As far as we know, there is only one place in the world where the locavore and elephant conservation movements intersect: the Elephant Café upstream from Victoria Falls, which will celebrate its first year in July.
If you're looking for one-of-a-kind Victoria Falls activities, the Elephant Café is a wonderful new option for a place more frequently associated with more adrenaline-charged pursuits like whitewater rafting, helicopter rides, and bungee-jumping. After his September 2016 visit, Bushtracks owner David Tett ranks the cafe among his top Victoria Falls activities, "What a wonderful farm to table lunch in Livingstone! You get to hang out with big tuskers, take them for a swim, then sit down to Chef Annabel's beautifully presented local creations overlooking the Zambezi River. This is definitely in the top five experiences of Vic Falls."
The wooden-platform restaurant is located in a riverside location that has been home to a herd of hand-reared elephants for many years. The older elephants were rescued from severe drought and culls decades ago, while others have assimilated from the wild, or were born into the herd. They are elephants that have grown up with safe human support using the “positive reinforcement method,” and with whom guests can interact: stroking, feeding, and taking photographs with them.
But the proximity to elephants is only half of the story. Chef de Cuisine Annabel Hughes was born in Kenya, educated in Zimbabwe, and rounded out her culinary studies in Oxford, England and the U.S. before returning to Africa. This "bush gourmet of the Zambezi Valley" is inspired by foraging, gardening and cooking in a unique place "where the biggest pests are elephants, in an area with people who have been subsisting off the land for centuries." Quite a challenge, but Chef Annabel and her team are more than up to the task.
Hughes' menus are inspired by a natural enthusiasm and curiosity for incorporating indigenous ingredients, and she strictly adheres to only using food that can be sourced locally or foraged. In her expert hands Masawa fruit, easily sourced at the market, substitutes for apple and stone fruit. Inji, a tiny wild fruit, becomes apricot-like. Finger millet, or nzembwe, with the nuttiness of quinoa and the texture of pearl barley, completes a roasted beetroot and goat cheese salad. Guests at the cafe become the beneficiaries of Hughes' endless testing and genuine love for her environs. So how might this play out in a menu?
Wild Kir Royale with Sindambi Syrup followed by Roasted Red Pepper & Masawa Soup with Greek Yoghurt, Warm Homemade Ciabatta Bread, and a main course of Lightly-poached Tilapia Fillets in a Thai Basil & Coconut Sauce, Baby Bok Choi & Green Beans with Peanuts and Lime French Potato Purée, and for dessert, Marula Ice Cream & Grilled Mango with a Mongongo Nut Florentine
The three to four hour activity can be booked around breakfast, lunch, high tea, or dinner. Arrive at the Elephant Café after a half hour speedboat ride from Victoria Falls, keeping an eye out for wildlife in the national parks that border each side of the Zambezi River. From a beautifully-appointed deck suspended over the Zambezi River, guests are invited to meet the herd of gentle giants before proceeding to a three-course meal with a seasonal menu that changes subject to the availability of wild ingredients. With limited seating available, it is important to book this activity well in advance of your visit. Ask your Bushtracks Safari Expert how to add the Elephant Café to your Southern Africa safari.