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Nairobi’s 10 best independent cafes

Nairobi’s cafe culture has taken off in a big way, with visitors now being able to pick from a plethora of trendy cafes, each home to bold decor and menus to match. Whether you’re craving a cappuccino or simply want to sit back and watch the world go by, here are Nairobi’s 10 best independent cafes.

A welcoming open window is set above some bar seating (stools made of industrial milk containers with sheepskin cushions) in the outdoor section of the Tin Roof Cafe, one of Nairobi's 10 best independent cafes © Clementine Logan / Lonely PlanetThe Tin Roof Cafe is located in The Souk, which is home to various boutiques and an art gallery © Clementine Logan / Lonely Planet

Tin Roof Cafe

The little Tin Roof Cafe is one of Karen’s best-loved cafes. The generous (and fresh) Ottolenghi salad bar is a favourite with customers, as is their poached eggs on rye with avocado. There are plenty of gluten-free and vegan options here. The smoothies and fresh juices are not to be missed and can be enjoyed in the outdoor seating area under a canopy of trees.

The light-filled interior of Le Grenier à Pain cafe, another of Nairobi's 10 best independent cafes. Behind the wall of windows in this Nairobi cafe are well-spaced tables, patrons, white pillars, wooden floors and a black ceiling. Waiters with bright red aprons are taking orders at tables © Clementine Logan / Lonely PlanetLe Grenier à Pain is justifiably popular due to it producing by far the best pastries in Nairobi © Clementine Logan / Lonely Planet

Le Grenier à Pain

Le Grenier à Pain sells itself as the ‘taste of France in Kenya’, and it isn’t lying. This is the perfect spot to satisfy a sweet tooth, with mouth-watering chocolate eclairs and salted caramel tarts being the firm favourites among the mixed clientele. Savoury quiches, generous salads, and meat and cheese platters are also available – wash it all down with a zingy homemade limonade or jus d’orange pressé.

River Cafe

By far one of the busiest Nairobi cafes at the weekend, River Cafe offers unparalleled views of Karura Forest. Gazing at birdlife or monkeys jumping from branch to branch while you sip on an iced latte, it’s easy to forget you’re in a busy city. The clientele are often in activewear, having just come from a forest run or bike ride (or ready to walk off their meal). There’s a mouth-watering selection of omelettes and steaks on the menu, or you can opt for a light lunch. The Cobb salad is worth a try, and there are plenty of vegetarian options. The cafe is popular with groups and families so be sure to book a table at the weekend.

Row upon row of freshly-baked loaves of bread, one dark rye with walnut and raisins, another white bread with walnuts and cranberries, and another olive ciabatta © Clementine Logan / Lonely PlanetIt may have Tiramisu in its name, but this Nairobi cafe is known for its fresh-out-of-the-oven treats © Clementine Logan / Lonely Planet

Tiramisu Bakery

What it may lack in atmosphere, Tiramisu makes up for with its baking. This modest bakery is a firm favourite among residents of the upmarket Gigiri neighbourhood for its pastries, quiches and wide selection of coffees. There’s a great breakfast selection with healthy options, like warm porridge with banana, cinnamon and honey. Or for lunch, indulge in a toasted piadina (a thin Italian flatbread), oozing with cheese. Situated in the Village Market shopping centre, this is a convenient spot to grab a bite while browsing the stores.

J’s Fresh Bar & Kitchen

J’s, as it’s known to Nairobians, has two locations: one in Westands, the other in Karen. The bustling Westlands branch is more spacious, with a vintage-style interior and eclectic live music on Thursdays. If you’re after gastropub food this should satisfy your craving. J’s has brought the full English breakfast and famous British roast to Nairobi. A variety of light bites are also available – the mango wood smoked sailfish and beef samosas are favourites. If you’re after something sweet, the sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce will keep you coming back. The well-stocked bar offers an impressive selection of cocktails – the tangy rhubarb gimlet is terrific.

Leafy trees shade a large outdoor seating area that is dotted with tables, some on a wooden deck, others on the leaf-covered grass. A bike and candle-lamps hang from an open-slatted roof structure over the deck. Patrons chat, eat and drink, with a family taking over a large table, complete with children (three- and five-year-olds sitting atop the table itself) © Clementine Logan / Lonely PlanetThe Marula Mercantile has a spacious garden and outdoor seating area © Clementine Logan / Lonely Planet

Marula Mercantile

The industrial-style decor of Marula Mercantile sets it apart from the rest of Nairobi’s cafes. The baked crespelle (filled pancake) loaded with spinach and ricotta is a brunch favourite. The Big Merc Burger is also in demand (its secret sauce is the creation of a new chef who has successfully revamped the menu). Afterwards stop by Marula Studios, which combines a vibrant boutique with a flip flop recycling project.

The Arbor

If you find yourself in the leafy Lavington suburb, head to the The Arbor. Its eco-friendly cafe, garden centre and gift shop are nestled in a pretty garden. The cafe is a top pick for sunny weekend brunches, when you’ll find customers tucking into eggs Florentine (with a generous serving of hollandaise sauce) and sipping mimosas under the shade of a jacaranda tree. The Asian dishes, such as creamy laksa noodles, are also popular. There’s also the option of simply relaxing and reading your book in the swing chair.

Patrons chat, read magazines and dine. The floors are polished concrete and the tables are shabby chic with benches covered in brightly-coloured African fabrics © Clementine Logan / Lonely PlanetThe humble little Wasp & Sprout cafe may have an unassuming exterior, but step inside and it’s full of lively, Afro-chic decor © Clementine Logan / Lonely Planet

Wasp & Sprout

Wasp & Sprout has built an impressive reputation among Nairobians and expats, with its cosy atmosphere drawing in those who want to work or socialise. Breakfast options include ricotta griddle cakes and a mouth-watering variety of baked eggs, as well as fresh juices (try the cloudy apple), and the Kenyan AA coffee packs a punch. The Magic Dust Chicken Burger is as intriguing as it is packed full of flavour, and the sticky date pudding with ice cream is a must. The open mic and quiz nights always attract a crowd.

Amani Kenya Garden Cafe

If tranquility is what you’re after, then Amani (meaning peace) is the perfect spot. Escape the hustle, bustle and traffic of Nairobi in their shady garden. This rustic cafe is the place for hearty Africa-inspired soups and salads (the Serengeti salad is a top pick). Amani’s spicy masala tea or hot lemon, honey and ginger will warm you up on any chilly morning. This is a very family-friendly space with a small playground for children. Afterwards, stop by the Amani ya Juu shop to browse its colourful selection of handmade, fair trade products.

Wooden chairs with large white cushions hang from chains in a very leafy outdoor garden. Patrons relax while sipping coffee © Clementine Logan / Lonely PlanetBoho Eatery is set in the type of sweeping garden that is typical of the Karen neighbourhood © Clementine Logan / Lonely Planet

Boho Eatery

This is one of Nairobi’s most vegetarian- and vegan-friendly cafes. Eat out in the garden, or sit in the elegant, wooden-floored interior. The kitchen offers plenty of fresh, healthy dishes that are kind to the waistline, including the acai bowl with coconut granola, Malaysian laksa or falafel platter. The Bliss Burger with pulled beef brisket is one of the most popular meals and the apple pie pancakes are a moreish brunch special. Afterwards, stop by the Upepo Photography Gallery, where you can get your hands on an impressive selection of limited edition Kenyan prints.

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