Sierra Leone is one of the undiscovered pearls of Africa, yearning to be discovered by tourists from all over the world. Sierra Leone’s beaches are a lust to the eye, a small paradise on earth. But is Sierra Leone ready for tourism? Let’s take a closer look at the country’s touristic hotspot Lumley Beach, where the country’s most luxurious and most expensive hotels are located. Which places are the main tourist attractions? And which places one should better avoid?
I’m asking this question because as a Sierra Leonean, I have been sick so many times after eating rotten, unhealthy, not well prepared or contaminated food in almost all of the various restaurants along Lumley Beach. While on press, I have a bad diarrhea from food I have eaten at Roy Restaurant this evening. Let’s not talk about my wife and child, who are from the Netherlands, they too have been sick even if they eat an ordinary potato chips from these places. This is a great concern to the Ministry of Health and Sanitation and the Ministry of Tourism if they want to attract tourists, holiday makers including Sierra Leoneans and business investors that visit Sierra Leone.
Even though Roy Restaurant did not come highly recommended, my wife and I decided to give the restaurant a try back in 2007. We frowned at the panbodi style structure the restaurant was hosted in, but the pepper chicken, I must say, was the best I ever ate in any restaurant in Sierra Leone. We became regulars at Roy Restaurant. We took our friends and family, business contacts, foreign tourists along with us. Every weekend we enjoyed the ocean breeze at their terrace, wining and dining, and we watched their place develop little by little, and along with it, many new customers making Roy Restaurant one of the hotspots along Lumley Beach. In time, behind panbodi Roy a taller building was erected and so Club Roy, Barbing Saloon Roy and Ice Cream Roy came into being. And that is when the establishment started to lose its leading position. The service has always been crappy, but the quality of the food used to make up for that. Of course, Roy Restaurant was not perfect; an occasional diarrhea has always been attached to their menu. Those days are in the past. The service has gone from crappy to horrific and the restaurant is now a sure guarantee for a severe case of salmonella poisoning. Customers are a nuisance to the untrained and incredibly rude new staff, and if one wants to complain either service or food quality, you’ll run the risk of ending up in a street fight with the restaurant’s management.
We have witnessed the owner and managers engaging into street fights with the handicapped beggars, and therefore, next to declining service and food quality, we decided to look out for other places to have our family dinners. We spent our Christmas dinner at a very local beach bar at Lakka Beach where the service was surprisingly good and friendly, and the fresh seafood was magnificent. Because the Monday after Boxing Day was a public holiday and the traffic from Goderich, where we live, to Lumley was flowing for the first time in months, we decided to give Roy Restaurant a second (or in fact a tenth or maybe eleventh) chance to have our after Christmas celebration.
We came in the afternoon and to still our hunger, we ordered a plate of chips, which came surprisingly fast. Five minutes after ordering. Cold and half raw. So the second chance did not start off well. We should have been alarmed, but in the good Christmas spirit, we ordered for our dinner anyway. It took more than an hour and a half, but at last, a shrimps salad for our fifteen month old daughter, grilled shrimps for my wife and my own pepper chicken were served. The shrimps salad had some sand in it, but being used to bugs and other dirt in salad and lettuce at Roy’s, we washed it off with a, somehow bitter, smile. The grilled shrimps were soft, gummy and blackened all over, but somehow eatable. My pepper chicken though, was raw on the inside.
The girl who served us, and I deliberately don’t call her waitress, since I have not seen worse service anywhere, not even at the most local cookeries, was annoyed when I asked her to take the food back to the kitchen, ushering me to eat it since the kitchen was too tense to cook my food. Needless to say I refused to eat it. She grabbed the plate from the table without as much as a word, leaving me in limbo whether I would see the food again or not. But the pepper chicken came back, the skin blackened and the inside, alas, still raw. I made my complaint to the management, and the food was taken back to the kitchen for a second time, only this time, it did not come back. No apology, not a word. I ended up eating from my wife and daughter’s plates.
Still hungry, we decided to leave early. It took more than half an hour to get the bill, and to my surprise, the pepper chicken was included. Tired of the game they were playing with me, I just subtracted the price of the pepper chicken (Le 55,000 or Euros 12/USD 12.50) from the total sum (Le 173,000 or Euros 32/Dollars 40) on the bill. The girl who served us grabbed the money from my hands before I could put it into receipt book, counting it franticly. In a very rude manner, she demanded the money for the pepper chicken. I refused to pay, and before she could give me a chance to discuss it with her or to explain my complaint, she ran to the other side of the terrace, shouting to her manager, shouting at me, shouting at my wife. No manager showed up though, and because we did not want to subject our fifteen month old daughter to such street brawl which would be more commonplace for street sellers at Sani Abacha Street than what one would expect from a ‘waitress’ of one of the country’s most popular restaurants, we decided to leave quietly. We felt the embarrassment though, having the eyes of the terrace piercing our backs and being followed by a scolding ‘waitress’ carrying a plate with a blackened, completely dried out pepper chicken leftover, from which the side dishes (lettuce and potato chips) were eaten by the staff. We were already in our car, ready to leave, when the proprietor of the place shouted at us that we refused to pay because we did not have the money.
Having been regulars at Roy Restaurant for three good years, recommending the place to countless people, this they felt was the appropriate way to reward us. All of our Sundays, and many times even our Saturdays, we spent at their place. Not once, we have been unable to pay the bill. Most places would consider people like us valued customers. And everybody knows that businesses rely on their ‘regulars’. It is therefore no guess that business must be declining for Roy. And no wonder. Service is a foreign word for them and as far as the quality of the food goes: restaurant personnel that do not understand that raw chicken is the most common host for the salmonella bacteria, should not have our health in their hands.
Considering the fact that Roy Restaurant is one of the most popular restaurants in the touristic hotspot of Sierra Leone, I’m asking the indulgent of the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, Ministry of Tourism to assess the service and inspect the kitchen of the various beach bars and restaurants. If we want Sierra Leone to be discovered by tourists, we need their mouth to mouth advertisement to promote our country. My wife, daughter and I will get our ‘mouth to mouth’ at Lakka Beach where the food is fresh and clean, and where the locals value their customers as Kings. That is how it should be. Of course, we are taking our family, friends, and business contacts with us. And for all those others who are thinking of trying Roy Restaurant in the future: foretold is forewarned. Roy Restaurant is a no go area if you value civilized manners, your intestines and your pride.
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