Pili-pili or piri-piri (African bird’s eye chili) is a wild and domesticated chili pepper indigenous to East Africa. Without a doubt this plant, when added as a flavour enhancer or seasoning, in its various forms provides a distinctive hotness to a meal. Some swear by it and will not touch a meal before it is added.
The name also refers to a restaurant situated in the upscale neighborhood of Kibagabaga. Located on KG 303 Street, this establishment is one I found to be rather tasteful with basic wooden furniture set up in the dining on the upper level. In the evening, the view from the dining is simply stunning.
The bright lights that define Kigali City at night cannot be seen better anywhere else. I chose a table by the corner straight from the entry point. This provided me with a panoramic view of the dining and the guests. Save for my raging war with mosquitoes, the experience was pleasurable.
The ground level boasts of one of the biggest bars I have seen in Rwanda and was at first glance fully stocked. However, when I asked for a Bloody Mary, it simply could not be made for there was no tomato juice! The sports enthusiast would be at home here with multiple screens showing a variety of sporting events.
The lower level also boasts of a swimming pool that is not too big. This leaves ample space for a garden that accommodates seating space for patrons. I found the ambience very comfortable, the décor simple but in good fashion and I fell in love with the electro-pop and house music coming out of the speakers.
Pili-Pili attracts a largely foreign customer base as well as affluent Rwandans. I figured I would try the food.
On this particular night, I opted for the Mombasa fresh tuna and avocado tartare. This was available on the specials menu. As a chef, I always opt for the specials because this probably means that the resident chef is good at the specials and will always put in a good effort. The price was also one of the cheapest options available.
Rwanda being very far from any coast of Africa means Tuna is not readily available. The dead giveaway that my meal would not be authentic was the price. Being a special or not, Tuna cannot come that cheap and still be fresh. It turns out my gut feeling was right on the money. The fish was delicately cooked and seasoned as it should. Nothing spoils fish like overwhelming it with heat and spice.
But this was no Tuna for the recipe requires very fresh raw Tuna. The best we can do here is frozen and shipped Tuna which no health conscious restaurateur would want to serve raw.
The Tartare was indeed fresh and also delicately seasoned, the chef finding a good balance of wasabi sauce, lime juice, salt and pepper. The jalapeno and sesame seeds added extra flavour. I also gave marks to the simple arrangement that my meal was on a plate. No fancy French restaurant mini portions. This was a good portion size and justified the price. Not too much.
On a sour note, the service was slow, almost lethargic in nature. This unfortunately is a character trait in the industry here in Rwanda. I would have expected a little more from Pili-Pili.
The above notwithstanding, Pili-Pili is a good restaurant to have a good meal in. I would suggest that one opt for the pizza or barbeque options as these seem to be meals that will be authentic. I would also suggest that sitting on the upper level for a serene dining experience would be an ideal choice.When it finally arrives, that lunch is a very good thing, at least at first.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mr. Michael Musinguzi Bageine has a decade of experience as a chef and hotel/restaurant manager having worked with illustrious establishments such as Imperial Royale Hotel, Protea Hotel (Entebbe), Steak out Bar and Restaurant, Volar club and Restaurant (Ngong Race Course, Nairobi) amongst others.
He is also the owner of 1311 Consultants, A restaurant, Hotel and Kitchen management consultancy based in Kampala and Kigali. He can also be found in several restaurants around the region as a guest chef.