Monday, March 5, 2012

Schiller’s 12 Favorite Restaurants of Antananarivo, the Capital of Madagascar

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Manager and Owner Herintsoa Dany Rakotoson at Tsiky

Off the eastern coast of Africa, Madagascar in the Indian Ocean is the 4th largest island in the world. Long known for vanilla beans and peppers, you can dine in its capital Antananarivo like in Paris, but at much, much lower prices and you can drink imported wines, mainly from France and South Africa, as well as – and this comes as a surprise to most visitors – wine produced locally.

As a result of the island's long isolation from neighboring continents, Madagascar is home to a vast array of plants and animals, many found nowhere else on Earth. Approximately 80% of all plant and animal species found in Madagascar are endemic. The island has been classified by Conservation International as a biodiversity hotspot.

Pictures: Impressions from Madagascar

Before becoming a sovereign country again in 1960, Madagascar was a French colony for over 60 years. Since regaining independence, the the first period (1960-1972), under the leadership of French-appointed President Philibert Tsiranana, was characterized by a continuation of strong ties to France. The period under Vice Admiral Didier Ratsiraka (1975-1993) saw a political alignment with the Eastern Bloc countries and a shift toward economic insularity. The period under the leadership of Professor Albert Zafy (1993-1996) ended with the return of President Didier Ratisiraka return to power (1996-2001), followed by the presidency of  Marc Ravalomanana (2001 -2009), who was eventually pushed from power in a coup d'etat led by Andry Rajoelina.


Antananarivo is the capital and largest city in Madagascar. Unlike most capital cities in southern Africa, Antananarivo was already a major city before the colonial era; in 1793, Antananarivo was made the capital of the Merina kings. The city was captured by the French in 1895 and incorporated into their Madagascar protectorate. Roads and broad flights of steps connecting places too steep for the formation of carriage roads were constructed throughout the city. In 2011, the capital's population was estimated at 1,300,000 inhabitants.

Pictures: Impressions from Antananarivo

I lived in Antananarivo from 1989 to 1992 and have visited Antananarivo since then on average every other year. The last time, I was in Madagascar, was for 2 months between November 2011 and January 2012.

The Restaurant Scene in Antananarivo

While most of the restaurants in Antananarivo offer French brasserie/restaurant food, there are also other food options, including traditional Malagasy food. The traditional Malagasy food is rice 3 times a day, for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a bit of meat or fish, and Analamao (bok choy-type greens). The Malagasy eat traditionally with a spoon and a fork - no knife. Madagascar has the highest per capita rate of rice consumption in the world.

French food in Madagascar ranges from basic bistro food to 1-star Michelin food. If you like French food, you are just right in Madagascar. You can eat in Antananarivo just as well as in Paris, but at considerably lower prices.

Wine in Madagascar

Turning to wine, Madagascar produces wine. The vineyards are in the Betsileo area in the highlands and total about 800 hectares. This compares with 100.000 hectares in Germany or South Africa. Traditional Malagasy wines – the vast majority - are made with so called French American hybrid grapes that are more fungus resistant than the vitis vinfera (European) grapes that dominate the world wine market. While traditional Malagasy wines tend to be of reasonable quality, they do not reach a quality level that would allow to marketed traditional Malagasy wines internationally. In particular, French American hybrid grapes tend to have a “foxy” taste that lets many wine drinkers stay away from these wines. See: The Wines of Madagascar - Good and Interesting Table Wines

But – and this is a brand new development - a new winery – Clos Nomena – has just started to produce Malagasy wine exclusively made with European grapes that tastes very much like the wines we are used to: Clos Nomena: Taking the Wine of Madagascar to New Heights

Pictures: Malagasy Wines

For imported wines, practically nothing was available in the 1980s, when I first set foot on the red island. That changed in the following years and French wine became readily available in supermarkets and restaurants. The most recent development is the influx of South African wine, which began perhaps a decade ago.


Here is my current list of Antananarivo's restaurants, rated on a scale from 1 to 5 stars.

I am publishing my views in 3 different ways:

(1) in alphabetical order: A Comprehensive Guide - in Alphabetical Order - to the Restaurants of Antananarivo, the Capital of Madagascar

(2) ordered by the number of stars: A Comprehensive Guide - Ordered by the Number of Stars - to the Restaurants of Antananarivo, the Capital of Madagascar and

(3) my 12 personal favorites, irrespective of stars: Schiller’s 12 Favorite Restaurants of Antananarivo, the Capital of Madagascar

This is my posting about my 12 personal favorites.

At the time of my last visit, in 2011/2012, the exchange rates were Euro 1 = Ariary 2750 and US$ 1 = Ariary 2000

Tsiky **

A restaurant that you find in no guide. Few tourists or expatriates go there. I am one of the few. French and Malagasy food at budget prices in an environment that has in my view some class.

