Ethiopian dining is definitely not for the finicky or fussy. You place orders individually, but meals are served on one central platter for communal eating. Little wooden bowls of stew (wot) are brought to the table and upended onto a giant sourdough pancake (injera) on a grass-woven stand that acts as a table. Extra pancakes are rolled up in linen-lined baskets (one per two people) on the side. Tuck in by tearing pieces of slightly spongy pancake to pick up the saucy stews with your hands. Everything is gently spiced, in hues of warm amber and saffron. Berbere, a spice of milled dried chilli with garlic, ginger, cardamom and cloves, appears in many dishes, as does kibe, a clarified butter that’s simmered in herbs and spices and then cooled. Fresh tomato salsa keeps things texturally interesting alongside all the slow-cooked, tender stews of beef cubes, prawns, lamb, chicken and fish. Vegetarians and vegans are well-looked after, with more than ten suitable options making use of red and brown lentils, chickpeas, mushrooms, split peas and butternut. Desserts are uncommon in Ethiopian cuisine, so don’t bother with the small selection of generic options like ice cream and chocolate sauce and dom pedros.
Coffee is an event. A fine stream of steaming black liquor is poured from a height out of a seemingly bottomless pot. The brew is served with smoking frankincense and a bowl of popcorn to complement the roasted bean flavours. Also recommended is the traditional sweet wine, tej, which is served chilled in big wine glasses filled to the brim. It’s delicious with the fragrant Ethiopian fare.
Staff gently guide you through the rituals, such as washing your hands, and are more than happy to explain all the dishes on the menu and make suggestions.
The first-floor dining room has a soft glow, with window seats bathed in light from Church Street during the day. Though they may seem very low at first, the beautifully carved wooden chairs turn out to be very comfortable indeed, encouraging you to linger over your meal. Scattered Coptic crosses and a ceiling of vibrantly coloured upside-down umbrellas create a setting that feels three thousand miles from Long Street.
If you’re there for lunch, order the platter of six dishes for R95 – a bargain.