.

Cocktail Malaika (SGD $16)


Cocktail Malaika
Cocktail Malaika



There's so much to say about our visit to Kafe Utu, and the fantastic dining experience we had. Continue reading with Part 2 of our Kafe Utu review, here.


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