Review: Emerson Spice Tea House Restaurant, Stonetown, Zanzibar, Tanzania


Fine Dining isn’t normally expected in out of the place locations like on the island of Zanzibar, Tanzania. However, Emmerson Spice is making a solid effort at a really unique dining experience set in the heart of Stonetown, Zanzibar. We would set out to enjoy a five course tasting menu set among the rooftops of Stonetown at sunset.

This post is one chapter on our trip to the Republic of Tanzania and the Islands of the Seychelles. This trip was redeemed through Air Canada’s Aeroplan and enhanced through World of Hyatt and Marriott Bonvoy Elite Status. For more information on how this trip was booked, please see our trip introduction here. For other parts of the trip, please see this index.

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Review: Emerson Spice Rooftop Tea House Restaurant, Stonetown, Zanzibar, Tanzania.

For this evening, we had a dinner booking at Emerson Spice Tea House in the Emerson Spice hotel. In our visit during low season, we were able to walk up in the afternoon and get a reservation for the next evening’s service with a 40,000 TZS ($17.50 USD) cash deposit.

The restaurant is on the top floor of the Emerson Spice Hotel in the heart of Stonetown. The Emerson Spice Hotel was previously on the Conde Nast Traveller Hotel “Hot List” in 2012 but despite this rating, it seemed mostly empty on our trip.

Emerson Spice offers a 5-course tasting menu at $40 USD per person that changes daily according to the availability of ingredients. There is only one service which starts at 7 PM and has only 22 seats available for dining on each evening.

The Emerson Spice Restaurant has inspiring 360 degree views of the surrounding Stonetown buildings. Being Africa, these aren’t views similar to what you’d get from the top of the Eiffel Tower. Nevertheless, it’s still an interesting and exotic way to spend the night in an experience that you wouldn’t get at home.

The Emerson Spice Hotel

We arrived for 6 PM to take in a sundowner cocktail. Getting up to the rooftop restaurant, we climbed up the 5 flights of stairs to the top. There is no available elevator in the building. If climbing 5 flights of stairs is an issue for you, this is something to consider.

On our way up to the top, we had an opportunity to peek into some of the unoccupied rooms at the hotel. The rooms were uniquely decorated, although most appeared to be without air conditioning. I found the decor a little odd and retro for my tastes. It wouldn’t be something that I would personally pay a premium for.

Climbing the Stairs to the Emerson Spice Tea House
Settling into the Rooftop
Roof Top Dining at Emmerson Spice

A Sundowner Cocktail to Start:

When we made it to the top, we settled into our experience at Emerson Spice Restaurant. Guests are encouraged to come at sunset at 6 PM for a sunset sundowner cocktail.

I had a Gin based “Sunset Glow” cocktail whereas MrsWT73 had a sparkling Cap Classique wine from South Africa. Despite being Ramadan, there was no problem ordering cocktails or alcohol.

Rooftop Views at Emerson Spice
The Sun Fading to Black at Sundown
The Emerson Spice Cocktail List
Cocktails for Two

What made the sundowner cocktail so unique was the fact that at the prayer times of 6:15 PM and 7:25 PM during our visit, the Adhan is called out by a muezzin from the mosques that surround the restaurant. There are over 52 mosques in Stonetown so this was quite an echoing experience up on the roof.

It was a highly unusual travel encounter to be seated on a roof top over downtown hearing the call to prayer echo all around you watching the sun go down drinking a cocktail.

Interesting Rooftop Views

We happened to be seated towards the back of the restaurant near the small roof top kitchen where all the magic happens. MrsWT73 had the best view of the “back of house” where all the preparation was occurring behind me… not to mention the local dress servers were wearing. Covert photography at it’s worst (laughing).

The Kitchen Pass
Covert Photography of our Wonderful Server’s Regional Attire

It was a peaceful but intriguing spot to enjoy the sun disappearing to grey and black over our time there.

Sunset Dining Views over Zanzibar
Sunset Rooftop Views

The Meal: A Five Course Tasting Menu

At 7 PM, the dinner service got underway. We ordered a bottle of white South African wine to go with the dinner. Although there were 5 whites listed on the wine list, they only had stock of 1 of them. This seemed to be pretty consistent with the supply challenges of wine during our time in Tanzania. Needless to say, there was no food pairing option with different wines for each course. It wasn’t really needed.

