Romantic seafood: Try mussels for a Friday date night – Business Daily
Seafood lovers have a new reason to dine at the Hemingways Nairobi Hotel, which has recently introduced Mussel Fridays to their menu.
“A couple’s dinner” is what Executive Chef Archie Athanasius calls their Mussel Fridays. He is referring to the aphrodisiac qualities that mussels are reputed to have. These shellfish are rich in zinc, a nutrient known for boosting libido.
Mussels are the national dish of Belgium and Hemingways imports them from this country because they are said to be the best in the world. Sous chef John Njoroge gave us a demonstration of how he prepares them, following the classic method of steamed mussels in their shells.
The recipe calls for some melted butter and garlic sautéed in a heavy base pan. The mussels are covered with a lid and cooked over high heat. Then a generous splash of white wine is added which brings complexity to the flavours.
Mr Njoroge explained that one should only use mussels that are tightly shut together as that is a sign of freshness. Steam from the cooking opens up the shells which is how you know they are cooked. Unopened shells should be discarded as they are probably unsafe to eat.
Next, the mussels were mixed into a simple garlic butter sauce flavoured with salt and pepper. Though they are seafood, mussels have an understated taste which is enhanced by the sauce or other ingredients cooked with them.
The plating was not left to chance. The mussels were brought to the table served black, cast-iron mussel pots with lids, pre-heated to keep the food warm. They were beautifully garnished with micro greens and purple pansies, edible flowers that Hemingways grow themselves.
Paying tribute to the Belgian origins of the shellfish, the mussels were served with thin frites (French fries) in a basket and a garlic sourdough baguette with a garlic mayo spread. This is the typical way they are eaten in Belgium.
As an accompaniment was a side salad with avocados and black olives. All of it was placed on a wooden serving board, basically a thick slice of a tree trunk. The result was a rustic yet elegant look.
Mussels are best eaten by hand. Hemingways provides little forks to pull out the tan-coloured meat from the shells. The mussels had a subtle, mildly salty taste and a slightly chewy texture which was nicely rounded off by the creamy sauce.
At the bottom of the pot was extra sauce which is where the sourdough baguette comes in. You tear off chunks of the bread and use it to mop up the flavoursome sauce.
Though touted as a romantic dinner, I think mussels really lend themselves to a group meal like we had where everybody was digging into their mussel pots and eating French fries with their fingers. For newcomers to seafood, mussels are a gentle introduction to shellfish because of their mild taste.
Being a seafood, steamed mussels are typically paired with dry white wine that does not overwhelm the flavours. With our meal we had a chardonnay, a smooth-tasting wine that is friendly on the palette.
If your preference is something more crispy or fruity, try a Sauvignon Blanc or a Pinot Grigio. A pilsner or pale-ale is the recommended beer to drink with mussels and for a non-alcoholic option, get a citrusy juice that is not very sweet.
For dessert, we indulged in ice cream. There is a new ice cream sundae menu with a delectable selection, all artfully assembled in stemmed glass bowls. Double vanilla ice cream was drizzled with chocolate, strawberry or toffee sauce, and topped with Oreo biscuits, ginger snap cookies, or kiwi fruit.
The Chocolate Ice Cream Sundae was particularly decadent with pieces of brownies, yoghurt, raspberries, nuts and chocolate curls. My favourite was the Strawberry and Vanilla Snickers Sundae with fresh strawberries and a Snickers chocolate bar.