Graham Howe takes his palate for a walk on the wild side. He reviews the legendary watering holes of Africa where business travellers get together over good local food at landmark restaurants inAccra,Gaborone,Harare,Lagos,MaputoandWindhoek.
Mozambiqueis renowned for its spicy fare based on a fusion of Portuguese colonial and African culinary traditions. “LM prawns” peri peri – after the city’s old name of Lourenço Marques – are a legend among travellers in a country where the cuisine is inspired by the wild oysters, clams, crab, squid and line-fish caught along the country’s tropical coastline. For the freshest seafood, head for one of the many small informal restaurants at the Mercado de Peixe (the fish market on Ave Marginal).
The Feira Popular, another tourist landmark in Maputo is a complex of bars, bistros and nightlife attractions in a large walled compound which dates back to the Portuguese era. The place for locals and visitors to eat and drink into the early hours is also home to Restaurante Escorpião, an informal restaurant which specialises in typical Portuguese African cuisine. Don’t miss the signature mariscos arroz (seafood stew with rice), prawns peri peri, or the amazing Portuguese wine-list. (Restaurante Escorpião, Feira Popular, Ave 25 de Setembro, Baixa, Maputo. Tel. 21 302180).
You’ll find the most famous seafood platter in all of Mozambiqueat the Polana Serena Hotel, a landmark set in the heart of the city. The weekend dinner dances on the terrace in tropical gardens overlooking the Atlantic recall the grand ambience of the colonial era. Refurbished in late 2010 at a cost of US$25m, the Polana is back with the fine dining Delagoa restaurant, elegant salad lunches on the veranda and sumptuous seafood buffet of crayfish, prawns and fish – accompanied by a salsa band. (Hotel Polana Serena, Ave Julius Nyerere,Maputo. Tel: 21 491001).
A visit to Maputowould not be complete without lunch or dinner at Costa do Sol, a short drive along the coast. Call ahead and book an alfresco table on weekends at this iconic art deco restaurant opened at the seaside over 70 years ago – rated by many visitors as the best in Mozambique. The shellfish is fresh, perfectly prepared and reasonably priced. Try a legendary seafood platter – and vinho verde to go with the lobster and prawns. (Costa do Sol, Ave Marginal, Costa do Sol. Tel: 21 450115.)
Namibia is renowned for the quality of its beef and venison, biltong, sausages and salamis, pretzels and pastries, oysters and line-fish from the Atlantic. Whether you are after the ambience of a Bavarian coffee shop, beer house, seafood restaurant or grill house,Windhoekcaters for all travellers. While its German colonial history inspires many of its chefs and finer restaurants, it is a cosmopolitan destination which tempts with fine produce and cuisine from around the world from Europe to Africa andAsia.
A grand landmark for gourmet Namibian cuisine, Gathemann’s is set in a baronial residence built for Windhoek’s mayor in 1913. The German chef is renowned for venison and pork specialties served with spätzle (Bavarian noodles), wine sauces and wild mushrooms. Indulge in signature starters like game carpaccio or springbok liver – followed by a Kalahari game platter or springbok saddle with mushroom risotto. (Restaurant Gathemann,175 Independence Ave,Windhoek, Tel: 061 22 3853).
Joe’s Beerhouse is another landmark in Windhoek. The thatched lapa is a legendary tourist destination in Namibia, opened 25 years ago by chef-owner Joe Gross in a relaxed garden setting in the suburb of Eros. One of the most popular meeting-places in town has a unique Namibian ambience from the blazing braziers to the old wagon wheels. Swop traveller’s tales over chilled Windhoek beers and pampelmousse schnapps under the palms. The fare is as authentic – try a signature bushman sosatie (kebab) of ostrich, kudu, crocodile and zebra, or a platter of ostrich, springbok and gemsbok. (Joe’s Beerhouse,160 Nelson Mandela Ave, Eros. Tel: 061 232 457).
