During our days we spent in Stone Town in Zanzibar, we knew that we had to end one of our days by eating dinner at the rooftop Tea House Restaurant inside the Emerson Hotel on Hurumzi Street. The restaurant tower is the second highest building in Stone Town. The whole experience of a traditional Omani/Arab/Persian/Zanzibarian dinner on the floor with traditional dishes, dancing, and music made me giddy with excitement!
We stopped by the hotel lobby earlier in the day to secure our seats and left a deposit. (We had emailed “email@example.com” two days before we wanted to eat dinner to make a reservation also). The staff was wonderfully welcoming and genuinely excited that we would be dining with them! They left us with instructions to be back around 6:00-6:30 for pre-dinner drinks and our dining experience would start at 7:00.
Joe and I arrived right at 6:00 so that we could get some good pictures! You climb about eight flights of steep steps up to the rooftop. The stairs are original from the 1870s built building! The Tower itself was designed as an observation point to control the activities of the port, which was located in the waters just in front of the nearby house of Wonders. The tower was used by the Archbishop of Zanzibar as a registration office for freeing slaves, and after that it was owned and occupied by a series of Ismaili and Arabian families over the years until being restored, renovated, and turned into the hotel and restaurant it is today.
Once you reach the top of the tower, the staff is there to greet you and is dressed in traditional Arab garb and they begin their evening of showering you with hospitality (a very endearing quality you will find all over Zanzibar). There is a gorgeous wooden shoe rack at the entrance where you are asked to remove your shoes before stepping under the silk canopy fluttering in the wind inside the open air restaurant. The floor is covered in gorgeous Arab rugs. Traditional Zanzibarian pillows line the walls of the restaurant and beautiful teakwood small tables sit in front of you. Expansive three-hundred and sixty degree views of Stone Town and the Indian Ocean can be seen from any angle. From the leather bound gorgeous menus, to the expertly made cocktails, to start off the dinner every detail was perfection from the start. Around 6:45 the five person live taraab band showed up and we started the evening with music and dancing and a rose water hand washing, which was also repeated at the end of the meal – one of my personal favorite details it smelled AMAZING. There is a five course menu (including pre dinner drinks and post dinner tea) that changes every single day and is modeled after a Persian wedding feast! Our menu for our evening was as follows:
Expertly made opening cocktails like Pimm’s Sultan made with Stoney ginger beer and tamarind juice and Dawa made with muddled lime, local honey and the popular Tanzanian-brewed sugarcane gin
Starters: Crab Cake Badia with Coconut Chutney & Roat Beet Tahini & Fresh Pita Bread
Main Courses: Massaman Goat Curry & Changu Parcels (fish) with Preserved Lime paired with pink rice Pilaf and Saffron Pickled Chilis
Dessert: Sweetly Spiced Sambas with Mbirimbi Compote and an Espresso Meringue
Finishing Tea: Ginger Tea
We had so much fun enjoying the courses, music, dancing, and getting to know the staff and other guests. This is an experience Joe and I will never forget and highly recommend if you are in Stone Town!
Final details: The typical cost of the dinner is $75 USD including 2-4 drinks + tip for staff and band.
Make sure to email ahead for a reservation at: firstname.lastname@example.org
They do offer table seating if you do not wish to sit on the cushions on the ground but we highly suggest the ground seating! It was a wonderful experience!
Plan on spending 3-4 hours for your dining experience: 6pm-10pm