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)
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