Hotel Heinitzburg, a historic landmark set on the heights overlooking Windhoek, has a garden terrace which affords spectacular views of the sunset over the mountains surrounding the capital. A chilled schnapps on the castle parapet rekindles the romantic ambience of the castle built in 1914 by Count Schwerin for his fiancée Margarethe von Heinitz. When the sun sets, dine at Leo’s At the Castle, a fine dining restaurant renowned for its French and continental cuisine and wine cellar. (Leo’s at the Castle, Hotel Heinitzburg,22 Heinitzburg St,Windhoek. Tel 061 249 597.)
The ‘dollarisation’ of Zimbabawe’s economy has led to a boom in the opening of good restaurants and outdoor cafes in downtown Harare. Besides many western-style franchises, visitors will find a tempting selecting of African, Indian (try Jaipur), Portuguese (try Mateo’s) and Italian (try Soprano’s) cuisine at restaurants which vary from fine dining to informal. Make sure you try sadza, Zimbabwe’s staple maize meal porridge) served all day at the Book Café (Tel: 04 792551, Fife Shop Centre) – with a glass of Zambezi lager or Chibuku, the filling sorghum beer called ‘shake-shake’.
If you’re looking for a leisurely cup of coffee and brunch while you catch up with your e-mails, drop into Café Espresso (40 Cork Road, Avondale. Tel: 04 253585,) an outdoor Wi-Fi café with an art gallery set in a sculpture garden. The Italian Bakery (King George Road, Avondale, Tel: 04 339732) is another great brunch or lunch spot. But for fine dining with impeccable silver service, La Fontaine situated in the landmark Meikles Hotel is the place to impress business clients. A classy grill room with glittering chandeliers, plush woods and a resident piano man, this gourmet restaurant specialises in French cuisine and sumptuous grills with all the trimmings (La Fonteine Grill Room, Meikles Hotel, Jason Moyo Ave. Tel: 04 707721).
Set in an elegant colonial residence in a lush garden with water features in the plush suburb of Highlands, Amanzi’s is a sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of downtown Harare. This fashionable meeting-place for the ‘in’ crowd comes alive at night, tempting with exotic cocktails, tapas and cross-over cuisine with an arty African ambience. (Amanzi’s,158 Enterprise Road, Highlands,Harare. Tel: 04 497768).
Last, but best of all, an elegant gourmet destination set in an old colonial residence, Victoria 22 is rated one of Zimbabwe’s top restaurants. Mark Wollmann tempts diners out toHighlands to enjoy the exquisite fusion of African, Indian, Thai and continental cuisine with excellent service. Don’t miss the fusion tapas, signature Malaysian laksa, West African groundnut chicken stew, Thai curries – and fresh scallops and salmon flown in from Scotland! (22 Victoria Road, Highlands,Harare. Tel: 04 776429).
You’ll find many franchise restaurants like the Dros and Fishmonger as well as a good selection of coffee shops, steak houses, Italian (Caffe Prego in Broadhurst Mall), Indian (Maharaja or Embassy) and even sushi (25o East in Riverwalk Mall) in Gaborone! For a good breakfast or lunch, try one of the two best cafés in the capital – Equatorial Café in Riverwalk Mall or Kgotla Coffee Shop in Broadhurst Mall.
Meet the expats, tourists and locals over a chilled beer at The Bull & Bush, an outdoor beer garden and steakhouse with giant sports screen – and a sister restaurant in Maun, gateway to the Okavango Delta. These popular rendezvous for travellers are noted for the quality of their steaks and grills – sourced from Botswana’s renowned cattle ranches. (The Bull & Bush,Seboni Road, Madibeng,Gaborone. Tel: 397 5070.)
