When visitors from across the world get to Victoria Falls, they are usually told that key activities include a visit to the falls themselves, a game-related activity in the area, a cruise on the Zambezi and — if young or adventurous enough — some or all of them adrenalin action such as bungee jumping, white water rafting and the like.
Restaurant Review with Epicurean
Other suggestions are made, too, and in the past decade or so, these have included the advice to have a meal at The Boma, now very much one of the “must-do” activities for many travellers.
This fact speaks volumes about the success of the venue and when I was there last week, I was told that this popular restaurant and entertainment centre hosted more than 61 000 meals during 2016. Quite clearly a great many people are taking the advice given to them. Something else I found impressive was to learn that this year The Boma celebrates its 25th anniversary; for many of us it seems only yesterday when we heard of the start-up of this interesting concept — a dining venue that gives folk a chance to sample traditional food of Zimbabwe. In recent years, added to the culinary opportunity has been the provision of a more general entertainment experience, brought about by the inclusion of drumming into the experience.
I was fortunate to be included in a tour group of media and travel trade people travelling to Victoria Falls as guests of the Africa Albida Tourism (AAT) group for the re-launch of The Boma 25 years on. An overnight stay at the Victoria Falls Safari Club and a meal at The Boma were the main focus, with add-ons including a falls visit and other activities. The Boma is part of the AAT operation that started back in June 1992 with the opening of the Lokuthula Lodges timeshare venture, on the western fringe of the Victoria Falls town. In October that year The Boma was opened adjacent to the lodges, primarily to offer visitors a dining option on site and then two years later came the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge, which has now become one of the busiest and most respected hospitality operations in Zimbabwe. In recent years the operation has been expanded to include the Victoria Falls Safari Club, a top-end addition to the accommodation offered to travellers, as well as the Victoria Falls Safari Suites, six suites within the Lodge that have family-size offerings for travellers. AAT also operates the Ngoma Safari Lodge in northern Botswana, sited along the Chobe River not far from Kasane and close to one of the largest populations of elephant in Africa.
Dinner at The Boma is aimed at being not just a chance to eat food, but to have an expanded culinary-entertainment experience, taking up the greater part of the evening. Guests arrive from about 7pm and are first offered sarong-type wraps to get them into the African feel of the experience. Face painting is an option, and a new addition to the pre-seating action is a drum-painting option, which I saw many folk doing – and enjoying thoroughly! Then it’s off to the seating area; within the complex are four of these, known as “villages” and all facing into a central area where food is served in a large buffet and from which the drumming activity is hosted. Walking into and out of the venue, guests pass through a curio shop, and it is all very colourful and visually interesting.
The waiters’ first job is to pour a little traditional beer or mahewu into a mug for sampling and the starters are brought to the table. Under the direction of The Boma’s executive sous chef Brighton Nekatambe, the culinary experience has been revamped somewhat, so there have been additions to the offerings, including starters. These come as shared platters, and a range of local food stuff is included in the presentation. Our platter included a vegetable samosa, featuring rape, as well as nhimo fritters, crocodile fillets, impala strips and Kariba sprats — a version of the well-known and popular kapenta. Soup can be sourced from one of the serving stations, and on the night we were there we had a hearty and exceptionally good butternut soup, into which was dropped a portion of a new moringa and pumpkin leaf pesto, which enhanced the flavour superbly.
Main courses are also sourced from the serving stations, where chefs prepare meat selected by guests from service trays. These range from beef cuts to all manner of venison; I saw warthog, impala, kudu meat balls and other options. My own choice was a new addition: grilled whole bream, providing an experience not unlike that of Portuguese-style sardines. The marinades for these meats have all been significantly changed as part of the revamp and reaction from colleagues dining was very positive. There is a large salad buffet, and Chef Nekatambe has added to the offering there with a number of traditional vegetable and fruit options. Desserts are also plentiful with new additions, and my choice was a tasty malva pudding. With demand rising for gluten-free content, the chef has incorporated this within the dessert range. Along with mealie meal, the starch offering includes sadza made from more traditional sources, such as sorghum.
Grilled mealies are on offer. Something fascinating was the inclusion of sushi, mainly because it is asked for and also because it helps add to the international fusion of cuisines that is provided in menu planning.
Chatting to Chef Nekatambe before dinner, he explained his desire to tell a story of Zimbabwean traditional food within the culinary range offered, and for international guests to go away with a genuine insight into local flavours and foodstuffs. The format is both successful and enjoyable and while some folk probably find it all a bit formulaic, it works really well and the offering is well-planned and well-executed. The chef is a great fan of feedback, which he gets there and then as well as on TripAdvisor and Facebook, both of which he follows keenly in search of this feedback.
When folk are well through the meal, the entertainment team gets into action with a drumming show, having previously handed to every guest a jembe drum for use. Then it’s on to a structured lesson in drumming and a chance for guests to let off a little steam — which they thoroughly enjoy — and finish up with a little voluntary dancing around the drummers. By the time everyone leaves, they have had quite a night of it. Last Monday night was busy, not just with our group, and I felt that faces told a very positive story about enjoyment levels.
It’s a superb experience and one that I have had quite a few times over the past 20 or so years, always one that I have enjoyed. I really believe that folks coming to The Boma leave with a positive insight into some of our cuisine and I can see why it’s become a “must-do” activity. It’s been well thought-out and well-managed and care is taken to make it both fun and rewarding for guests. Well done to The Boma on reaching 25! The venue has also undergone other changes, with some twists and tweaks in the areas of décor and crockery, for example. The restaurant used to have the pay-off line Place Of Eating, but this has now changed to the simple but effective Dinner and Drum Show. For Zimbabweans, it’s also something well worth doing while at the falls … it shouldn’t simply be something for only foreign folk to enjoy.
The Boma Dinner and Drum Show is at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge complex, Victoria Falls.
It’s open every night of the year and booking is essential. Cal (013) 432011-20 and visit www.africaalbidatourism.com.