We were delighted to discover the otherworldly Ali Barbour Cave Restaurant during our recent stay in Diani Beach, Kenya. Thought to be up to 180,000 years old, the multi-chambered coral cave reaches depths of up to 10 meters below ground - and it's been converted into a world-renowned fine dining establishment. Just a stone's throw from the Indian Ocean and beautiful white sand beaches, the restaurant offers an unparalleled selection of wines, locally-sourced seafood, all sorts of meat dishes, and a vegetarian menu available nowhere else in the country.
Tracy Barbour told Inhabitat that when her grandfather first purchased the property in the 1950s, he had no idea that the cave was there. But one day about three decades ago, her parents were clearing parts of the land and couldn’t have been more surprised to discover this rare gem. With acute prescience, they decided to transform the space into a fine dining restaurant, and it has since become one of the most popular and beloved eating establishments in all of Kenya.
From the outside, Ali Barbour’s cave restaurant looks like any other building in the coastal region, but everything that is ordinary stops after entering a foyer decked out with tasteful Arab furnishings. From there a spiral staircase descends first into a bar area and then into the main part of the restaurant. A giant opening in the cave’s roof provides views of a star-filled sky, enhancing an already mystical ambience. Impeccable quality food and drink are served by a quiet, gentle staff.
Although pricier than some Kenyan restaurants, the restaurant is very reasonable when compared to similar western establishments, and far more sustainable. In addition to growing many of their own vegetables and using nearby meat suppliers, the Barbour family strives to source all of their food locally in order to bolster their community’s economy. Not only a fantastic example of adaptive re-use, the site provides a small insight into the remarkable natural history of Kenya’s southern coast.
All images © Tafline Laylin for Inhabitat