The Norfolk opened in 1904, making it one of the oldest hotels still in operation in the Kenyan capital. Past guests have included Theodore Roosevelt, Richard Burton and Jane Goodall, and the property featured in the film adaptation of Karen Blixen’s novel Out of Africa. Blixen herself was apparently another frequent guest.
The hotel has been managed by Fairmont, part of French hotel giant Accor, since its centenary in 2004. It has seen numerous renovation projects through the years, in 1999 increasing its room count to 167, but the most recent extensive refurb took place in 2004.
What’s it like?
The hotel’s distinctive frontage and its sloping terracotta roof, covered forecourt and wraparound terrace used to look over the main road and was a place to see and be seen.
Heightened security concerns, particularly in the wake of the terror attack on another hotel earlier this year, have changed all that. An extra exterior wall has been built, and any entering cars are quickly subjected to a search. On foot you must then pass through airport-style scanners. The security staff are good-humoured and welcoming, so it doesn’t feel like too austere an entrance.
You enter directly into the large reception with white walls, a white marble floor and a delicate chandelier, nicely contrasting with pieces of shiny mahogany furniture. Staff here were friendly enough; there was no queue and my bags were taken quickly to my room. On other occasions I noticed big groups entering, so you could get unlucky with this.
Down a small set of stairs is a lounge with various chintz and velvet armchairs and sofas. It would be a good meeting point for groups, though was mainly unoccupied during my stay, with guests instead congregating in the adjacent bar and garden terrace, myself included. English-style afternoon tea can be ordered here.
The property features nice touches such as a book of the hotel’s history lying at the bar, old photographs on the walls and a 1928 Ford Roadster in the garden.
The central garden is one of the hotel’s best features, and many rooms look over this peaceful space. On the lush green lawn, surrounded by foliage, are lampposts, wooden benches and an old carriage. I visited Nairobi during a particularly grey and overcast week but the soft orange lighting that came on at dusk managed to brighten things up a bit.
Where is it?
The hotel is on a busy road and opposite a university building and several high-rise offices, though once inside you feel fully removed from the bustle.
It is just north of the city ‘centre’, though a lot of business activity is moving outwards from this area, as we discuss in a feature in the forthcoming October issue of Business Traveller.
I did quite a lot of walking from the hotel, including to the Maasai Market and Kenyatta International Convention Centre. Staff will advise you not to walk alone at night. I found Uber a big convenience during my trip.
My room was decorated like an old-fashioned English country home, with a checked carpet, beige lampshade, patterned armchair and big furniture pieces including a cabinet and desk. Artwork of Kenyan trees on the walls was one of the only links back to the setting.
Given that most hotels these days seem to be going for a modern, minimalist feel, it definitely transports you back a few decades (though it is clear that the furnishings have been recently refreshed). The bathroom also looked newly-fitted and was all white with a marble countertop.
The large desk was a good place to work, and had a Nespresso machine and various strength pods alongside a phone and notepad.
When I arrived at my room in the morning there was something about it that I found a little cold – possibly because it reminded me of visiting a stately home, or possibly because it was literally a cold day and the heating wasn’t on. However when I returned after the staff had performed an evening turndown service, offering an extra blanket and slippers and turning on the side lights, it felt much cosier.
There is a long list of different room types that can be viewed on booking. All rooms have desks, a safe, TVs, fast wifi and are around 30 sqm. The main difference is the additional outdoor area that higher-tier rooms have, which look out onto the garden. Apologies for the poor lighting below, but imagine that the glass doors have a view of the lawn. Beyond the doors was a ground-floor balcony with two chairs.
Food and drink
Cin Cin Bar was recently refurbished, opting for “1900s British design with modern art influences”. This space is accessible all day and leads on to the Lord Delamere terrace, where I enjoyed a morning coffee.
A breakfast buffet is served here between 0630 and 1000 (1030 on Saturday and Sunday), but I had to head out to a meeting so didn’t try it. Lunch and dinner are also offered, if you want something a bit more casual than the main restaurant, Tatu.
That being said, Tatu is upmarket without being stuffy or pretentious. I appreciate somewhere you can eat alone without feeling too conspicuous, and even though there weren’t many people eating on the night I was there it was very comfortable and the staff were extremely friendly.
A delicious mix of warm homemade breads were served along with garlic and tomato-infused butters, which was all complimentary.
Starters include salads and soups (lobster and wild mushroom) as well as beef carpaccio, salmon gravlax, scallops, iberico ham and crispy fried crocodile, which range between £13 and £16.
A little full having wolfed down what was clearly a sharing portion of bread, I went straight for my main of grilled Mombasa king prawns served on garlicky spinach. These were large, succulent and well-flavoured.
The restaurant specialises in meat and fish, so dishes include salmon, lobster, red snapper, lamb, pork belly, ribs, steaks and duck. Vegetarians aren’t neglected, with five dishes including canneloni, a Mediterranean tart and mushroom ragout. Prices for mains are between £18 and £30, while sides are around £4. There is also a long wine list and various spirit and cocktail options.
A business centre with photocopying facilities and computers is open 0800-2100 Monday to Friday and on Saturday morning.
The hotel also has four boardrooms and eight conference rooms which seat between 20 and 175 people. The biggest are the Ballroom, which features Kenyan artwork and artefacts, and the Tinga Tinga Room, popular for lunches, receptions and conferences.
There is a 24-hour gym, a spa and a heated outdoor pool surrounded by deckchairs. Since the weather was inclement during my visit, here is a picture from the hotel of the area looking more appealing.
A unique hotel with a storied past, today notable for its nice restaurant and bar. Suitable whether you’re heading out on business or safari.
Best for Channelling your inner Robert Redford and/or Meryl Streep
Don’t miss Dinner at Tatu followed by a drink on the terrace at Cin Cin bar
Price A midweek stay in October started from $153/£123, or $180/£144 for a flexible rate
Contact [email protected], + 254 (0)20 2265000