By Kari Mutu
The first thing that strikes you about Papa Remo Beach Restaurant on Kenya’s coast is its picturesque seaside view. The restaurant faces two large rock islands overlooking the turquoise green ocean.
Founder Roberto Lenzi, one of the earliest Italian settlers in Watamu town, came to the island in the mid-1990s. At the time, it was a small fishing village.
He chose the Seven Islands bay area for its breathtaking views to set up the family-run restaurant.
A breeze constantly wafts through the shaded, open dining area. The whitewashed tables are set in the sand. I took off my sandals and dug my toes into the pure white sand while we had lunch.
During the windy season from April to June, the indoor restaurant is a comfort able place to sit.
The restaurant clientele is a mix of foreigners, local tourists and Watamu residents. The menu is diverse, mainly inspired by Italian cuisine.
Most ingredients and herbs are sourced locally. The cheese is produced by a Watamu-based cheesemaker. Only a few specialty sauces are imported from Italy.
For appetisers, the octopus and potato salad with olives is unique and delicious. The tuna carpaccio is a light starter or snack option. The Caesar salad has recently been redesigned by chef Federico.
From the pizzeria menu of 19 options, we selected three pizza to share. I liked that they prepare them using a light, thin-crust dough with crispy edges that is then baked in a charcoal fired oven. The seafood selection is fresh and varies depending on the catch of the day.
The chef takes advantage of seasonal ocean riches such as red snapper, tuna or jumbo prawns. Grilled squid with a drizzle of lemon is a simple, tasty delight. The Lobster Catalana combines the best of Kenyan lobsters with a famous dish from the Sardinia region of Italy.
The pasta is homemade. The Papa Remo seafood pasta with tomato sauce is highly recommended as is the Batti Batti pasta made from sea cicadas.
The spices and herbs in the different sauces and dishes enhance yet do not overwhelm the flavours of the main ingredients. If you cannot decide on a seafood dish, try the grilled platter of lobster, prawns, squid and fish fillet.
For non-seafood patrons, there is the option of chicken skewers and chicken cutlets. Meat lovers can also order pork chops, grilled fillet, a hamburger, baby marrow carpaccio or beef scallopini — thin cuts of breaded sautéed steak.
Main courses come with French fries, white rice or grilled vegetables. There are vegetarian options among the starters, pizza and pasta options. The portions are reasonable and prices range between Ksh1,000 ($10) and Ksh 2,600 ($26) for main courses.
To wind up lunch is homemade ice cream from Non Solo Gelato, possibly the best ice cream makers in Watamu. From the bar, you can order freshly squeezed juices, aperitifs, chilled wine and beer or great cocktails such as Moscow Mule, Passion Mojito and Lemon Daiquiri.
Below the restaurant, the pristine sand is set up with beach beds under wide sun umbrellas; welcome cocktails and towels are provided. For a small fee, you can spend the day swimming, sunbathing and, when it is low tide, take a walk to the islands and explore the rock pools.
Papa Remo is open daily for lunch and dinner. The Sunday lunch buffet features grilled meats, and on Thursday nights, the beach party with DJ music is one the most lively places in town.