By Moses Opobo
Saffron Beach Bistro is nestled among the back-to-back row of exquisite, beach-front hospitality establishments along Nambi Road in Entebbe.
Walking through the main entrance and peering in, one is immediately struck by the imposing, purple and brown-themed exterior décor of the storeyed main building right ahead, a colour theme that apparently has a lot to do with the name – Saffron.
To your right is a strip of well-manicured garden seating with two imposing palm trees standing sentry, adjacent to which is another striking feature – an art installation featuring two mountain gorillas seated face-to-face, and in seeming conversation.
To the left is the low-roof, bamboo crafted beach bistro restaurant and beyond, the kitchens. All these are set strategically in direct view of the hotel’s leafy beachfront terrace, which eases into the gentle ebb of Lake Victoria.
So what’s in the name Saffron, anyway?
Well, saffron is a rare and spicy herb much revered for its culinary uses and health benefits, and whose origins can be traced to Iran. Reputed to be among, if not the most expensive spices in the world.
The entire hotel’s exterior and interior décor are fashioned around saffron – the green in the gardens and beach terrace for its green leaves, while the purple and brown on the walls, right down to the curtains and furniture all take inspiration from the plant’s brown seeds and purple bloom.
Chef Vinod, who prepared our dinner of chicken tikka and fried rice when I and a friend visited on a late Monday evening, had this to say:
“Traditionally, authentic Indian food is based on spices and herbs, which are of much use, health-wise. Every spice that goes into Indian food has a health dimension to it.”
Still, one notices the hotel is conspicuously devoid of the typical red and gold-themed décor so commonplace in Indian-owned establishments. Reason?
“We are not necessarily targeting an Indian market, and indeed we have few Indian clients. We target Ugandans who love Indian food, and foreigners generally,” explained Rahul Patidar, the owner.
He opened the first Saffron in Kampala in 2010, then as just a restaurant. Seven years on, another branch was born in Jinja under the same banner.
About two years ago, Rahul decided to spread his wings into new horizons of hotel, restaurant and accommodation. After selling off the two restaurants in Kampala and Jinja, he bounced back with Saffron Beach Bistro.
On why the choice of Entebbe as a new base, the seasoned hotelier pointed to the fact that it is “not so crowded” as compared to Kampala, and not as far off from the capital city as Jinja. Not to forget the added advantage of the easier commute from Kampala brought on by the commissioning of the Entebbe Express Highway.
This phenomenon, he reckons, allows for one to sleepover at a hotel in Entebbe, rise in the morning, and dash to the city for that early morning conference or meeting.
Indian cuisine scene in Entebbe
Today, the Indian cuisine scene in Entebbe is comprised of two or three other Indian establishments at different locations within Entebbe town – these being typical restaurants as opposed to hotels.
From his expansive multi-cuisine kitchen, Vinod, the head chef, promises to have your meal on the table in 15-20 minutes from the time you place your order, as indeed did ours.
And it’s not all Tandoori ovens and Indian spices in his kitchen, but anything else of your palette’s favour – from local, continental, to barbecue and pizza.
Vinod and his employer have known each other since 2005, when the former first set foot in Kampala, so the chemistry between the two transcends that of just boss and subordinate.
Jolly-faced and soft-spoken, he holds a Bachelors in Hotel Management from India’s Institute of Hotel Management, from which he graduated in 2002. He worked brief stints in India and Johannesburg, South Africa, before moving to Kampala in 2005. Returning to India in 2013, he only returned to Uganda in January last year, to reconnect with his current boss.
Saffron Beach Bistro clientele
Saffron receives its bookings largely from tourists from the US, with a steady stream of Ugandans coming in mostly for honeymoons, wedding parties at the coveted beachfront, or simply to savour Indian culinary delights.
Increasingly popular, too, are romantic dinner dates, and luxury boat cruises within a 10 km radius of the property – usually to the botanical gardens and nearby islands.
The hotel has of late carved a niche among people looking for romantic destinations, honeymooners, world travellers, the business class, newlyweds on holiday taking out the romantic honeymoon suite, and the regular fly-in tourist.
Spectacular beach view terrace, indoor bistro restaurant, bonfire nights, boat cruises, self-cooking, beach parties and events, and pilgrimage-worthy mocktails and cocktails.
Also new on the activities menu is an exclusive luxury boat cruise, and for as low as Shs20,000, a go at the hotel’s water scooters for a 30-minute ride.
The facility further boasts two honeymoon suites, five individual rooms, with additional rooms by way of cottages in the offing.
While there are no conventional conference facilities as yet, they do host small team building events that are most popular with corporate clients.
Safaris and tours
The hotel offers fly-in guests airport pickups and drop-offs, facilitates gorilla trekking expeditions, arranges safaris and tours to Kidepo, Bwindi, Queen Elizabeth and Murchison Falls national parks, and the Rwenzori Mountains.
There are also game safaris and Entebbe Tours to Ngamba Chimp sanctuary, Entebbe Zoo, the Botanical Gardens, local craft markets, and Visa extension services for tourists.
Saffron kasa (kasa is Indie for saffron).