For business lunches, head for The Terrace of the Cresta President Hotel – conveniently located downtown in close proximity to hotels, shops and offices. Watch life pass by in the mall below while enjoying a range of good international cuisine from curries and grills to continental cuisine and specialties like seswa (a beef stew). (The Terrace, Cresta President Hotel, The Mall,Gaborone. Tel: 395 3631.) For serious good Portuguese food – another institution around here – try dinner at Caravella, a popular choice for business meetings. Specialties include mussels, grilled sardines or chicken peri peri cooked in the wood-fired oven. Book an outdoor table on a summer’s night. (Caravella Portuguese Restaurant, Gaborone. 267 391 4284.)
According to an old Yoruba Proverb, “The man that eats no pepper is weak. Pepper is the staff of life” – so expect soups, stews and sauces made with spicy relish from cayenne peppers, chilli, nuts, tomatoes, ginger, dried shrimp and onions. Nigerian cuisine has been exported all over the world from Londonto New York. Visitors to Lagosare spoiled for choice – whether they plan to go local at a traditional buka (eating house) or chop bars. The city’s cosmopolitan restaurant scene offers fare for every palate from West to East – with wonderful fresh seafood from the Gulf of Guinea. Most restaurants are on Victoria and Lagos Islands and the Lekki Peninsula.
Set near Lagoslagoon, the Ikoyi Hotel is a landmark for traditional Nigerian fare, frequented by locals, expats and travellers alike. This popular venue offers a laidback ambience and great value for money. Newcomers to the exotic flavours of Nigerian cuisine should try spicy egusi soup (meat, dried shrimp, tomato and red chilli) and palm nut oil soup. Also try delicious house specialties like efo stew (goat, beef, chicken, or fish for the faint-hearted), served with fiery pepper and chilli sauces on the side – and a choice of ‘mashes’ (fufu, yam amala and manioc eba). Don’t miss the superb spicy suya (kebabs). (Ikoyi Hotel,Kingsway Rd,Lagos. Tel: 01 603200).
Yellow Chili on Victoria Island is one of the most stylish places to dine in Lagos. A popular place for business lunches, it has a cosmopolitan ambience and puts a gourmet spin on traditional Nigerian delicacies – try the signature deep-fried snails, dodo (fried plantain chips) and moin-moin (a steamed cake of dried beans and fish). (Yellow Chili, 27 Oju Olobun Close, Victoria Island. Tel: (01 723 2666). Cowrie in B-Jays Hotel, a family-run restaurant on Victoria Island is another stylish business venue which offers a creative mix of Italian and Nigerian fare (adventurous palates should try the goat pepper soup and seafood stew (fish, shrimp, crab, and lobster) with yams and rice. (Cowrie,24 Samuel Manuwa St,VictoriaIsland. Tel: 01 262 2902).
* Ghana High is one of the most popular bukas (eating houses) on Lagos Island. A landmark for good Nigerian food, it is not easy to get into – so best book ahead. This well-established restaurant is renowned for its spicy rice specialties and signature bean and yam stew served with a delicious array of sauces. (Ghana High Buka, King George V Rd, Lagos Island.). Other popular bikos on Lagos Island include Iya Eba (Berkeley Street) which serves specialty rice and efo stew with beans, cassava, yams, okro, and plantains. Cassandra’s Place in Surulere is the place for Bankolemo rice and palm oil stew, fried yams and akara (a deep-fried cake of black-eyed beans).
Visitors to Accra will find many international restaurants in the fashionable Osu, Kumasi, Adabraka and Labadi areas. Adventurous travellers should try the spicy local fare served in ‘chop bars’ – dishes like okro (okra and nut soup), fufu (the national dish – balls of eggplant, sweet potatoes, chilli pepper, tomatoes, yams, cassava and onions), Kelewele (fried plantains), banku (maize), omo tuo (spicy rice balls) or Jollof (spicy meat, vegetable and rice ragout). Also try the asana maize beer.
