Two things that always set small hotels apart from the big star hotels: warmth, and that extra personal touch. Sometimes one wants to eat while posing small questions about the food to the chef (call it nagging).
At Scola Hotel, what is obvious is that management has gone out of its way to make the place not only cozy, but homely. Once you are seated, your table will be instantly transformed into a warm, exclusive colony by the waiting staff.
We popped in just after 2:00pm for lunch, having “preserved” our hunger pangs for the lunch buffet. Journalists are not known to shun free things, so when Jonah, the manager dished out a few complimentary buffet coupons to Hot Spots, we decided to make an invasion. Five in total, our number seemed initially to have overwhelmed the waiters, with one of them announcing that the food was “over.”
You should have seen the commotion that ensued! Turns out that the early birds who fly to Scola Hotel early enough (as early as noon), had already taken the cream from the buffet. We witnessed the waiters shuffle between the buffet point and kitchen before a few soup bowels had been refilled, and we hit the queue.
The menu is limited and combines English and local; (French fries, chicken curry, fish fillet, beef), and (pumpkin, cassava, irish and sweet potatoes) respectively. We just heaped our plates with what was available; rice, irish, stewed bananas, pumpkin and sweet potatoes for a taste of both the English and the local. The fish fillet easily took the day, as the person who tasted it first spread the word about its tastiness around the table. Plus, the two people that tried Mukima (a mixture of beans, maize, potatoes and stinging nettle leaves) made us vow to try it out the next time we visit.
Eunice, the head waiter, made sure to be around just when you needed that extra glass of water. Eunice is well spoken in English, French, Kinyarwanda and Kiswahili – a big plus – and her duty is to put the house in order when things are going out of hand. She does not come across as a waiter, but rather a smooth, friendly administrator, and with her good looks, many sleek business cards are “abandoned” on tables after men have wined or dined!
With its Rwf2,500 price tag for the buffet, Scola Hotel has got the decently salaried office workers and business travelers in the Kacryiru area firmly under its grip. For dessert, one can choose between cake and fruit salad. We went for the fruit salad (sweet bananas, passion fruit and water melon in a blend) because it was fresh and chilled to our liking. However, the portions were mean! The buffet runs from Monday to Friday, so should you find yourself here on a weekend lunch outing, you may have to make do with something lighter – samosa, fish fingers, chicken wings and sausages.
Perhaps what Scola Hotel lacked was that little ambient feel to seal its credentials for a small, cozy and warm little hotel. With the opening of a well stocked bar section three months ago, this void has been filled. Its walls are covered in flamboyant paintings on plywood, and maintains a restaurant-like feel to it; no need to send the kids off to run in the grass as you drink. It has a large flat screen television that is always hooked onto an international news channel. The bar attracts a decent crowd of polished football fanatics over the weekends.
The bar has an extension in the gardens that usually turns into an event venue over the weekends. Beyond the parking lot, which can accommodate about 12 cars, a barbecue kitchen is fast-rising up. I’m told it will be dedicated to Nyama Choma.
Scola Hotel offers accommodation that is tailored to the business traveler, tourist or that person in need of an apartment for short stay. The doubles go for 80 dollars, while a single room goes for $60 (all bed and breakfast). The two VIP suites each go for $100, which comes with cable TV, internet connectivity, microwave and fridge.