The Emerson Spice Tea House Tasting Menu

The first course was a Dona Cake Fish Patee, Coconut Relish, Limao la Shamba Ceviche. The ceviche was served in a clam shell. The sauce was nicely acidic, like many ceviches I’ve had.

First Course: Dona Cake Fish Patee, Coconut Relish, Limao la Shamba Ceviche

The second course was a Pweza (Octopus) Passion Salad, Chili, Lemon Beetroot, Garlic Bamia. MrsWT73 has an aversion to octopus and shrimp. The restaurant was kind enough to accommodate with a tuna peppercorn substitution for her dish. The octopus was very fresh – not tough meat like some of those local second rate sushi restaurants get away with serving. The passionfruit blend with the octopus was very unique and paired surprisingly well with beetroots that tasted like they were straight off the farm.

Second Course: Pweza (Octopus) Passion Salad, Chili, Lemon Beetroot, Garlic Bamia

The third course was Lemongrass Calamari, Cinnamom Mung’unye, Pickle Carrot. The lemongrass was the thin grass variety, not the giant stalks that we were accustomed to see at home. The calamari was also cut into a thin shaving, unlike the usual rings that we had at home. It was served with a sauce, which had a mild spice to it; exceptionally tasty.

Third Course: Lemongrass Calamari, Cinnamom Mung’unye, Pickle Carrot

The main and fourth course was King Fish with Tamarind Source, Cardamon Rice, Mbirimni Pickle. The fish was exceptionally cooked; just under so that it stayed juicy and elegant. The rice was lightly scented.

Although the food servings weren’t presented on the plate with a lot of elegance, the flavours that came through with each serving were of very high quality.

Fourth Course: King Fish with Tamarind Source, Cardamon Rice, Mbirimni Pickle

The last serving was a dessert item called Guava Givré, Mtoto wa Jang’ombe, Star Anise Pineapple. It was a delicate guava sorbet with a star anise sweet sauced over fresh pineapple. It was really unique and a refreshing end to a meal in a region that usually just serves plain fruit to finish a meal.

Fifth Course: Guava Givré, Mtoto wa Jang’ombe, Star Anise Pineapple

During the latter half of our meal, the city came alive with the sounds of families out and about as they broke the fast for Ramadan. The alleys were filled with sounds of people out and about, meandering through street stalls as they went out for dinner.

As the bill was presented, we were given a small box with our 40,000 TZS shillings returned in it. The bill came to $124 USD, including two covers, a bottle of wine and a sundowner cocktail each. It is a lot of money in this part of the world but the experience of it all made for one of the more memorable dining experiences and settings we’ve had in our travel lifetimes. Although the presentation of the food wasn’t something that you’d see in New York, the taste of the food was of very high quality with exceptional local ingredients.

As we left the restaurant, we headed to the night market in the Fodoraki gardens. The hotel and restaurant offered a free security guard to walk with you on your way home (on request) but we didn’t have any issues walking on our own back to The Park Hyatt Zanzibar. It is worth noting that I did leave the big Nikon camera and watches at home in the hotel safe.


A Walk Home through Fodoraki Gardens:

We wandered up to the night market, which was starting to come alive. There was a fairly well rehearsed pitch for food (prawns with shells and without shells) available at almost every stall. Most of the food appeared pre-cooked and there were regular offers to re-heat everything. Having just had a massive amount of food, we just took in the show and didn’t eat anything.

We had a slow walk back to The Park Hyatt Zanzibar hotel after the bbq food gazing and settled in for the night.

My Thoughts on our Experience at Emerson Spice Restaurant:

Emmerson Spice was an interesting dining experience. It was especially surreal to eat in a small format restaurant, on top of Stone Town, drinking a cocktail, overhearing the call to prayer and hearing the city come to life. While the presentation of the food wasn’t the world’s most exotic, it was a perfectly engaging and entertaining way to spend a memorable evening in Africa.

If you’ve visited Emerson Spice in Stonetown, Zanzibar, how did it rank on your list of travelling dining experiences ?

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