Kampala's Centenary Park
Centenary Park in Kampala.

Kampala's Centenary Park

The best Italian pizzas in Kampala...

By Olive Eyotaru
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First published: January 22, 2008

Two years ago, Centenary Park, located next to Jinja Road roundabout was an unimaginable mess. It was a notorious haven for many of Kampala city's pickpockets, rapists, drug dealers... the lot! As a result, Centenary Park became a no-go zone for many. They would make sure that they walked through the park only during daytime. However, this did not help matters much as the hoodlums changed tactics and started harassing passers-by even in broad daylight.

The criminals in the Centenary park would elude the police officers who wanted to arrest them, diving into the trenches in this partly swampy area or just hiding in the overgrown grass. Eventually, locals completely stopped using the park. Even when thugs around the area substantially reduced in numbers, thick bushes continued to cover the park. The place became a public toilet of sorts as pedestrians wishing to ease themselves found it a convenient spot to answer nature's calls.

All this changed recently when the park was leased out to a company to be developed. Nnalongo Estates, owned by Sarah Kizito, took the task of making sure that Centenary Park befits its name and purpose to become a public park where people can sit and relax, meters away from the middle of the city. Today, Ugandans and foreigners alike flock to the place to admire the magnificent scenery offered by the well-mown lawns, scenic flower rows and gardens punctuated by bars and restaurants. The developments have given the city a greener look.

Centenary Park is located one kilometer east from the city center. Being located in the city makes it convenient for revelers who access it without much hassle. The strategically located signposts give both pedestrians and motorists little choice but to check out a place that has added food and drinking services to relaxing and enjoying nature. At the main entrance, a huge signpost reveals what the park has in store - bars, restaurants and gardens. 

Café Roma al Parco

Opened about four months ago, Café Roma is the first restaurant you will see when you enter the park. The sign post boldly stands out, welcoming all guests not only to the eatery but also to the entire park. African chairs and tables dot the green and neatly mowed lawn. The restaurant's sitting area is an open area with a bar right next to it. Adjacent to the bar is the pizzeria. The aroma wafting to visitors from the pizzeria is tempting enough for one to immediately order for any of the many types of pizzas on offer.

Café Roma al Parco
Cafe Roma al Parco.

Giulio and Anna Filippini Balla, the owners of the restaurant, say that they make the best Italian pizzas in Kampala. Giulio (read Julio) says that their clientele is huge and usually, by the end of a working day, the chef is very tired... courtesy of the huge orders hungry customers keep making. At Café Roma, pasta is a favorite for most customers. Made the Italian way, Giulio says that it is the most ordered meal at the restaurant. There are four types of pasta offered - Sphaghetti, Fusilli, Tagliatelle and Penne.

Giulio and Anna Balla, owners of Cafe Roma al Parco
Giulio and Anna Balla, owners of Café Roma al Parco.

Coffee lovers are not left out because espresso and cappuccino are available. For those who might not want to go Italian, steaks, fish and pork chops would be the next option. All these are accompanied by fries and salad or rice and vegetables. Wine imported straight from Italy is sold at Café Roma, so you can always surprise your lover by buying a bottle of sparkling or red wine to spice up a romantic evening at the restaurant. Those with a sweet tooth will be elated to know that pure Italian ice cream is beckoning at Café Roma. Giulio says that ice cream is usually served as dessert to the diners. Café Roma al Parco is open every day (except Mondays) from 10 a.m to 10.30 p.m.

Effendy's Turkish Restaurant and Secret Gardens

Located right in the middle of Centenary Park, the Turkish restaurant opened in January 2007. Shaida Khurshid, the manager, says that the idea of setting up the restaurant was to bring Turkey closer to Uganda. He says that the location is prime as it is so near the city center and easy to access. "There is an abundant supply of fresh air and transport costs to get here are low". 

The dining area welcomes every visitor. Opposite it is a bar that displays all sorts of drinks but there is one thing that will surely catch your eye. The pot-like objects at one side of the bar are an attraction that many people do not miss. Shaida says that they are used for smoking shisha. Demonstrating how such the shisha (or hookah) is used, Shaida explains that cold water is poured into a pot but whiskey can also be used. Tobacco is then placed into the top, before sealing it tightly with foil. The tobacco is then lit and the smoker can puff away.