It has a two pages menu with one page Malagasy food and one page classical French bistro food. As for the former, I can recommend the Romazava for Ariary 9.000. Most Malagasy dishes are in this price range. Last time, I had Gambas Grilles for Ariary 10.000 and my wife a pave de Zebu a la Sauce Roquefort, also for Ariary 10.000. We finished with Banane Flambee for Ariary 3.500.

Picture: Crudites at Tsiky

The wine list is short. A couple of imported wines and the Coteaux d’ Ambalavao and the Cote de Fianar, red, white, gray and rose, in 0.75 and 0.375 bottles. The Coteaux d’Ambalavao is Ariary 11.000 in the 0.75 liter bottle and the Cote de Fianar Ariary 7.000. Both are produced by the Chinese Chan Fui et Fils.

One of my long-time Antananarivo favorites: Tsiky – Charming Restaurant in Antananarivo, Madagascar, Serving Good Food and Malagasy Wines

Analakely, 22 283 87

Kudeta ****

Superbly stylish bar-restaurant, fancy modern place with a Malagasy touch – you could think to be in New York. International clientel, less French-centered than other places.

The menu makes imaginative use of local ingredients. If you like Fois Gras, this is one of the places to go; it comes in 4 different versions: nature, poele au miel, 2 facons de terrine and confit de foie gras, all for Ariary 18.000.

I also like the Crevettes and Cuissse de Nymphes (very juicy). The Assiette de Fromage de Madagascar for Ariary 12.000 is also tempting. Excellent presentation.

The wine list is dominated by French wine, in particular Bordeaux. On the first page of the wine list, they list 4 Bordeauxs at the Cru Bourgeois level for Ariary 300.000 to 400.000. The next page has about 25 mainly Bordeaux AC wines, starting at Ariary 45.000. Finally, the page vins du monde is dominated by South African wines, in the Ariary 40.000 to 70.000 range. In addition, Kudeta offers 10 wines by the glass (for Ariary 10.000 to 18.000) and 5 wines en carafe (for Ariary 20.000 and 30.000) for half a liter. No Malagasy wines.

Isoraka, 22 611 40

Café de la Gare ***

One of the new-wave additions to the Tana restaurant scene in the renovated Railways Station Building. Piano music very evening. A very lively place, where you always can meet interesting people. Very fast internet free of charge. English-speaking staff.

The food is good French brasserie food, with a limited choice for lunch and a more elaborate choice for dinner. I like the Tartare de Beuf for Ariary 13.000. Most main courses are around Ariary 15.000. The brunch on Sunday for Ariary 18.000 is very popular.

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Patrick Rajaonary at Cafe de la Gare

Friday evening, fresh oysters are brought in from Fort-Dauphin in the south of Madagascar. Half a dozen oysters on the half-shell cost Ariary 18.000. See on schiller-wine: Fine Wine and Fine Oysters in Madagascar: Oysters from Fort Dauphin and Wine from Clos Nomena

The wine list contains about 40 bottles, including a Blanc, a Rouge and a Rose Clos Nomena for Ariary 56.000. Among the other wines, one finds a lot of decent wines from Bordeaux, for Ariary 50.000 to 140.000, wines from other French regions and a good selection of wines from South Africa.

Brasserie and Bar

Train Station, 22 611 12

Viko Viko ***

A rather large and typical French Brasserie near the Hotel Carlton at the Ho Shi Min Square. It is a simple, basic and spacious restaurant with a large bar, a nice lounge area, 2 connected dining rooms  and an open air space. It reminded me very much of a “routier” in France. “We are packed for lunch. Before the crises we were also always full for dinner”.

Oddly, it is not included in the otherwise comprehensive list of Tana restaurants of the monthly Tana Planete Magazin, nor can you find it in any of the guides. But it is well known in and well frequented by the French expatriate circle in Tana. When I was there, 2/3 of the clients were French expatriates.

It is run by a French couple, perhaps in their late fifties/early sixties. They own and operate Viko Viko now for 6 years. She is in charge of the cash register and he constantly walks through the restaurant to make sure the service is efficient and smooth. He greets most clients personally and seems to know everyone. Generally, everybody seems to know everybody.

The menu is written on a blackboard that is put in front of you when you order. It contains quite a number of salads (in the Ariary 12.000 range) and a dozen or so French Brasserie classics (between 15.000 and 18.000). They also have wood-fired oven and offer half a dozen pizzas for around 13.000. Friday’s special – Couscous – is apparently very good. Last time I had Salade Nicoise for Ariary 12.000 for lunch with a ballon de rose. He has the classics like Maigret de Canard, Gambas Sautees, Steak au Poivre, to name a few.

