Laibela is more than just a restaurant. It’s a home; a virtual Ethiopian homestead in Kigali. It’s like someone travelled up north to Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, uprooted a nice, cozy residential home in a middle-class neighbourhood, complete with its lush garden, packed it on a cargo plane, and flew it down to Kigali.
Walking past the gate of Lalibela is like walking into a small rainforest lodge; an eerie silence pervades its lush green forecourt and the patio further ahead. This eerie silence is lent rhythm by the plethora of insects tweeting in the lawns. The entire set up of the place is tailored to the tastes of those looking for the alternative dining experience, one that is different from the usual pizza/burger fast food type outlets.
Located on a rugged dirt road between Flamingo and the former Papyrus restaurants, Lalibela tries to cater to all your senses; sight, sound, taste, and smell, though not in an overtly fanciful way. The rich interior décor combines bamboo, papyrus, reed and climbing plants. The floor tiles team up with neat patches of wood to forge a beautiful combo of the modern and nature.
On both sides of the entrance to the main building, which houses the bar and buffet point, there are spacious dining areas adorned beautifully with souvenir art pieces on canvass, and ebony wood curvings. The pieces, which one can buy at a small fee, depict the pride and richness of the Ethiopian culture.
Alternatively, one could opt to sit out in the lawns to suck up on the fresh breeze from the trees. There are two grass enclaves, each with a dining table that sits five people. I found the bamboo chairs here rather wobbly, so I had to forego the breeze and make do with the patio.
Like any other Ethiopian eatery in any corner of the world, Lalibela is big on traditional Ethiopian cuisine, and coffee. Once I was seated, management went out of its way to educate me on the uniqueness of Ethiopian food and coffee in particular, and its culture in general. After making it known to me that the coffee plant had its origins in Ethiopia, it was time for a culinary tour.
Within no time at all, my coffee arrived in a beautiful, black “jabana” clay pot. It was spiced heavily with Tenandam, one of the many herb species in the compound. The coffee is roasted the traditional Ethiopian way, pounded in a mortar and served immediately, to preserve its vitality. No wonder I felt slightly dazed after just two cups, the tiniest coffee cups I’ve ever seen!
The place was super packed on the night I was there (Wednesday). It was ladies’ night. The night’s special is the vegetarian buffet, with a half-price offer for all ladies.
At dinner time, I heaped my plate with Injera, the sponge-like, home-made bread pans that are the mainstay of Ethiopian cuisine. It looked to me like dump, neatly rolled up little towels! Injera is actually bland and tasteless of its own. It’s “just there”; Neither salty, sweet, nor sour. Rather, the taste is dictated by the sauce that accompanies it.
I settled for mushroom, pumpkin sauce, yellow and red lentils, spinach, French beans and assorted salads, on the manager’s prescription. And it was well-worth it, though I left rather “spiced up”!