Shaida Khurshid demonstrates the use of a shisha
Shaida Khurshid demonstrates the use of a shisha.

Effendy's meals are exquisite as they serve fifty seven types of Turkish dishes. Apart from that, they offer all sorts of meat in their mixed grill dish, which comprises of beef, liver, chicken and lamb, accompanied by rice and fries. In the evenings, during Ramadan, (I visited the place during the Moslems' holy month of Ramadan) a buffet service is available.

Outside the restaurant is a neat lawn where parties are usually held. It is big enough to accommodate about a hundred guests. The lawn leads you to the Secret Garden, tucked away in the corner. It is not your usual garden because it is a sitting area complete with African reed chairs. This place, Shaida says, is conducive for those who would like to have a quiet moment with family, friends or companions. Slow Turkish and French music is always played in the background to soothe guests' souls. The restaurant is in a typical Turkish setting. Shaida says that this is done to give it a feel of the real ambience back in Turkey.

Effendy's Secret Garden
Effendy's Secret Garden.

For football lovers, GTV and DStv services are available. Turkish Television is also played for Turks in Uganda to catch up with what is happening in their motherland. Movie lovers can catch a movie every day of the week at Effendy's. Saturdays are a treat for live music lovers as the Off Cut band performs here. Sundays are for karaoke lovers, with many a soul coming here to belt their heart out. For internet lovers at Effendy's, wireless internet is available. So, one can sit down and log onto their favorite website while sipping their favorite beer. The restaurant is open every day and only closes when the last customer leaves.

For many Ugandans with a penchant for foreign food, this is the place to find hot, spicy food and drinks. At Centenary Park is also found the Choma Espresso Bar and Restaurant. Located next to Effendy's, Choma Espresso offers coffee lovers all types of coffee. There is a variety of dishes offered for you to pick from. There is an enclosed as well as an open sitting area where you can make yourself comfortable.

The Chinese Restaurant is a few meters from Choma. Like its name suggests, it mainly has Chinese food on the menu.

Vitamin Café is what can be termed as a real family spot. As you approach Vitamin Café, you see bright-colored swings and slides, with the sound of children laughing and enjoying themselves while their parents watch from the restaurant. Many parents bring their kids out to Vitamin Café mainly on weekends and during school holidays.

Bridal Gardens

The bridal gardens are the most attractive and captivating feature at the Centenary Park. A small bridge ushers you into the gardens. The walkway to the gardens is amazing. As one walks through arches covered with green, crawling plants and neatly designed flower rows, one feels like they are walking the road leading to the gates of heaven.

Right in the middle of the walkway is a crossroad that leads to other sections of the gardens. There is an area where wrought iron seats have been placed for people to relax, a few meters from a fountain. This spot is popular with newly wed couples that take photographs on their big day in a beautiful setting. Gracie, a social worker who always visits the gardens to relax, is all praises for the gardens. She vows that her wedding photos will be taken here at Centenary Park at all costs. "I believe these are the first bridal gardens in Uganda. Who ever imagined that we would have our own Eden in the city?"

The walkway to the bridal garden
The walkway to the bridal garden.

The gardens are not a spot for newly wedded couples only - lovers have found it an endearing haven. Bob Drani says he enjoys bringing his girlfriend down to the gardens so that they can talk endlessly without any disruptions.

What does it cost for one to enjoy this relaxing place, full of natural enrichment, that turns stress or boredom into enjoyable moments? You will be suprised, and grateful that there is no entrance fee attached to entering Centenary Park. Neither is there a single charge for you to park in the large parking space available here. Centenary Park is fast becoming Kampala's haven of choice, more so because it neighbours Hotel Africana, Garden City, Golf Course Hotel, and the many roads and junctions that lead to different suburbs of the city. If you knew Centenary Park before its transformation, just give the place a visit and you will realise why it has become a favourite hangout for people who used to abhor it.

By Olive Eyotaru
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First published: January 22, 2008
To learn more about Ultimate Media Consult go to www.ultimatemediaconsult.com.

Olive Eyotaru Yemima is a graduate of Mass Communication. She first worked with Ultimate Media in 2005 as an intern and returned in 2007 as a features writer.

A Ugandan talented creative writer, Eyotaru now writes for both the local and international media and continues to shine in the media every day that passes.