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How to Run a Restaurant in the Middle of the Indian Ocean

Situated on a tiny coral structure off the East Coast of Zanzibar, The Rock is an almost painfully postcard-perfect restaurant.

Perched on a tiny coral structure in the middle of the Indian Ocean is a restaurant known as The Rock. At high tide, it can be accessed by a short boat ride. When the tide is low, it's possible to walk there over the sands. The only permanent inhabitants are birds.

The-Rock's-sign

The Rock restaurant off the East Coast of Zanzibar. All photos by Colin Cosier.
The-First-Mate-resturns-to-shore-after-delivering-patrons-to-The-Rock-restaurant Returning to shore after delivering customers to The Rock.

Situated in Michamvi Pingwe village on the East Coast of Zanzibar off Tanzania, The Rock is an almost painfully postcard-perfect restaurant. It has 12 tables all, ideal for gazing out from at the traditional wooden dhows sailing past on the horizon.

When I arrive, the only other customers are a couple of friends enjoying cocktails in the sun on the terrace. They move inside for their meal but since every seat in the house has ocean views, it's not a huge compromise.

This is the second visit to The Rock for British tourist Rachel Coffey.

"A friend who is a real foodie recommended it originally and he'd been here before," she says. "I saw the photos and thought I just have to come."

It seems the key to attracting the "foodies" is simplicity, as The Rock's chef Shariff Mussa explains.

The-Rock-at-dusk-from-the-shore

The-Rock-Special-seafood-platter-up-close The Rock's special seafood platter.
Urojo-otherwise-known-as-the-Zanzibar-mix-with-a-fresh-sugar-cane-juice Urojo, a soup made with coconut.

"Source the best fresh local seafood, baste it in a simple sauce, and barbecue it over an open flame," he tells me. "In other words, just let the seafood speak for itself."

This was certainly enough to win Coffey over.

"Last time I saw people having The Rock Special and I had food envy so I decided we had to have it this time," she says.

The Rock Special is a decadent seafood platter of local delights including lobster, cigal or slipper lobster, jumbo prawns, and marinated king fish served with a side of potatoes, salad, and topped with rounds of juicy local limes.

In a sleepy fishing village like Michamvi Pingwe, the local fishermen supply The Rock directly with freshly caught seafood. They deliver their produce on foot in the mornings at low tide and make the deliveries by boat when the water is high.

Mussa's preferred marinade for their seafood offerings is a blend of mustard, vinegar, onion, garlic, spices, extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. He also tells me to try the cigal as its meat is sweeter than lobster.

Customers can time their arrival to The Rock with the movements of the tide and the sun. Sittings are booked in two-hour intervals throughout the day and evening, seven days a week. I visit during the 4 PM to 6 PM slot, catching the end of high tide and sunset. Daytime sittings are also good for long lunches but from around 11 AM until 2 PM, the tide ride recedes out to the horizon.

When we've had our fill of seafood and selfies, we head back to the mainland to sample a Stone Town street food called urojo. The light and sour soup consists of barbecued meat, potato, boiled egg, fried pakoras, and fresh cucumber in a turmeric and coconut broth topped with crunchy cassava shavings and tamarind or Piri-Piri sauce.

But back on its coral ledge, The Rock will continue to keep things simple.