Being Venetian, I don't always want to eat traditional food, sometimes I like to change and luckily Venice caters for all. Among my favourite ethnic restaurants, extremely budget too, there is definitely Africa Experience, a really lovely African restaurant with a very special story located in Calle Lunga San Barnaba.
I started coming here about a year ago, I think it opened in November 2016, and have always loved the atmosphere. I know that Greece is not in Africa, but the feeling is of being in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, with all these curvaceous women in the kitchen that never fail to smile from the see through window whenever they notice you are looking at them. The staff too is incredibly kind and helpful and the design beautiful! Well, as you can understand: I like it.
Most Venetians know the story already, but it's still worth mentioning: this restaurant is the third place opened by political refugee Hamed Ahmadi, who had arrived in Italy in 2006 to present a documentary at the Venice Film Festival and has since then been adopted by the city. He initially worked as an intern -with the role of gardener- at the Peggy Guggenheim and then started his own project: help other immigrants find work and integrate in the community. Africa Experience is, in fact, managed by the men and women -but mostly women!- of the local immigrant reception centre, who talk and describe their culture through the delicious food they prepare everyday. By the way, the cooks have been selected through a Master-Chef-like competition and got the job thanks to their skills!
Let's start from the space. It is very big for Venice, about 120 square metres. There are three lovely rooms with red brick walls, wooden beams on the ceiling, ethnic objects and fabrics all over the place and a small back garden where it's possible to dine in the warmer months. Colourful details like prints with stylised animals or small statues and vases add a touch of homeyness that, combined with the soft illumination, make eating here a real pleasure. In fact, although easy-going and budget, the service, presentation and overall atmosphere are excellent!
The staff, as already mentioned, is more than wonderful, so from this point of view Africa Experience is a guarantee. With regard to food, well, I think it's great and it's an ideal option if you are dining with vegetarians or vegans. I love the starters, a vast selection of sauces, fritters and both raw and cooked vegetables. The portions are generous, so we just shared a tomato salad and a spicy sauce served with injera, the sourdough-risen Ethiopian flatbread, very particular because it has a nice spongy texture. Every time I cannot help but admiring the beautifully hand decorated plates (I tried ordering them for my house several times, but after giving my number to 3 different women I gave up and just come here to look at them).
While waiting for our first course, we noticed that around us there were only locals and foreigners, but very few tourists. Behind our table there were three adorable ladies in their 80s enjoying their lunch, all dressed up and totally enthusiastic about the mixed starters. I want to be like them one day (leave husband and home and have a ball with my girlfriends)! Anyway, we both continued our lunch with a rice dish. I wasn't excessively hungry, so I had rice with saffron, lentils, potatoes, carrots and a little bit of parsley: simple, delicate and nice, the type of lunch that doesn't require you too go to sleep straight after you've finished.
Vito had a dish called TIPS, a lamb stew with bell peppers, onion, fresh tomato, curry and ground pepper which is usually served with Injera, but today they had it with basmati rice, curry, herbs and broad beans. Really nice! The lamb was tender and not gamey at all and the overall flavour was very pleasant, still Vito added some hot sauce -his weakness, or, actually, one of his weaknesses (he has many, you know...)- to add extra vibe.
We took our time and chatted away, no one will hurry you to leave or whatsoever, I actually think that the word "hurry" doesn't even exist in their culture, even if their culture is quite mixed, considering that they all come from different countries: some are from Africa (and Africa is big and varied), but others come from Afghanistan and Persia, anyway all millenary cultures that live a slow paced life.
We finished our lunch with a little spirit; there aren't many great alcoholic options so we opted for a grappa aromatised with ginger, which was light (only 33°), fresh and perfect to "clean" our mouth. Furthermore, it left a lovely super fresh aftertaste that stayed with us until we arrived home. About one hour and a half of enjoyment, relaxation, food and chats, the perfect way to start the weekend!
So, if you happen to be in the Dorsoduro district and are looking for a quality budget option for lunch, consider Africa Experience: yummy food, warm atmosphere, kind people and great value for money. Highly recommended!
Address: Dorsoduro, Calle Lunga San Barnaba 2722, 30123 Venezia (VE)
Phone: +39 041 476 7865
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