Colour­ful, invit­ing, joy­ous ex­pe­ri­ence

The de­lights of Queen Sheba were height­ened by the plea­sure of hear­ing Pops Mo­hamed per­form­ing once again (but bring your own wine)

Financial Mail - - A MOVEABLE FEAST - @fred­khu­malo by Fred Khu­malo

Were it not for a chance re­mark by a friend, point­ing out that world-renowned multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist Pops Mo­hamed was per­form­ing at a “new Ethiopian restau­rant” down the road, I still wouldn’t have dis­cov­ered Queen Sheba.

Given that Nor­wood is one of the suburbs I en­joy hang­ing out in, I must have driven past the restau­rant a num­ber of times in the past with­out notic­ing it. And, con­trary to what my friend said, it is not new at all — it has been around for three years.

But at any rate, the men­tion of Pops per­form­ing there con­vinced me to pay the place a visit, and my good friend Mz­a­bal­azo Ma­sondo tagged along.

The place was packed when we ar­rived, but the friend who’d alerted us to the per­for­mance had re­served a ta­ble for us. Be­fore we sat down, the wait­ress suggested we or­der drinks right away, as the per­for­mance was about to be­gin.

It was a heart-warm­ing mo­ment to see Pops in per­for­mance af­ter so many years. He’s still as ad­ven­tur­ous as ever. The last time I saw him he was play­ing key­boards, with Sipho Gumede on bass, along­side a size­able band. This time he was play­ing a va­ri­ety of indige­nous in­stru­ments, with a much smaller band.

Play­ing an in­stru­ment shaped like a bow (in tra­di­tional Zulu mu­sic we call it is­tolo­tolo), he also sang in a num­ber of lan­guages — giv­ing mu­sic ap­pre­ci­a­tion les­sons as he went along (which, by the way, I found in­tru­sive; mu­sic should speak for it­self).

Queen Sheba’s menu is im­pres­sively di­verse, cater­ing for meat-eaters like my­self as well as those who steal food from the mouths of rab­bits and other her­bi­vores.

For starters we dug into what the Ethiopi­ans call sam­busas (samosas in lo­cal ar­got). Thank­fully, they were juicy with­out be­ing oily.

What I no­ticed at Queen Sheba, as in other Ethiopian eater­ies I’ve been to, is that din­ing is a shar­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, rather than the West­ern norm, where an in­di­vid­ual eats a dish by him- or her­self. As a re­sult, the food looks more colour­ful and more invit­ing, and is served on a large com­mu­nal plat­ter.

Mz­a­bal­azo and I set­tled for a gen­er­ous meat and veg­gie plat­ter. The meat, in chunky pieces, comes swim­ming in a thick red­dish-brown sauce.

It could be in­tim­i­dat­ing if your first thought when faced with a gen­er­ous sup­ply of meat is: “Oh no — choles­terol and gout on a plat­ter.” If, how­ever, you love curry and other rich dishes, you’ll nod in ap­proval.

In ad­di­tion to the veg­gies, the plat­ter comes with in­jera, a flat-bread with a slightly spongy tex­ture. To make the most of this, break a piece off the in­jera with your hands, put some meat and veg­gies on it, fash­ion it into a roll, and eat it as if you were en­joy­ing roti. Let those taste­buds do a joy­ous toyi-toyi.

With so much rich and colour­ful food on of­fer, I was dis­ap­pointed by the restau­rant’s lim­ited wine list — I couldn’t fin­ish a glass of the house wine. I think I’ll bring my own wine and pay the cork­age fee next time I visit; it’s sac­ri­le­gious to kill an ex­quis­ite meal with ter­ri­ble plonk.

That said — and given that it’s an Ethiopian eatery — Queen Sheba’s cof­fees are to die for.

Our meal for two, with drinks and a do­na­tion to the band, came to R400. Mu­sic to the ears of any se­ri­ous diner.

Queen Sheba ★★★★★

106 Al­ger­non Road Nor­wood, Jo­han­nes­burg Tel: 074-978-3445

★★★★★ Panyaza Le­sufi

★★★★ Mmusi Maimane

★★★ Cyril Ramaphosa

★★ Hlaudi Mot­soe­neng

★ Rev Vuk­ile Me­hana

The menu is di­verse, cater­ing for meat-eaters like my­self as well as those who steal food from the mouths of rab­bits and other her­bi­vores

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