Viko Viko offers perhaps 10 wines by the bottle, all written on little plates that are attached to the wall, in the Ariary 50.000 to 80.000 range.

Chez Arnaud ****

A gem as far as I am concerned. A restaurant – without bar – which surprisingly has a huge list of pizzas, very much off the beaten track and very difficult to find for tourists. You meet Malagasy and expatriate residents here, who care for good, classic French restaurant food. The setting is appealing, with a Malagasy touch, but rather simple and not as fancy as in the other 4 star restaurants in Antananarivo.

Picture: Chef Arnaud, Chez Arnaud, with Ambassador Hans-Dieter Stell, Christiane Stell and Christian G.E. Schiller

The menu is huge, with two pages of pizzas, but what impressed me most was the huge variety of classical French food. The menu presentation is unpretentious, on white sheets in plastic cover sheets. The food is not cheap. Many courses are in the Ariary 18.000 to 20.000 range. But given the outstanding quality of the food, prices are reasonable.

Last time, we started with delicious Cuisses de Nymphes (with lots of garlic) and then had for the plat de resistance Foie Gras Entiere Poele (Foie Gras comes in 6 different versions) and Filet de Zebu avec Sauce Poivre Vert. We finished with Banane Flambee and Mousse au Chocolat, classics at their best.

The wine selection is impressive, with about 50 wines from France, but also from other parts of the world. Many wines are in the Ariary 40.000 to 70.000 range. Only one Malagasy wine is served, a Clos Malaza Gris for Ariary 20.000.

The Frenchman Arnaud is the Chef of Chez Arnaud. He came to Madagascar in 1995. He evidently loves cooking and knows what he is doing. As far as I know, he is the only Frenchman, who runs a restaurant in Antananarivo from the kitchen – all the others are maitre d’hotel and supervise the dining room.

Ambohipo 22 221 78 Closed on Monday

Villa Vanille ***

A classy establishment outside the centre in an old colonial villa, with a strong Malagasy component. There is nightly music performed by Malagasy bands and it has the best Malagasy wine list in town.

Picture: Villa Vanille

The cooking is somewhat eclectic, though as you'd expect from the name, the region's most famous and flavorsome orchid features heavily. Amazingly, a full page with different pizzas and a full page with couscous variations are accompanying a traditional French restaurant menu with such delicacies as Camerons a la Vanille (Ariary 50.000) and Langouste rouge grille (Ariary 50.000).

Villa Vanille is also a good place to taste Malagasy foie gras: You have a choice between Foie gras maison, Foie gras a la vanilla and Escalope de foie gras chaud a notre facon, all around Ariary 18.000.

Importantly, is the only top restaurant in Antanarivo which features a good selection of Malagasy wine. Villa vanilla currently offers the Clos Malaza, the Lazan ‘I Betsilio and the Grand Cru de Antsirabe as Rouge, Blanc and Gris, by the glass and by the bottle (for Ariary 22.000 the former two and Ariary 27.000 the latter). In addition, you can choose among a decent collection of French, Argentine and South African wines in the Ariary 40.000 to 90.000 range.

Antanimena, 22 205 15

Sakamanga ***

I have seen the hotel growing from a small, intimate place to quite a large complex. The owner has acquired over the years various houses and has created a labyrinth and extremely charming patchwork hotel that doubles as a museum.

The large majority of the clientele tends to be tourists, often nature freaks and sometimes those middle-aged people who tour the country by taxi-brusse. It is always packed and lively.

Very good and reasonably priced food. I like the Brochette de Zebu for Ariary 10.000. Most dishes are in the up to Ariary 15.000 price range. Dinner is served in the restaurant facing the street, while lunch is also served within the Sakamanga complex in small garden area with lots of tropical plants.

Picture: Rhum Arrange Selection at Sakamanga

In addition to good French and South African wines, the wine list carries a Malagasy wine, a Grand Cru d’Antsirabe (rouge) and Clos Malaza (white and sweet). They also offer wines en carafe and en verre from France and South Africa. I also like the selection of Rhum aromatisee and typically finish the evening – if I stay at the Sakamanga – with a couple of glasses of rhum (for Ariary 2.000).

Le Buffet du Jardin **

A simple indoor and outdoor brasserie, very popular with French expatriates, with reasonably priced brasserie food, which has recently been taken over by the Hotel Colbert, which is just around the corner. With the arrival of the Colbert you see less ladies of the night waiting for clients. Centrally located, next to the Colbert and Louvre. One of the regulars there was former Prime Minster Guy Razanamasy, for after or pre-dinner Whiskey.

I never had dinner there, but like it for a quick lunch in the garden brasserie or an afternoon coffee. The Buffet du Jardin has a good list of plats, typically around Ariary 8.000. Chris, my future son in law, likes the Pizzas there, all around Ariary 10.000.

