5 Things you have to do in Accra!

What does a week where you feel like you’re experiencing a baptism of fire, being left in the lurch by your line manager in a country you’ve never been to and realizing sometimes you should just go with the flow have in common? Oh yes… my first trip to Accra… Forget that this commute was one of the funniest I’ve ever had as I genuinely had my signature #RBF the whole way there (caused by the fact that last minute I was told I was heading to Ghana alone…alone… They do say what doesn’t kill you makes you Tsonga right? Way more politically incorrect jokes I shouldn’t be making).  But also I guess I’d rather suffer in Business Class then suffer in economy.

I somehow end up sitting next to the chattiest Minister I’ve ever sat next to on a plane…actually to be fair, the only Minister I’ve ever sat next to on a plane..who proceeds to invite me to a lunch with the Chinese ambassador to Ghana…because…well…I speak Chinese…Yes, this does really happen to me!!! And yes, I went to that lunch because you never look a gift horse in the mouth. So after my 6.5 hour journey and my compatriot trying to convince me that I should stay at Labadi Beach instead of Movenpick (both extremely great hotels, but one clearly more for leisure and one more for people who actually came to work. Insert me), the game was a foot. I checked out the usual suspects, trip advisor etc and there were some good recommendations but some of them were also quite a miss for me as an African (Jamestown specifically). 5 things you have to do which I managed to fit in after 6pm every day that week?

  1. Cultural Sites:  Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park

This site honours Ghana’s first president, who helped lead the country to independence in 1957 *weeps in apartheid South African at the 1957*. The park contains Nkrumah’s mausoleum and a museum charting his life and its located on the spot where he declared independence. Its about five acres of landscaped gardens with flowerbeds and water features.. Its center point is the architecturally impressive mausoleum where Nkrumah and his wife are buried. A museum tells the story of the former president’s campaign for freedom and includes an interesting array of personal effects and photographs. 

A tranquil oasis

2. Makola Market

Makola Market features stalls selling everything from fabrics to beads and souvenirs. If you’ve ever wanted to practice haggling then this is the place for you..and luckily for me I’ve perfected the art over years of haggling away at markets in Beijing. But honestly don’t haggle too hard… I think sometimes we haggle for haggling’s sake without realising the value of something and forgetting that that extra dollar or so means very little to you but means so much to a single mother trying to put food on the table. But it’s fairly fair (is that a thing? fairly fair?!) because there are locals and foreigners so you wont stick out too much…and if all else fails just pretend you are Ghanaian

3.Labadi Beach

Labadi is Accra’s most popular beach. There are a ton of Waterfront restaurants  all vying for your patronage and serving everything from beer to jollof to fried fish. You can get in a whole afternoon of people watching by having a meal and then washing it down with some cold beer. There are a ton of artists performing etc.  If we are birds of  a feather and you do enjoy a good cocktail and some A-grade food, take a walk to Labadi Beach Hotel  which has the freshesssst fish…and the price doesn’t let you forget that.  The hotel is also really good for meetings so don’t knock it

4. Fantasy Coffin workshops

mmm…I have mixed feelings about this… I had to go because I’d spent atleast a week in university learning about this in African studies.. But these coffins are hugely popular and you can see below some examples (I started taking photos and had to stop myself from being a tourist and also you wouldn’t take photos at a mortuary..) So google photos will have to do for you… they’re super creative and honestly really cool if you get over how over the top they are…so someone who may have spent their lives as a fisherman would choose to be buried in. a…fish..coffin..It’s a beautiful cultural experience

5. Food glorious food, Coco lounge specifically for me…

The great thing about this is despite the never ending jollof battle between my Naija and Ghanaian friends..I actually had no idea what Ghanaian food was…I struggled to find the right place to eat after work that wasn’t the hotel because most places actually closed pretty early and delivery is only now more popular…insert: Coco Lounge, a brasserie-style experience bar located in Airport City, Accra. Everything we tried was amazing…I couldn’t stop thinking about the coconut chicken rice for a week after I returned to Joburg. What a vibe as well!!! I thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere and can’t recommend it enough. It felt like you were transported to some futuristic African cosmopolitan city #WakandaForever where everyone had a personal stylist and good food and music is all you had to worry about.

Miss me with Jamestown…(people actually do tours of super poor neighborhoods (why do foreigners revel in seeing dire poverty?)I’m African and unfortunately I don’t have to travel overseas to see such. I also didn’t try the clubbing scene because well#SoloTravels as a woman don’t lend themselves to drinking alone in foreign countries even if they are safe.

