DonQui decides to try out the highly recommended Tea House Restaurant on the rooftop of the Emerson Spice hotel for dinner.
Being tucked down the back streets of Stone Town the Emerson Spice is a bit tricky to find. Although he has a fairly good nose for direction DonQui eventually has to admit defeat and ask for directions — something he absolutely hates doing.
Up several flights of wooden stairs of the beautifully restored merchant’s house and DonQui finds himself on the rooftop terrace. Dinner, a five course seafood tasting menu, starts at 7 and he was advised to arrive an hour earlier to watch the sunset over the town,
He is glad he did.
The restaurant is quite small, taking a maximum of 30 diners so booking is essential. They take a deposit on booking. Tonight there are about a dozen people dining and quite a few others come up for a drink to watch the sunset.
DonQui selects a South African pinot noir to drink. It is a light red, served chilled like the Alsacian pinot noir wines it reminds him of. He was quite glad of his choice as it went perfectly well with the citrus flavours of many of the dishes.
The fist course consists of three small dishes:
Sembe cake with fish paté. The fish is shredded rather than compressed in a paté. It is served under a parsley salad and on top of a small sembe cake, which reminds DobQui of a soft biscuit. The flavours are delicate, and deliciously enhanced with a light citrus dressing.
Chaza tomato. A luscious deep red ripe tomato stuffed with a mildly spiced mixture of rice and mince.
Passion fruit ceviche. A small thin fillet of white fish served on a shell with the most gorgeous, intense passion fruit. Marinade. The flavours all work beautifully together, leaving an exquisite lingering aftertaste in DonQui’s mouth from the spices in the tomato playing with the tartness of the ceviche.
Tuna timbale is the next course, served on a bed of parsley with garlic nyanya chungu (or African eggplant) and sautéed cherry tomatoes. The whole dish is infused with light citrus flavours and the tuna wrapped with fine slices of cucumber which gives a nice fresh counterpoint. Nyanya chungu is something new for DonQui. Seeming like a cross between a fruit and a vegetable, it is rather good.
Then comes lobster on a skewer, cooked with a hint of chilli and served with vanilla sauce on the side. It is accompanied by lightly roasted potatoes with fennel, and an aubergine salad. Now DonQui is not a great fan of fennel so he is pleased to find it a very subtle flavouring and actually rather good. He can say this for all the dishes. The spices and flavours blend together beautifully to create a balanced taste without any one ingredient overpowering. The lobster is succulent and the vanilla sauce an unusual addition which goes very well with it.
King fish with ukwaju sauce, green beans and mbirimbi pickle is the next dish for DonQui to sample. He likes the meatiness of the fish and the ukwaju sauce (made from tamarind) is simply divine. Mbirimbi pickle from the cucumber tree (averhhoa bilimbi) is quite a taste sensation with an intense salty-sour-citrus taste which makes it a rather good accompaniment to the fish. DonQui’s only criticism of the entire meal is of the green beens. They were cold and crunchy and while DonQui hates overcooked vegetables the beans still had a green, raw taste that a couple more minutes of cooking could have improved.
Desert was a trio of dishes like the first course:
Staffeli Saffron Givré which DonQui can only describe as similar to a sorbet but slightly different. The saffron flavouring was again very subtle and it was served in a lemon shell.
Mtoto wa Jang’ombe — a coconut/chocolate creation wrapped in a thin pancake; and
Peanut Kashata — a very fine peanut brittle
Chef Suliman Sadallia (right of photo) describes himself as a ‘creative chef’ and DonQui thinks this is a very apt description. His dishes are all creations in which the flavours come together to become something new and delicious. He uses fresh, local ingredients and draws on Zanzibar’s multi-ethnic heritage to create food which is traditional and very modern at the same time.
As for the cost? Well it is not cheap, but $40 for five delightful and imaginative courses in a wonderful setting seems to DonQui to be very reasonable indeed.