Jambo and welcome.
It is unusual for a promotion to harm the future of a business, however there are precedents set for that happening. Hoover's free flights promotion in the early nineties cost the company millions when they gave away flights worth several times the price of the item they were selling. Hoover UK ended up sold on and the negative publicity destroyed the reputation of a well known national company. I fear that may also be the case with Jambo, which would be a shame. A new and exciting restaurant for Falkirk whose Groupon promotion may do more harm than good. I have eaten here twice, sat at the same table actually and tragically have two very different tales to tell.
The first visit was a dinner with two of my usual comrades, we tend to go out, eat lots of meat and put the world to rights. So when we heard of a new African restaurant in Falkirk that served authentic cuisine from that, sadly, under represented part of the world we jumped at the chance. I booked a table for three online via their website mid afternoon on a weekday and within minutes had a personal email back confirming my booking, so far so good. I met up with the boys in one of the town centre pubs before walking a few minutes down Grahams Road to the restaurant. The entrance is an unpretentious doorway into a close and you climb up a flight of steps, which is the only way up to the first floor. You have to overcome a niggling doubt that you may have entered someone's house as only a wine rack filling one alcove suggests you have arrived at your destination.
We were greeted by a young lady whose cheerfulness and happy smiles was in sharp contrast to the dour scowls we had received for daring to inconvenience the staff at the previous establishment by wanting a drink. We were led into the restaurant, which was very clean and well presented, if a little dated. We took our seat at a clothed table with linen napkins and I was started to think I had landed in an episode of Ashes to Ashes. Only the replacement of a Human League/Spandau Ballet soundtrack with that of appropriate African tunes brought me back to the present. An effort has been made with some suitably themed pictures and you can keep yourselves entertained by trying to guess which flag hung on the wall represents which African country. But this is not a blog about the Ideal Home Show so lets forget the décor and move on...
The menu is fairly substantial, there is a good selection of starters, although only one is vegetarian, however I get the impression the chef would have no problem rustling something else up. The mains again are limited for vegetarians, however for meat eaters there is beef, lamb chicken and goat! It seems a shame with all this authentic African food to have a section devoted to “Taste of Britain” and I would like to ask questions to anyone who is heading down to Jambo Grill and then orders haggis stuffed chicken!
We ordered both the Chicken and Lamb samosas and some Beef Mshikaki. Main course was simple: we all went for the Mixed Grill Meat Platter. The friendly waitress pointed out the absence of any side orders and recommended some vegetables to go with our meat, I suppose a balanced diet is important! Good up-selling skills or a genuine regard for our vitamin intake, I am undecided.
A few minutes after we had placed our order the waitress returned with one of those little wicker baskets with four bread rolls in it and placed it on the table along with a few little portions of foil wrapped butter, argh.....! (Pet hate, really dislike pre-packed butter) Now I am no expert on African cuisine, but I am fairly certain four inch long catering rolls, the type you get at every Christmas party and every three star hotel you've ever been to, are not an authentic representation of African bread. The question is why? I was not expecting bread before my starter, I didn't even want bread, even nice warm fresh out the oven bread. If you are going to give something away why not do something in keeping with the theme of the restaurant?
The starters arrived pretty quick and it was all clearly made with care by the chef, the samosas probably prepared that morning and then served to just boiling hot straight out the fryer, but alas those dreaded wicker baskets again. Wooden bowls or coloured china, anything more authentic to an African restaurant than a browny-yellow basket, please. The food was however exceptional, well spiced, full of flavour and good sized portions. If ever a restaurant was going to be judged on its food it would be one as unique as this and it had now impressed. We were now awaiting our meat platter in much the same way a Lion looks at a limping gazelle, we knew it was just a matter of time.
A reasonable amount of time passed and then the sound of sizzling could be heard from the kitchen. A metal skillet, as you often now see fajitas served on, was placed in front of me and it was just full of different cuts of meat. There was a chicken leg, skewer of beef chunks and peppers, lamp chop and pork steak. There was also an 'African sausage' I meant to ask what was in it, but got side-tracked tucking into my feast. The other two platters that came out had the same meat, but they had chicken breast and their sausages, clearly handmade, were different sizes. The waitress, ever smiling, presented our sides and then talked us through them, the Irio (peas and sweetcorn mashed with potato) was particularly good. Just as we thought we were ready to begin our host returned with a wooden stand containing four little pots of sauce. We were introduced to each one, with a warning, the chilli sauce is hot!
