Zanzibar’s best restaurants for luxury dining
From a rooftop palace to a secluded island getaway, here’s where to eat when you’re feeling indulgent
Zanzibar is often described as a jewel in the Indian ocean; but not only does it supply shimmering seascapes, ancient alleys and emerald forests, it’s also a haven for the tastebuds. The fusion of Indian, Arabian and African cultures has resulted in some of the most tantalising cuisine in the world, and a number of high-end restaurants are combining exquisite and imaginative cuisine with beautiful dining spaces in spectacular locations. Join us on a gastronomic tour around six of the most unique restaurants Zanzibar has to offer.
Created from the ruins of a 19th-century spice merchant’s mansion, Emerson Spice merges vintage East African architecture with contemporary Zanzibari décor. The teahouse – an open-sided room – is a Zanzibar tradition, and Emerson have two of the best in Stone Town. The Spice Hotel rooftop provides a five-course tasting menu, served by elegantly attired chefs using locally sourced ingredients. There are fish and vegetarian menu options, with dishes including lemongrass calamari, avocado ceviche, and kamba karuka (‘flying’ prawn skewers). Set within the more ‘aesthetically ruined’ part of the building, the Secret Garden is also a wonderful lunch spot. Grab a table under the shade of the many huge palm leaves and chill out from the bustle of Stone Town shopping.
Top Tip: Book ahead for the Taste Safari experience at the Teahouse. Dinner starts at 7pm, but you’re advised to arrive at 6pm for cocktails, and to watch the sun sink over the Stone Town roofs.
Based within Zanzibar’s first 5-star hotel, the Zamani Residence is an extension of the original building. A seafront mansion built by an Omani merchant, the house was named Mambo Msiige – ‘not to be copied’ – and the cuisine certainly lives up to this promise: a fabulously imaginative menu combining Persian, Portuguese and Swahili styles. A table on the terrace overlooks the beach and ocean, allowing diners to watch dhow boats coming ashore and bringing the freshest fish and seafood (the rock lobsters are a must!) to your table, via the talented kitchen.
Top Tip: If you’re not too full, knock back a spiced espresso and head down to the beach bar, where DJs spin Afrohouse to the rhythm of the surf at weekends.
Sister hotel to the Emerson Spice (and known as the ‘grande dame’ of Zanzibar hotels), Emerson on Hurumzi’s Tea House restaurant is based on the roof of a restored archbishop’s palace. Through the carved Swahili doors and up a wooden staircase, you emerge into an ornate teahouse – the highest in Zanzibar – offering astonishing 360-degree panoramic views. Seating is either Swahili-style (on cushions and lushly carpeted floor) or there are a few baraza tables (regular height). The three-course lunch is a gastronomic sensation to match the view: fish, meat or vegetarian sinia (similar to tasting platters and named after the antique copper trays all the food is served from).
Top Tip: If you are a larger party (up to 15), book the Chambre Separee Roshini for the Emerson Tea Ceremony. Seated on cushions, guests are introduced to range of tea leaves, taught how to blend them and – accompanied by sweets and pastries – are guided through how the tea and coffee culture of Zanzibar reflects the diverse peoples that have made it their home.
On the island’s most northern tip is Nungwi Beach, a glorious stretch of pristine white sand and a vibrant beach community. One of many boutique hotels on the stretch, the Z Hotel boasts Nungwi’s best restaurant, Sexy Fish. Set on a large wooden terrace mounted on stilts out on the beach, the emphasis is – unsurprisingly – on the super-fresh sea beasts, all served with an innovative flourish by Rasel, a Bengali chef. Every dish uses the world-renowned Zanzibar spices to their mouth-watering fullest, including dishes with diverse African influences, such as the Senegalese crab curry. The highlight, however, has to be one of the starters: the delectable lobster tacos.
Top Tip: Get a table near the edge of the space for best views of passing beach life, including the sandy circus antics of the local busking acrobats.
The simple title says it all: this is a small restaurant (of only 12 tables), built on a chunk of rock, off the beautiful Michamvi Beach on Zanzibar’s south-east coast. It’s a slightly more modest affair than others on this list, but with more emphasis on integrating the restaurant into the local environment with the least possible impact. Founded in 2005 by Italian entrepreneurs, The Rock serves superb seafood fresh from the sparkling azure ocean that surrounds it, but it also proudly supports the local community, funding two schools and even setting up swimming lessons for women from the nearby villages.
Top Tip: If you’re driving across Zanzibar from Stone Town to The Rock, make time to visit one of the many spice farms. These usually feature a personal tour and introduction to the array of plants that produce the island’s famed flavours, including nutmeg, lemongrass and cardamon. There’s the opportunity to sip spiced coffee and buy packs of spices, so you can recreate the taste sensations of this paradisiacal island in your own kitchen.
It’s surprising Zanzibar has never served as a location in a Bond film, as this hotel restaurant on a private islet seems like an appropriately glamorous spot for 007 to meet his latest nemesis. Walk across the sandy causeway at low tide or catch a boat when the sea rises – either way, the island promises privacy and beauty, as well as stunning views and innovative gastronomy. The fresh sea urchin soaked in gin has to be tasted to be believed.
Top Tip: Splash out with the ‘Romantic Dinner’ package: a flower-strewn private terrace overlooking the bay, personal butler, champagne and an elegantly paced all-evening menu, finished off with a joyful Maasai dance performance.