A Most Wonderful Meal

DonQui decides to try out the highly recommended Tea House Restaurant on the rooftop of the Emerson Spice hotel for dinner.

Emerson Spice

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.

donqui spice

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,

sunset

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.

pinot noir

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:

first courseSembe 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

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.

lobster

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.

kingfish

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

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

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.

Zanzibar

What is there not to like about Zanzibar? DonQui thinks to himself.travellers (1)

He is at one of his favourite spots —  the Travellers’ Café in Stone Town, tucked down a small alley and overlooking the Indian Ocean. When he looks up from writing this post, he sees a dow sailing by in the mid distance.

It is true that there are problems here — political, religious and economic. Two years ago there was the horrific acid attack on a British tourist. Fortunately this seems to have been a one-off which filled the Zanzibarans with the same feelings of revulsion as it did for Brits.

The union of Zanzibar with Tanganyika, which created modern Tanzania, was never to be a marriage of eternal bliss and happiness. The problems and differences have exploded into violence during past elections and with polling day tomorrow (Sunday 25 October) the number of tourists are lower than usual.

election

The ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party has won all of the previous elections but this time the expected outcome is too close to call. DonQui’s Tanzanian friends assured him that previous violence in Zanzibar is unlikely this year.

streets

As DonQui wanders around the back streets of Stone Town he does not feel any great tension. He has a good nose for such things and can usually sense trouble before it blows up . The parties have their flags flying but DonQui cannot smell any aggression.

Sultan's Palace Stone Town (1)

Stone Town, a UNESCO world heritage site, is a fascinating place to spend a couple of days. It’s wonderful mix of Arab and colonial architecture, the narrow winding streets, and the ever present influence of the Indian Ocean appeals to DonQui’s sense of history while also giving him the chance to relax in a beautiful setting. Zanzibar cuisine mixes Arab and Indian influences, drawing from the sea and the spices which are cultivated on the Island. He has had more than one or two excellent meals here.

boat

Many boat excursions are on offer to some of the outlying places such as Prison Island and Nakupenda Beach. Last year DonQui took a small boat to Prison Island (or Changuu). The island got its name from the fact that it was used in the 1860s to incarcerate rebellious slaves. During the British regime it was used as a quarantine station for yellow fever cases. Now it is home to a giant turtle sanctuary.prison island

It also has a coral reef just off shore where there are excellent snorkelling opportunities.

nurses

It did DonQui’s ego no harm to be the stallion in a herd of Australian nurses, even if their interest in photography outweighed their interest in his wit and charm!

Nungui

There is far more to Zanzibar that Stone Town. A few years ago DonQui and Duchess spent a few blissful days at Nungwi on the northern tip of the island. They stayed at the Z hotel which was about as close to heaven as DonQui can imagine.

Z hotel

This wonderful small boutique hotel occupies a prime spot on the beach, has amazingly comfortable rooms and superb food. DonQui even took the opportunity for a rather excellent massage at their spa.

Fire Dancer

DonQui is not usually a great fan of in-house entertainment as he usually finds  such things rather kitch. However one night’s show at the Z Hotel was more than a little bit spectacular.

spice tour

Another popular thing to do on Zanzibar is to go on a spice tour to see how the many spices which grow here are cultivated and prepared. DonQui passed up the opportunity because he wanted to simply relax. However, Duchess, who was with him at the time, went on the tour and reported back in glowing terms.