Well we all tucked in and the meat was nicely cooked, lightly seasoned but not overly spiced. It was the sides and the sauces that combined with the meat brought the best out of each flavour. Now after trying various combinations of meat and sauce I took a piece of chicken and dipped it in the chilli sauce, I mean really how hot could it be...
Oh my golly gosh
were not the first words that sprung to mind, but this is a family site. My mouth was on fire, steam was coming out of my ears, my face was red and then like in the cartoons my head turned into a thermometer, the mercury rose all the way to the top and then exploded.
I have no idea of the Scoville rating for that sauce, but it was hot. I am talking surface of the sun, molten lava, Bikini Atoll 1946 hot. Do not under-estimate the chilli sauce!
Luckily the waitress had returned with the drinks she had just offered us, another example of the good service and so I managed to extinguish my head. I was glad I had tasted everything and decided how superb it was prior to the chilli sauce. After that my taste buds packed a suitcase and went on a two week all inclusive holiday to Marbella so I can't tell you much more.
We skipped deserts and settled our bill, between three of us two courses with the sides and a couple of drinks and a tip reflecting the very attentive service set us back just over twenty five pounds each.
Here is where the second, regrettably less positive half of the tale begins. Following the good food and good service I recommended to my wife that we returned with our two and a half year old for a family meal. I was even sent an email from Jambo recommending a Groupon voucher at £19 for two courses , wow thought I even more reason to return.
Well we did so, nothing had changed, the restaurant was immaculate the service friendly and attentive, I thought to myself a good choice, I’ll be in the families good books for this one.
Then we said we had a Groupon voucher and it all went horribly, horribly wrong...
A specially laminated piece of paper was presented, gone was the wide and varied selection I had previously chosen now I had to chose from what is effectively the fixed price lunch menu, a couple of starters and a few main courses, nearly all rice based. I was devastated, but I had paid my pennies to Groupon so I had to put up with the “bargain” I was about to receive. We asked for a children’s menu and this left me more disappointed. It would appear that the “Home of the most Exotic African Taste” does not stretch to the children’s menu, it was all chicken nuggets, burgers and chips. Now my little person has been brought up on proper, home-made food prepared from fresh ingredients, a Turkey Twizzler has never passed her lips and if you asked her to get you some sweets from the cupboard, she would return with dried apricots or some raisins. This is not unusual and when we eat out she eats the same as us generally. She has enjoyed curries, Thai, Chinese, Mexican, but a taste of Africa, no she gets chicken sodding nuggets. You get the feeling I was less than impressed by the children’s menu. These are your customers of the future, do not patronise them, or their parents, by only providing for the lowest common denominator, some children want to try different things!..
Anyway I won't dwell too much more on the second visit. We got our starters, then two huge portions of rice (Jellof and Wali wa Nazi) that neither of us managed to finish, piling the plate full only gives a false sense of value for money. The service was again super friendly and I cannot fault it. I know for a fact if I had requested a half portion of anything for my little person it would have been prepared for us with no problems at all, but really this should be on the menu. My wife left very disappointed and I got in bother for making such a recommendation.
My point, eventually, returns us neatly to the beginning. If I had based my review solely on the Groupon voucher menu and food I would never have returned to Jambo. It may be a great way to get customers in, but the menu is so limited it fails to demonstrate the abilities of the chef, which from my first visit I know to be very good. I am worried how many customers may have thought likewise. The voucher may generate customers, but if they only see a watered down, diluted version of a great product, then no matter how cheap it is they will not return. The full menu is immense, the service cannot be faulted there is no need to ruin a good reputation by trying to make some quick money.
I shall return again, if only to convince my better half that I did not make some spurious recommendation! I get the feeling this entry has a “to be continued...”
UPDATE November 2013
We want to be seen as supporters of restaurants, bars, cafe's and producers and aim to give constructive advice where we see learning points. Jambo is brilliant and clearly agree with this and they have seen our review and left the following reply:-
Many thanks for taking time to write your very elaborate review on our restaurant as it is from honest customers like yourself that we are able to keep improving our services.
We therefore take good note of everything you have said and want to assure you that this is just the beginning as we have good long term plans for Jambo Grill and will not stop until we turn it to one that will give our customers (young and old) the complete African Dining Experience.
For now we concentrate on serving good food which we are glad you seem to have enjoyed including the "CHILLI".... Boy oh boy!! no-one explains it better! HILARIOUS!!
We sincerely do hope to see you and family again when you will be able to experience some of the changes that we are and will continue to introduce.
ASANTE SANA - THANK YOU VERY MUCH.