Sao Tome beckons with pride (mAY 26)

The room is a long one with a wooden floor, looking more like an artist gallery with its display of contemporary and antique paintings and sculptures.
Its interior décor, especially art pieces and sitting at the lobby, gives it the semblance of a page pulled out of a 19th century glossy fashion magazine.

However, as one moved inside the white one-storey-colonial architectural piece, the scene changes into an exotic restaurant setting, with aroma wafting from the open kitchen that displays almost all the vegetables going into the day’s menu.
This is Roca Sao Joao, the old coffee plantation turned restaurant. It is a radical response to Sao Tome’s coffee plantation heritage. 
Located in the village of São João dos Angolares, home of the Angolar people (a "maroon" community that descended from runaway slaves, with their own language, N'gola).
The chef  
It is a property owned by famous Sao Tomean gastronomy chef, Joao Carlos Silva. He restored Roça Sao Joao to its original airy charm and, with his cooking school, dance classes and eco-tourism projects, he has also created a renowned centre of Sao Tomean culture.
Roça Sao Joao has a unique way of provoking taste buds. The tradition here is for customers to suck on fresh cocoa beans and then savour the taste of local chocolate, grinded ginger and pepper and wine before the starter arrives.
And it does kick off appetite before the seven-course meal begins.
It was my fourth and last day in Sao Tome and Principe courtesy, Portuguese airline, TAP-Portugal, and its District Sales Manager, Mr Edwin Lawson, decided to keep the meet up with the celebrity chef for the last day.
A scar on the ocean
The Central African island country is roughly an hour and half flight from Ghana and has long been a mesh of cultures and history. 
In fact, I took a nap right after the aircraft took off only to wake up to the croaky voice of the captain announcing that we were 10 minutes away from landing.
From the sky, it looked like a scar on the ocean. 
The former Portuguese territory was once a key transit point for the Transatlantic Slave Trade and purveyors of tropical gold, cocoa and coffee.
From this diverse melting pot were born the unique cultural and biodiversity. As for food, it has an amazing blend of traditional, sub-saharan touch with a strong combination of Portuguese influence. 
That being said, Sao Tome and Principe chocolate also holds an ace.
Now, Sao Tome and Principe is seeking to tap into the spoils of this rich cultural heritage in a bid to help its economy flourish.
With its many beaches and thick rainforest, waterfalls and landmarks, including the equator and colonial era coffee plantations, Sao Tome is a paradise, albeit a lost one.
Back to the restaurant, from the widows, one is captivated by the panoramic views of the two worlds that symbolise the country—the blue ocean and the rain forest.
When food talks 
As the plates arrived with the well-garnished but small portions of food, my mind went to the buffet of breakfast we had at the Pestana Ecuador Hotel on Rolas Island, which is a stone’s throw away from the Equator which splits the world into the northern and southern hemispheres.
The food isn’t just appealingly local; it’s a seemingly “authentic” expression of a place. All the ingredients have a story, which you hear before each course.
The interesting aspect of Chef Silva’s food was the use of only local ingredients, compelling you to have a bite of almost everything the island produces on its farms and in the wild.
One of his signature dishes is a herbal aphrodisiac starter, which arrives at your table in its gigantic shell atop a bed of flour and egg.
Chef Silva is a weird character so does his restaurant appears which is exactly what makes it appealing to so many people. If you turn up without booking days ahead, you may not get a seat.
“You can’t come to Sao Tome without eating from this restaurant,” his son, Ivan Paulo Silva, smiled while he caught me staring at a giant cooking outside the restaurant.
An interesting thing about Sao Tome cuisine is that it is not greasy. And ohh their grilled lamb is a super delicacy and that country’s hospitality industry has a unique taste for garnishing food. 
Soup, not water
Roll back time to the second day. It was lunch time at the Pestana Hotel. One of the Islands heavy investments flowing from Portugal with Portuguese and Real Madrid legend, Cristiano Ronaldo, as a shareholder.
A smiling waitress delivers the menu with a pen and paper in hand to take the orders. But there was a fix; the menu was in Portuguese. The English translation was more confusing.
I flipped to the starters. The list was long and unfamiliar with no picture as a bait.
Then with her guidance, I chose what translates as a local fish soup. I was expecting a soup in the Ghanaian sense. It was not to be.  
When it arrived, it was not your typical Ghanaian soup with meat and or fish and vegetables getting cosy in a sauce. It was light. So light that you can see beneath the plate with shreds of fish. 
The soup looked like the outcome of eating a Ghanaian light soup and washing your hands.
That notwithstanding, the taste was from heaven. I still salivate thinking about it.
But I had my regret when the other options for starters chosen by the Editor of Daily Guide, Mr Fortune Alimi, turned up. It was a fruit salad with prawns neatly tucked into soft coconut and surrounded by lettuce.
The grass is always greener on the other side so they say…so food always looks good and delicious on someone else’s plate.
Sao Tome offers a picturesque view of beaches and greenery


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