We have just returned from 8 days at this resort after a safari in Kenya then a couple of days stay in Stone Town. We are celebrating a big birthday this year so decided to push the boat out a bit and go for a bit more luxury than usual. We stayed in three excellent hotels – and this one!
We were greeted very well – given cold towels and a drink then a tour of the resort by the two charming managers – Rachel and Jolene. We were both impressed. As we were early and the room was not ready we had lunch in the main restaurant which was very nice.
This is probably a good time to say that the One Ocean Dive Centre on site was great, really professional, lovely staff, new equipment and some awesome dive sites. We were even fortunate enough to snorkel with a large pod of dolphins, wonderful.
We were then taken on the trek to Safina – through the gardens, up the numerous steps and along the path in the blazing sun to the most remote room in the hotel. Rachel informed us during the walk that our butler and the chef will offer menu suggestions each morning but that the three ‘retreat’ rooms had their own dedicated kitchen in this part of the resort so we could order anything we wanted for any meal and it would be prepared for us.
As you first walk in it really does have the wow factor. Large veranda, view to the sea, beautiful rustic furniture, double hammock, plunge pool on the roof - just like the pictures. It’s not until you start living in the space that you realise it’s all a bit tired and grubby. As mentioned by a previous reviewer, the bedding and soft furnishings were stained, there was rust in the bathroom fittings, the crockery and cutlery were all a bit ‘Woolworth value brand’ and the glassware really naff. Food arrives with ill fitting lids and was never hot.
Despite asking, the room only had some rather nasty thick blue wine glasses – useless for beer or a G&T. We used the tooth mugs from the bathroom.
Oh and at 8am the workmen who are building the fourth retreat next door arrive, but they would usually wait until 8.30 before they started hammering. An attempt has been made to screen the workmen from Safina and it does work- most of the time.
The bedroom was fitted with air conditioning on the back wall. To one side is the archway leading to the bathroom and to the other is the archway to the stairs leading to the roof. Neither archway has a door and therefore the air conditioning unit is trying to cool three large spaces. We had it set to 16 degrees but the thermostat never read less than 27 degrees.
Add to that the essential mossie net around the bed and you were sleeping in a hot muggy tent. Someone has realised this and thoughtfully provided an electric fan on the headboard. Switch it on and you are sleeping in a hot muggy tent, with a draught.
The veranda was often splattered with rook droppings. The land in front of the veranda looking down to sea is a scrub/jungle area – natural & wild and full of wildlife. The veranda is at the height of the top of the majority of the trees. We were often chasing out bugs and cockroaches and we did have a rodent of some kind one night – but it was to dark to make out what – just saw a large tail as it disappeared over the side. As soon as we realised we stopped going barefoot and wore flip flops at all times.
It also means that you cannot access the ‘private beach’ from your room – you have to walk most of the way back to the main hotel then veer off left. ‘Private’ is an exaggeration as the locals use it all the time and anyone from the hotel can as well – they just don’t as it’s not very nice. We were told you can’t swim from it by Rachel. It has three double sun beds on it but they did look old, unused and forlorn.
The veranda has just two dim lights and the closest is some distance from the dining table so be prepared to eat almost entirely by the light of a single candle if you dine after about 6.30 pm.
Also while we were there (and I do realise that this is a time of year thing) it got really windy in the evenings and made the veranda an unpleasant place to be. It was enough to blow beer bottles and glasses over & make my hair look like a scarecrows. There are plastic screens but not positioned adequately to prevent the wind, more for the rainy season I think, and there is nowhere out of the weather to eat.
On being asked if we would like a cocktail before dinner on the first evening Rashide assured us that he knows how to make a very dry martini. We ordered two. When they arrived they were approx equal quantities vodka & vermouth - also warm. The following night I requested a marguerita. It arrived sweet, warm and without salt on the rim. We later realised that they were being made in the main bar and carried the 10/15 minute trek to our room. Despite the fact that we couldn’t drink them Rashide did not offer to replace them. In fact when I pointed out that the marguerita was unsalted he went away, came back with salt and another glass, salted the rim and poured the old drink into the new glass. I went down to the main building the following day and spoke to Rachael about this (and a couple of other problems). It was clearly not the first time she had had similar complaints and promised to talk to the food & beverage manager.