Antaninarenina, close to Hotel Colbert

Akoa ***

Located in Ivandry, the suburb where many foreigners live, Akoa consists of a small hotel and an excellent restaurant. I in particular like to have lunch or dinner in the tropical garden in the pool area.

The menu is strictly French brasserie and restaurant food with French standards like Tartare de Crevette and Terrine de Canard, Filets de Sole among the main courses, all in the Ariary 18.0000 range. As a specialty, Akoa offers a Menu Zazakely for children up to 10 years for Ariary 16.000.

Picture: Akoa

Reflecting the relatively large share of English-speaking clients of Akoa – the American School of Antanananarivo is just next door - the wine list used to be more international than in other Tana restaurants, but no longer is: now you find only French wines on the wine list, ranging from Ariary 37.000 to Ariary 165.000. Akoa also offers wine en verre and en carafe.

I have written about Akoa: Restaurant and Hotel AKOA – An Oasis of Tranquility in the Buzzing Third World City Antananarivo in Madagascar

Ivandry, 22 437 11

La Rotonde (Hotel Gregoire) ***

Undoubtedly, the best place to eat fish in Tana. An institution, which has a bit of a problem to survive in light of the many new-wave restaurants. Paul Gregoire founded the bar Poker d’as in 1942, when Madagascar was still a French colony. Over time the place was enlarged with the addition of a hotel and 2 restaurants. It is now managed by the 3. generation of the Gregoire family.

I like the Ocean en Plateau for two people for Ariary 70.000 – Camaron, Crabe, Langouste, Crevettes, Calmares, Poisson fume, Huitres. They also serve fresh oysters from Mahajanga and Fort Dauphin.

The wine list includes French standards, but also 2 Malagasy wines – the Grand Cru d’Antsirabe and the Clos Malaza, both for Ariary 17.000 and as vins rouge, blanc, gris.

Besarety, 22 222 66.

Glacier Brasserie (Hotel Glacier) ** 

Exists since 1933 and has been very popular with the French expatriate community since then. A large complex with a café, which turns into a bar with live music during the weekend and a brasserie, as well as a casino. Glacier is always packed with ladies of the night waiting for clients. From the balcony brasserie in the first floor, you have a very nice view of the Avenue de l’ Independence.

Pictures: Christian Schiller, Volker Schlott and Falk Breitkreuz (Duo Favo), and Eckehart Olszowski (CGM) at the Glacier

The brasserie offers good quality French brasserie food, a good menu with Malagasy dishes and some Chinese dishes as well as pizza and pasta. It includes such standards as Carpaccio de Zebu, Entrecote and Filet de Zebu, Steak Tartare and Lapin a la Moutarde, all in the Ariary 12.000 to 15.000 range. Last time I had Cuisse de Nymphe a la Provencale, Crevettes a la Creole and Ananas Flambee, all for Ariary 30.000.

Last time, the lunch special was Salate Tomate et Mozzarella, Voie de Veau a l’ Echalo and Crème Caramel for Ariary 9.900.

One of best place in Antananarivo for traditional Malagasy wine. Their wine list includes a relatively large share of Malagasy wines:  Lavasoa, Lazan ‘I Betsileo, Clos Malaza and Cote de Fianar. Last time, we had a bottle of the rouge Cote de Fianar, for Ariary 12.000. Glacier also ½ a dozen French wines, all in the Ariary 50.000 range and wines from South Africa for around Ariary 30.000.

Avenue de l’Independence, 22 202 60

Restaurant Des Artistes **

A new, simple hotel cum restaurant, in the center of town. It has only an outside, though covered, restaurant. The menu is limited but the food – snack/bistro food – is good. The one page menu offers: Sandwichs, Entrees, Pates, Plats – in the Ariary 8.000 to 12.000 area.


Schiller Wine - Related Postings

Wining and Dining in Antananarivo, the Capital of Madagascar – Christian G.E. Schiller’s Private List of Restaurants in Antananarivo

The Wines of Madagascar - Good and Interesting Table Wines

Christian G.E.Schiller’s Private List of Restaurants in Antananarivo That Serve Malagasy Wine

Clos Nomena: Taking the Wine of Madagascar to New Heights

Fine Wine and Fine Oysters in Madagascar: Oysters from Fort Dauphin and Wine from Clos Nomena

Restaurant and Hotel AKOA – An Oasis of Tranquility in the Buzzing Third World City Antananarivo in Madagascar

Tsiky – Charming Restaurant in Antananarivo, Madagascar, Serving Good Food and Malagasy Wines

Sea, Sand, Soul and Sakafo, and Whales and Wine – At Princesse Bora Lodge on Ile Sainte Marie in the Indian Ocean

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