We found ourselves at sunset in Tanzania, making that upward, upward climb, not pursuing Kilimanjaro’s summit, mind you, but following the wooden stairways winding skyward to the rooftop restaurant at Emerson Spice Hotel in Zanzibar.
My hopes for spice revelations in Zanzibar briefly went up in smoke after our disheartening spice tour…but the flavors and atmosphere of a magical night at Emerson Spice high above Stone Town’s skyline effortlessly resurrected the romance of our East African dream.
From the street, only a few hints indicate the treats to come. If you know to look up, you’ll spot the filigreed balconies and catch a glimpse of the tower sitting atop the old building, but the reward comes from making the trip up the many-storied staircase to arrive on top of the world for a sensory delight confirming that this, indeed, is the best spot in the city for fine views, fine food, and fine company, too.
During our stay in Stone Town, we’d spent much of our time in the darker streets below, zigging and zagging through narrow alleyways between our guesthouse and favorite coffee shops and market stalls. What an incredible view to behold, emerging from the last flight of stairs to catch the day’s final golden rays as they kissed the city goodnight.
Calls to prayer rode the waves of the wind, echoing up from mosques below.
The colorful scene greeted us with promise:
Silken pillows under sumptuous fabric awnings.
Smiling servers in bright smiles.
A menu crafted for seekers of flavor…
Vegetable Spring Rolls
Goat Stuffed Tomato
Kolekole Coconut Fish
Lemon Gras Basket
Lemon Cake with Limoncello
Favorites in bold…snapshots below.
On queue, the city’s power halted, and the restaurant generator kicked into gear.
Flickering candles softened the scene, and while Ted made fast work of an ice cold G&T, I warmed up to my Cabernet Sauvignon and we both warmed quickly to our nearby table-neighbors. One couple from Auckland, New Zealand shared stories of their recent time on mainland Africa and invited us for a visit once our route crossed their homeland. Another three travelers, Sandy, Mike, and Laurie, fresh from an extended walking safari in Tanzania invited us to join their table, and the five of us conversed on into the evening about the insights and challenges, reminders and blessings, perspectives and passions of time spent in new physical and mental spaces.
Emerson Skeens in jaunty straw hat, black polo shirt, white shorts and white hair made the rounds from table to table, welcoming guests to his piece of paradise. This restaurant owner and man-about-town has been on Zanzibar Island well over two decades, stewarding the city’s architectural relics with a passion for history, a businessman’s eye for renovation, and a philanthropist’s heart for preservation.
Zest for life fueled his work in transforming the three adjoining World Heritage Site buildings into the piece of art today known as the Emerson Spice Hotel, and exceptional flavor and beauty stand as a testament to his joys.
Spaces are magical, always have been for me. Since childhood, often when I walk into a space for the first time, I’m confronted with a narrative, a feeling, a history, some characters. Like Jaques, in “As you Like It,” there is a myth, an opera, a film or a play stretching out on stage before me. These stages present themselves for me to play on and, for even more fun, to play with…
Our table of travelers and philosophers shut the night down, chatting until every other table stood empty and smiling servers stood waiting to finished clearing our crumb-less plates.
We might as well have been floating on air that night during our descent back down the stairs.
If only every mountaintop experience could include those glowing candles and magical lamps and perfectly delicious bites of Zanzibar…perhaps, just maybe, then I may stand a chance at convincing Ted to climb Kilimanjaro!
WHAT TO KNOW:
Emerson Spice Hotel & Rooftop Restaurant
Tharia Street, Kiponda, Zanzibar
Five Course Meal – Set Menu: $25/person
Emerson Spice invites guests for sunset cocktails from 5:30pm onward, and at 7 o’clock the evening’s delectable feast of Zanzibarian flavor begins…
Reserve ahead of time and arrive early enough to stake claim a spot with ample sunset views.
Many thanks to Emerson Spice for hosting us during our time in Stone Town, Zanzibar. After such a beautiful evening, it’s no surprise to us that Conde Nast chose them for their Hot List 2012!