The following day she went back to Kenya.
We tried 4 different fresh juices on four consecutive mornings and told Rashide they were too sweet (no orange juice, that was not available we were told). We stopped ordering juice.
On our last morning he proudly produced orange juice (?) and assured us we would like it as he hadn’t put any sugar in it!
Restocking the bar one day Rashide asked us which beer we preferred. We said either Tusker or Kilimanjaro would be great – he brought Safari.
In the information pack in the room it says, and I quote
‘We aim to provide you with the highest standards of service possible. You have your own personal butler who will attend to all your needs with best efforts. The chef will visit you between 10am and 11am each morning to tempt you with the delights of the day and will implement innovative efforts to facilitate your meal preferences.’ We saw the chef on the last two days of our stay only. By then I think it was just curiosity on his part. His English is as good as our Swahili – ‘Thank you’ and ‘you’re welcome’. All translations went through Rashide
In fact what happened was that Rashide would wait until we had finished one meal and then we would have to decide what we wanted for the next – and at what time. Apart from breakfast, there was a choice of only three items, one each of vegetarian, fish or meat. Anywhere else this would be considered the ‘specials’ of the day – not the entire list of options. As I don’t like fish it reduced my options to two. As the chef only really had one sauce and put it on everything we got quite bored and decided to order ‘off specials’.
So, one lunchtime, we asked Rashide for cold meat and salad. We thought this would be straightforward. This first ‘ad hoc’ meal was a blueprint for all of the rest.
We asked Rashide what cold meat was available. It was like pulling teeth but he finally confessed that the kitchens had salami, beef and impala. We asked for a selection of all three. He asked what we wanted in the salad. We said tomato, lettuce, avocado, cucumber and whatever else the chef thought was good that day.
What arrived was tomato, lettuce, avocado and cucumber. Slapped on a plate with no garnish, dressing, mayonnaise, or indeed cold meat. No options to replace the lack of cold meat. No apology or explanation. Just a shrug.’ No cold meat’ he said.
As Rachael had gone by this time I went and had a quiet word with Jolene and said that I felt we were not getting the most from our time as there is no menu in the room and we had no idea what can be easily produced from the kitchens. Please could she produce a reasonably comprehensive list of available meal options or at least a list of available ingredients? I explained some of the difficulties we had encountered and she was surprised as she had come upon Rashide earlier that day with packs of cold meat in his hand. He had told her it was for us. We never did get to the bottom of why we didn’t get any.
She assured me that she would do what she could and that from here on in she was going to get personally involved in our meals. She also suggested we eat in the main restaurant. Not quite the solution we were looking for. I got the impression that she had had this kind of complaint before.
Two days later I told Rashide that Jolene was making a list for us of meal options and could he ask how she was getting on. He told us that she had gone into town for the weekend. I can only assume she wanted a decent meal. We neither saw nor heard from her again. I have no idea if she came back to the hotel or not.