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Eating my way through Joburg…

A somewhat local’s guide to her favourite bougie restaurants…no, not bougie…just your typical…’My stomach loves you..but my bank account would be hella confused if I ate here everyday eating establishment (Repeat after me: “You have food at home, You have food at home…”)’

oh that’s where my salary went!!! Now having spent quite a bit of time eating my life away…I literally work out to eat… That is my M.O.  I want to say I consider myself quite an expert in this field… Because really what else should my salary be going to except for gluttony and making me so large that I need new clothes… And again I would like to say this my own personal opinion.. And my views on how expensive these are really are based on my own pocket…and my own sense of laziness..because who really drives an hour for steak in Johannesburg when there are so many options? Or tacos…I don’t discriminate, I’m an equal opportunist. And don’t worry I don’t have visions of grandeur and think I’m trip advisor or  Eat Out SA. I just think I’m a complete fatty and clearly if eating is your talent… Gotta work with what you got. Below are some of my favourite restaurants…all for the food, some for the ambience and a few for the value of money…and some for all three!

Marble

Think Steakhouse with an open flame griller and some bomb-ass wall art and interiors . They have this really cool Argentinian steakhouse feel mixed with fine-dining, mixed with some cool South African flavours. The grilled pork belly is honestly my favourite (and that’s my standard for how good a restaurant is – Give me porkbelly any day).  It has the right amount of crackling  and is served with some teriyaki sweet potato, pork crumble, and apple salad with a lime, honey and ginger dressing. Basically on another level.  The desserts are pretty much on another level too

Saint

It seems right that this would follow on Marble… the latest project from chef David Higgs and his team.  Ambience very similar to Marble (Lighting etc). Saint though is more on the Italian side  and has quite a few classic Italian dishes think everything from arancini to pasta, though the pork loin is more up my alley.  The pizzas are amazing and not at all overpriced..insert the eye emoji we’re all thinking of …. The sea bass is also super amazing.

is A Saint by any other name, still a Saint?

Flames (Four Seasons Hotel – Westcliff)

So the food here is amazing…. Almost as good as the view…When Johannesburg living gets a bit much and you want to feel like you live in the biggest urban man-made forest in the world.. Flames is your answer. Feels a little less pretentious than the two above but definitely quality food that’s consistent. And if you’re into being driven around in golf-carts – well this is for you. The luscious fine-dining menu starts with smoked quail and sweet Spanish onions, poached quail’s eggs and pickled exotic mushrooms or a gorgeous lobster Caesar salad or ample fresh oysters.  Main meals include a variety of local fish and seafood offerings, as well as carefully selected meat cuts, such as the succulent crispy pork belly served with a curried lentil ragù and cauliflower crème brûlée (What did I say about Porkbelly?).  If you’re more of a carnivore…Beef prime rib for two comes in two servings: roasted on the bone and served with potatoes, peas and carrots.  I’m not much of a dessert person, but I hear they’re pretty good.

Winehouse at ten Bompass

So I love this restaurant for its romantic ambience and value for money. It’s the kind of place that always makes you feel like a regular even if you’ve never been.  They have this amazing special where you can get two courses for ZAR275 and 3 courses for ZAR345 . Most of the herbs and vegetables come from the hotel gardens and the main dishes change at the beginning of each season. I can’t say enough good things about the whole menu and the fact that its forever changing!

DW eleven-13

This place is bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S…so just up the road from Winehouse (literally a 5 mins walk away is DW 11 13). So the outside ambience is frankly crap – the restaurant looks out into a parking lot…so they tend to close it out… The in-house chef if a bit of a Johannesburg institution which kind of makes sense as the food is absolutely out of this world. They have an eight-course degustation menu  that changes seasonally  to highlight what’s fresh and new.  You obviously cant be having that every day…or week… or month really… but worth every single dime when you get a chance…I tend to pair it with wine if I’m really celebrating. From the seared scallop with mushroom purée to the  popular roast duck breast with potato fondant… everything is amazing!

Gemelli

              So if you can get over the way too loud owner… sorry, Alex…I joke, I kid, I do, I do.  I’ve been a loyal go-er to this restaurant since inception for so many reasons, amazing food which you can also have family style if you want to, amazing desserts (Yes, I classify dessert and food differently because there is a different stomach for dessert), amazing ambience and honestly there aren’t enough black owned restaurants in Johannesburg! My personal favourites: the  Gamberetti (prawn tails in a smoked tomato-and-basil salsa accompanied by an avocado mousse and lemon aïoli), the pasta Allesandro and the almond & pear cake which has now gone off the menu…actually can someone pressure this restaurant to bring back this cake? Most things hit the right spot..I’ve only gone wrong when I’ve opted for healthier options – fish etc, still cooked very well..but whats the point of going to an Italian place if you’re going to choose the healthy option? It’s cool that they now have a bar outside, but I honestly don’t care much for it..a bit loud for me and makes it feel a little less intimate. But overall a more than satisfactory dining experience with a super upbeat vibe.

