If there was anywhere to travel half way around the world for, it just might be The Rock in Zanzibar, Tanzania. This restaurant, perched on a rock in the Indian Ocean, seems dropped from a fairy tale. During high tide, it becomes a veritable island with a wooden boat taking you the short distance to shore. In low tide, you simply walk across the seaweed strewn beach to get to this magical place. Both methods will take you to a rickety wooden staircase and into the restaurant, built in the local Zanzibar architectural style with a Makuti palm tree roof. In the back, there’s a beautiful patio where you can grab a cocktail surrounded on three sides by the turquoise seas. Inside, there are 12 cozy tables for lunch and dinner.
The Rock at low tide
The Rock at High Tide
The boat that takes you to shore
Opened four years ago on a former fisherman’s post, The Rock was founded by a group of partners, including the owner of two nearby resorts. The food is stellar and the cocktails pretty fantastic as well, but the prices are far from local. A two person meal with starter and main course with two cocktails will run you about $90. The wine list is impressive and you can even got a bottle of Dom Perignon champagne for $330.
The Rock’s seafood inspired menu is available to peruse online. Make special note of the fish carpaccio with a passion fruit creamy sauce, the homemade lobster and eggplant tagliatelle pasta and the seafood pasta. Main courses range from the “Rock special” which includes lobster, prawns, calamari and fish on the grill to grilled beef fillet and the fish catch of the day.
The Dawa Cocktail, made of local Tanzania gin, honey and lemons
But we’d advise on a visit to take a closer look at the surroundings of The Rock as well. Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world and per-capita income of the population at $695 in 2013, according to World Bank statistics. The eastern shore of Zanzibar is lined with concrete walls and security gates, that lead to beachfront resorts. And those private developments have reached the Michanwi Pingwe Beach peninsula where The Rock is located. A makeshift community of homes and structures built of reclaimed materials like corrugated metal now sits precariously side-by-side with private villas, newly opened resorts and a soon-to-open artisanal shop.
Walk along the eastern beaches moving south and you’ll begin to notice the string of abandoned resorts. They’re so prevalent that a local tour company, Mambo Poa Tours, has a stop on their Alternative Zanzibar tour of an abandoned resort in Mtende, on the south east shore of Zanzibar. It’s not the only abandoned hotel on this stretch, but it may be in the best condition for urban exploration with a swimming pool, palm tree parasols and lounge chairs, and bungalows still existing. Offering a possible explanation, Mambo Magazine writes,
The story is, as is often the case in Zanzibar, a little blurry round the edges. The people behind this hotel project were (probably) Italian. They left the island because they may or may not have not satisfied the right people in government. Do they still own the site? Did they own it in the first place? Possibly.
So while the $100 lunch or dinner at The Rock is certainly worth it, if it’s in your budget, just have a holistic view of what The Rock means for Zanzibar: a beautiful drop of luxury in the Indian Ocean.
As a sign of the times, you can make reservations online for The Rock.
Get in touch with the author @untappedmich.