Name: Tamarai Restaurant, Tea Bar & Lounge
Location: Kampala, Uganda
Local location: 14 Lower Kololo Terrance
Description/Brief History: Established in Kampala in 2012, Tamarai is a Pan-Asian restaurant that specialises in Thai Cuisine, with a Tea Bar that boasts over 15 different flavours! Tamarai has three venues on site: the restaurant, the tea bar, and the lounge. The tea bar was the first ever to open in Uganda and all the different teas are specially imported from Sri Lanka! The teas can be enjoyed both hot or cold, or even as a tea mocktail. The lounge area is set at the back with a wide variety of shisha choices, as well as a well-stocked bar with snacks to munch on! The bar section of the lounge has a televisions, wifi and very comfortable furniture. What really catches the vibe, aside from the star services and variety of options of seating area to choose from, is the beautiful decorations that is not found commonly in Uganda. At night, the place comes to life with fairy lights and dimmed lights to give the place a warm feeling. The restaurant side is accompanied by soft Thai music to give visitors a more authentic Thailand feel, and the lounge and bar play a lovely selection of Afro music, giving the whole place a perfect balance.
My Personal Experience(s)
I have gone to Tamarai for their food, tea and shisha/hookah for as long as I remember. They excel in these three aspects highly in terms of quality, however what keeps me going there is the overall vibe of the place and top-notch service! The overall atmosphere of the three different sections of Tamarai is beautiful, as it is decorated with antique-looking Thai decor and at night the place looks absolutely magical with the fairy lights and ambient lighting.
The place is overall very clean and even the bathrooms are scrubbed down and kept to high standards in terms of cleanliness. As for service, you are greeted by a host/hostess immediately after arrival who is very friendly and welcoming. Once you have been ushered to your seat, they ensure that you get the menu and serve the food/tea/shisha in a timely manner. What I loved the most about the services at Tamarai is they keep checking in to make sure that everything is going well, without being too intrusive. When having shisha, the waiter ensures that your shisha is constantly topped with charcoal and kept fresh. However one small drawback that brings it down to a four star in terms of service is that when the place is a little busy, even when you call in the waiter/waitress a couple times – they don’t check in on you or keep your shisha coal topped as frequently as they should.
When I went for the tea, I was baffled by the countless choices. With over 15 different tea flavours, and the option to have your tea in the form of hot, cold or tea mocktails, you will certainly not get bored from the options. The tea itself is served in cute matching cups and saucers, with many snack options to choose from on the side. In addition to the teas, the bar is well-known for its cocktail options – especially on their famous Thirsty Thursdays! Sneak peek into the Bar Menu (full version on their Facebook page includes additional tea and other drink options):
As for the food menu, there is a wide variety of options both for chicken/fish/meat lovers, as well as for vegetarians or vegans – all that fall within the diverse Thai cuisine. The menu includes many options for appetisers including soups and salads, stir-fries and curries, and a fusion selection. Your meal can be either served with a side of noodles of rice. I loved the menu’s presentation as it is both creative and organised in a very simple and easy-to-navigate manner.
My favourite option whenever I come here for food is to get the Vegetarian Platter (you pick four of the following: dim sum, spring rolls, fried tofu, Kung Pao potatoes, or salt and pepper vegetables) as an appetiser, and the stir-fried cashew nut (you can choose any meat or the vegetarian option) with a side of rice. The last time I went I was a little disappointed with the chicken quality (I picked chicken) as it was a bit dry, but the cashew nut sauce was up to par! I was also a little disappointed with the spring rolls as I personally thought they could have been done a little better -they were too soft and the dough too thick, and lacked the crispy touch. Nonetheless, the overall quality of the food was great, definitely not anything less than a four star.
At first I was a little taken aback by the price of the meals, with the vegetarian platter at almost $20 (70,000 UGX)! However given the huge portions of the meals and top-notch service, it is understandable why the price is so high – nonetheless the quality of the food could have been a lot better given the high-end price. As for presentation, I was very impressed with the way the food was presented. I looked so good! I don’t know about you, but presentation of food is at least 40% of what attracts me to a restaurant and I must say – Tamarai nails it.
When it comes down to the lounge, I love coming to Tamarai with friends to hang out even if I am not having a full meal. Not only do they offer a lot of options for tea and cocktails, but they also have THE best shisha. I love the way they make their shishas, you can tell that they keep it clean and use the best flavours possible (shout out to Al Fakher). The first time I ever tried passion fruit shisha (def. a suggestion here!) was at Tamarai, and I was not disappointed. I also love how they keep the shisha coal fresh without you asking for it – unless it’s a busy day where service may slow down a little. Additionally, as I said earlier, their music taste is really on point. At the restaurant area, you are surrounded with ambient, soft Thai music that really gives you that out-of-Uganda feel. At the lounge, you’ll be hearing the best Afrobeats and even a few old classics! I really appreciated the balance. Overall, the choices you have at Tamarai makes it the perfect spot to visit on a regular.
To Sum It Up…
Value for money:
- Very clean
- Very attractive presentation of food & drinks, as well as the general seating area
- Service is very friendly and personable, and given that it isn’t too busy is very quick
- Loved the atmosphere, the beautiful decor and overall vibes make me want to go back on a regular just to de-stress! They should totally add a spa.
- Music choice(s) are perfect depending on the area to choose to sit it
- Slower service on busy night – a four star, could be adjusted to improve on busier nights
Suggestion: I would suggest that they get more waiters/waitresses on busy nights/busier hours just to keep up with the demand.
- Food quality – a four star, but could be improved slightly to give it a five
Suggestion: The food tastes amazing, I just found the vegetarian options done a lot better in comparison to the meat options. Given that I am a big meat eater, this was a little odd (I usually tend to favour the meat options a little more). Either they eliminate the meat/vegetarian option for some meals where the meat option won’t be up to standards, or have quality checks to ensure that the meat is done better for some of those meals (aka. dry chicken could be marinated for a longer time to give it a more appropriate texture and more fulsome flavour). The vegetarian options are great though.
- Price – reduced a little, or improve food quality
Suggestion: As I mentioned earlier, the food price is understandable given that the portions are HUGE. However it is a little disappointing to pay such high prices for the chicken to come out dry, and the spring rolls to be a little cold. So I would suggest that they either make sure that food quality checks are being done on a regular, or reduce the price a little.
I would highly suggest Tamarai as a go-to spot – whether you want to have a cup of tea or grab a cocktail with your friends, or have a well-made shisha with the friendliest of services, or even if you just want to have a really filling meal of high-quality Thai cuisine. The best part of this place is the many options it gives you in all three aspects – restaurant food, tea, cocktails and general drinks at the bar, and many shisha flavour options and combinations. The cherry on the top however, will definitely be the one of a kind vibes you get from the overall decorations and seating areas. I definitely rate Tamarai as one of my favourite places to go to in Kampala.