After that the food lurched from bad to disaster. I will name some of the more memorable incidents. The breakfast fruit plate wasodd lumps of fruit plonked on a plate. Not nicely sliced or presented in any way. One meal we ordered prawns from the daily choice. The prawns were delivered for dinner with a baked potato and cauliflower. Bizarre!. Another prawn dinner for my husband came with noodles. They had been marinated in soy sauce. Then fried in soy sauce. Then garnished with soy sauce. They were disgusting, overly salty and inedible. We requested beef lasagne (ad hoc) after checking that it would not be difficult for the chef. I am sure that taking it out of the freezer carton and zapping it in the microwave was not to taxing. I was assured that parmesan was available, I am still waiting. We told Rashide we were going diving and that we thought we would be back between 2.30 and 3pm. We pointed out that we had breakfast at seven and would be really hungry when we got back. Lunch arrived just after 4pm. On another diving day we had breakfast at the main restaurant so didn’t get to order lunch until we got back. In an attempt to get something quickly we asked for a selection of sandwiches, beef, chicken and egg mayonnaise. With a salad. We had to explain egg mayonnaise – a couple of times. We told him how to make it. What arrived was an egg mayo/chicken mix sandwich. With tomato, lettuce, avocado and cucumber. Slapped on a plate with no garnish, dressing or finesse. You get the idea. It also took an hour and 10 minutes to arrive. All this from a kitchen which we were informed had only to produce three meals a day for 6 people. I am still trying to forget the ‘beef stew’ which I chose from the daily choices. I fed it to the cat. And the ice cream which I had in the restaurant once and was really nice, I requested that and what arrived at our room was a melted mess. Rashide apologised but did not offer to go get some more. Next time I asked for it – instead of just saying they didn’t have any they brought syllabub. I asked for cake one morning to go with coffee (they always had it in the main restaurant at breakfast) and was given stale digestives. Really, it just got so bizarre. I could go on and on (and on and on) with the list but you get the idea. If you consider requesting sandwiches, pasta and cold meat and salad as us being demanding or difficult then move over diva’s everywhere.
The only ‘ad hoc’ meal that was edible was a curry we had which was lovely, fragrant and delicious. It was the only meal where the chef seemed to have used any of the spice the island is famous for.
We ate in the main restaurant several times and they always seemed to have a fair choice of dishes, condiments and dressings. We often asked Rashide what was on the restaurant menu and it always seemed to be whatever we had already had.
We always had to ask very specifically, for what we wanted. If you forgot to mention something reasonably obvious, like salad dressing – you didn’t get it, even though we’d always asked for it before with a salad. Even being very specific, it was hit and miss as to what arrived.
It dawned on us eventually that the ‘dedicated kitchen’ was little more than a place to re heat and /or re cook food brought up from themain restaurant kitchen. I can’t say for sure that this is true but it would explain a great deal.
We also, in retrospect, feel that some serious penny pinching was going on as the ingredients used seemed to be poor quality – we certainly didn’t order bacon or cheese twice.
The main hotel always seemed to be better catered than the retreats. You didn’t have to decide the day before what you wanted for breakfast – or at what time, you just order or choose when you arrive at the restaurant. We always felt like the poor relation to the main lodge rather than the 5* rooms. A good start to redressing the balance would be a reasonable ‘in room’ menu so guests could ring up, order a meal and have it arrive within, say, half an hour.
We had a beer one afternoon in the main bar and the barman broke a glass on the sand floor. He knelt down and picked up the larger pieces with bare hands and scuffed over the area with his shoe. No other attempt was made to clear up the rest. In a different seat on a different day we saw more glass around.
We were expecting better organisation, more choice and certainly a much higher standard of accommodation, food. drinks and service
Rashide is a nice guy – doing a difficult job under difficult circumstances. If I had to guess I would say that his training for this job was inadequate. Our only link to food had no idea what food was available. He was never able to offer suggestions or alternatives and questions like ‘what pasta dishes is the chef good at’ would be met with blank looks. Every day brought some new embarrassment and awkwardness. He always seemed to be woefully short of support from any other members of staff or management.
Reading through the previous reviews for the retreat and the main lodge, the managers seem to change on a regular basis and it may be that this has affected the quality of the service. Sadly for us there seemed to be some sort of power struggle going on among the staff and the guests were the losers.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- Matemwe Retreat's rooms are extremely spacious and beautifully decorated. A private deck and plunge pool allows for uninterrupted relaxation, with only the palm trees for company. Service at the Retreat is organized in such a way that guests need never leave their room. A private butler caters to every whim and the chef stops by every morning to discuss the meal choices for the day, which are served on the large verandas overlooking the Indian Ocean. Guests are free to wander down to the main lodge, enjoy the delicious cuisine or join fellow patrons for sundowner cocktails. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
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- Matemwe Retreat, Zanzibar, Asilia Africa