Visitors can sample a wide range of these local specialties of Marquis Tante Marie (Metro TV building, Labone, Accra) a landmark for traditional Ghanaian fare in a delightful garden setting. Don’t miss the chicken yassa or couscous specialties. The cosmopolitan dining scene in Accra offers visitors a taste of Indian, Asian, African and Lebanese cuisine as well as the ubiquitous fast food found all over the world. Frankie’s onOxford Street in Osu is a popular meeting-place for western travellers.
You’ll also find a smorgasbord of Ghanaian, Nigerian, Togolese and Senegalese dishes are on the menu at Buku, a restaurant with a stylish second-floor open-air dining area. This traditionally decorated venue serves good, authentic local fare – try the Jallof rice, a house specialty and kelewele. (Buku,Tenth Lane, Ring Road,LabadiBeach,Accra.) White Bell, a cool, downtown restaurant, is another popular haunt for expats, locals and tourists, specialising in tasty versions of traditional Ghanaian fare and local seafood. (WhiteBell,Farrar Avenue,Nkrumah Circle, Adabraka,Accra.).
Conveniently located near the airport, Zara’s tempts with a selection of international and Ghanaian dishes on a daily buffet. Or enjoy local specialties on the à la carte menu like spicy pepper soup, chicken with plantain fried in red palm oil or fried tilapia with banku – a maize dumpling wrapped in plantain leaves with a fiery sauce. (Zara’s, Airside Hotel,44 Patrice Lumumba Road, Airport Residential Area,Accra.)
South Africa is a cosmopolitan of different cultures and food that can satisfy almost any palate. In a style reminiscent of the cafés and eateries of Ernest Hemingway’s Paris, the award-winning Hemingway’s Restaurant & Wine Cellar offers a stimulating blend of understated elegance with splashes of contemporary Provencal chic. The plush setting is ideal for a discreet lunch in a double volume space which exudes privacy. The indigenous gardens create a perfect backdrop for the sun soaked terrace, where you can enjoy a sumptuous meal or an afternoon cocktail. The two well equipped private dining rooms offer separate sound and air conditioning control, ensuring that guests enjoy business meetings in utter style and privacy.
The News Room, a cognac lounge, offers the discerning guest a taste of a bygone era. It is up-market and elegant without being intimidating. The award winning chef, Jan De Wet Botha, will take you on a sensory journey with a menu that revolves around the seasons – a style that is deceptively simple and offers a variety of exciting flavours- a true feast to awaken your senses. (Leriba Lodge, 245 End Street, Clubview, Centurion, Gauteng, South Africa. Tel: 012 660 3300/012 660 3810)
Known for their tantalizing light meals, Chapters also offers an elegant a la Carte menu, offering exciting, simple and honest food influenced by fresh local seasonal produce. The extensive wine list is carefully selected to represent the best wines from all the different regions of South Africa. Chapters restaurant is the second restaurant at Leriba Hotel and Spa and serves as the perfect complement to the existing Hemingway’s a la Carte Restaurant and Wine Cellar (Winner of the Diners Club Platinum Wine List of the year award). With an absolute commitment to service excellence, Chapters Restaurant brings a culinary adventure fit for those with an appetite for the extraordinary and a taste for good living. (Leriba Hotel & Spa, 245 End Ave, Clubview, Centurion. Tel: 012 660 3300)
Quills RestaurantInter, in the Intercontinental Sandton Towers is aptly named after the 18-metre-long porcupine quill mobile hanging from the ceiling. Open 24 hours daily Quills specialises in African game meats such as springbok, warthog, kudu and crocodile. Quills Bar offers many different styles and varietals of South African wines by the glass and we also stock an extensive selection of malt whisky, local beers, cocktails, cognac and cigars. A light snack menu is available all day round. Our signature dish is Oven roasted Springbok Loin coated in fresh Herbs, served with Biltong mash, spicy Peanut Spinach and sweet Cinnamon Butternut-herbed jus. Al fresco dining is available on the outside Terrace, a perfect location for sundowners. (Located at the Intercontinental Hotel at OR Tambo International Airport, just opposite the terminals. Tel: 011 961 5400)