Cube

This is more of an ode to the Old cube which opened now and then, took you 3 months to reserve a table and made you eat at home the rest of the month..I heard the restaurant has been reimagined as the Cube Tasting Kitchen at the Cosmopolitan.  After waiting 3 months back in 2016 with a bunch of friends who were part of the dinner club, we finally made it in. Week of the dinner they email you an idea of the menu. They allowed you to bring your own wine to pair to each of the ten coursesssss; yes, I said ten. Lo and behold the dinner club showed up with wines and sherry to match each and every course and basically a stash that rivals Tyrion’s personal stash. Orgasmic honestly doesn’t describe the food at all..the word pales in comparison. Every single plate had so many nuances. It was perfection on a plate… I quote a Eat Out Review because my experience actually fails me: “You might receive a pink, golden and cream dream with Thai tom yum flavours; a stunningly beautiful palate refresher of different tropical textures topped with a tiny fennel flower; elements of a Durban chicken curry; or Mexican-inspired beef with whopping taste surprises in accompanying bursts”. I haven’t checked out the new space but this was hands down one of my favourite food experiences. EVER.

Perron Illovo

Less fine dining, better nibles with great cocktails. A favourite of mine with a larger crowd – especially so you can share all the amazing tapas! Are you in authentic Mexico? Nope, is it the closest to good Mexican food you can get in Johannesburg? Yep.

So many amazing soft shell tacos (if you prefer hard shells, they have that too – But I don’t understand people who like hardshells..were you not hugged enough as a child?) … slow-cooked pork belly;  battered hake…amazing ceviche… burritos…chargrilled corn…and would it be a Mexican place if it didn’t have oh so many amazing jalapeño poppers and churros… Great for larger crowds and Friday team lunches when you have no intention of going back to the office…yes…I have convinced my old team to come here…TWICE…and somehow they fell for it…TWICE. The frozen margaritas also deserve special mention!

Momo Soko (Illovo)

A nice change from the hum and drum of fine dining… Momo Soko is A-amazing! If you know me, you know I’m a  sucker for Asian flavours. This place offers Asian tapas and bowls, bao buns and skewers. The menu isn’t that extensive but everything is flavour packed. Think soy, tempura and sweet and sticky. A 180 from African travel ey? They also have way healthier options in the form of the soko bowls…way cleaner and fresher…What to order? Everything ….come back..the portions and prices are reasonable enough that you can try a few things every time you go.

Red Chamber (Hyde Park)

So I have to confess that I wasn’t a believer in the concept of this place before I went… To me most Chinese food is humble and packed full of flavour (On a completely somewhat unrelated sidenote when I first moved to china one of the funniest experiences I ever had was explaining that I was vegetarian… every single time I said it…they just assumed I didn’t eat pork…but I actually was vegetarian…the concept was so far removed to so many restaurants that I actually started eating meat again while on study abroad; and no it wasn’t my mandarin accent that was the issue…) so all those meaty flavours and humble ingredients seemed a mismatch to the mall of Hyde Park littered with its fancy stores… not exactly bee traveling on a budget… or my idea of good humble Chinese food (also please don’t get me wrong – Chinese food CAN do fine dining; its just what I enjoy more than anything else). Not to miss at Red Chamber – Dumplings (always), Peking Duck which is Beijing’s premier dish (comes with thin pancakes, cucumber, carrots and sticky plum sauce) which is great shared with a number of people. There are a bunch of other amazing dishes that are such a kicker. Again – I’m not much for dessert, but you should try something new!

Honourable mentions : Signature (Sandton), Cafe del Sol Classico,The Butcher Shop and Grill (an institution)  Qunu @ the Saxon, Sumting fresh (yes, I know a little less fine dining) but still..

There are clearly so many more restaurants that are super amazing in Johannesburg which are my go-tos for consistency and something quick (Tasha’s etc) , but the above are my all-star team when it comes to Johannesburg dining… I don’t actually have a good standard “African” food restaurant..any suggestions? If someone says Moyos…I may hurl..not a lot… just a little..