Sitting in the Thorn Tree cafe, yards from the bustling Nairobi high street provides a strange mix of noise and tranquility as traffic builds and dies along with the breeze gently rising and falling as it wafts through the partially open toped and sided cafe area.
The Stanley Hotel and Thorn Tree Cafe occupy the site of the first post office in Kenya and became famous for the thorn tree to which travellers would pin messages for each other. People would leave letters from home, messages and advice for fellow travellers as well as transport enquiries. Basically, think of it as an early form of e-mail (or ‘tree-mail’).
It was also, according to the duty manager, the site where the first Tusker beer was drunk and where Queen Elizabeth forgot her hat the night before she became queen after her father’s death.
It’s also where Ernest Hemingway wrote a few of his short stories and books.
Nowadays, to protect the tree, messages are pinned to a green backed notice board on two sides, although now, notes are written mainly on hotel notepaper and simply state that the writer had been here.
Most of the seating area is covered except for a space in the roof for the torn tree to escape from its confines and enjoy the bright Kenyan sunlight outside.
In many ways it feels like you have traveled back to colonial times, to the ‘Out of Africa’ period, and feels very English.
Plants and patios heaters (for night time) along with the odd coat stand are dotted around and a giant metallic giraffe stands between the tree and the bar, which has bells hanging customer side in case you need to attract the attention of the barman.
I had a few hours to kill early in the morning, so decided to spend them having breakfast in a place I had long wanted to visit but not had the opportunity to before.
Breakfast (as a non-guest) will set you back around £17 but the experience and quality of food and service make it worth every penny.
There is an extensive buffet offering everything from local dishes to the full English along with cakes, donuts, freshly carved fruit which is positioned onto your plate with care and precision by the chef as well as a wide selection of fruits, yoghurts, breads and jams.
Essentially, everything you could ever want from a breakfast is in bounteous supply.
The service is attentive without being invasive with polite smiling staff who will see to your every need and are happy to help.
It isn’t only the service which is excellent, but the cleanliness too.
As soon as people move from their table it is cleaned, along with the floor beneath. As 11 o’clock struck, staff were hard at work cleaning the glass roof and windows but they are very discrete and unless you are actively looking around (as I was) you wouldn’t notice them.
The service staff seem to take a real pride in their work and appear just when you need then to which to me is an indication of a high level of training.
I would thoroughly recommend a visit here if you get the opportunity and if you are looking for somewhere to stay while in the city, I would definitely check the hotel out.
This review was originally written and published on 24 February, 2014.