Ben Abeba restaurant
Ben Abeba restaurant

Susan Aitchison had left her native Glasgow, in Scotland, and come to Ethiopia for three years to help a friend set up a school.

She lived in Lalibela, 35km from the remote school site, as the village has no water or electricity. A local man got the contract to drive her there and back.

And when it came close to leaving, she says: "I was going back to Scotland to be an old age pensioner. All I could see ahead was daytime television and my knees eventually packing up".

The driver, Habtamu Bayu, had told her that his dream was to open a small, simple restaurant in Lalibela, so rather than go back to Scotland, she suggested they go into the restaurant … though it turned out not to be small and simple.

Ben Abeba is big and spectacular.

Lalibela is the world famous site of rock-hewn churches carved into the mountains, designed as the new Jerusalem -Ethiopia accepted Christianity as its national religion in 340AD.

They eventually found a spectacular spot on the end of a high promontory, leased it from the government, and got two young Ethiopian architects to design Ben Abeba restaurant - somewhere between a cooking pot and a bouquet of flowers, with big, open dining areas taking the most advantage of the view.

They now employ and train some 40 young locals. Susan says the oldest is 28.

The restaurant opened two and a half years ago - about the same time as The Four Sisters.

Susan says that when Ben Abeba opened it was rated Ethiopia's best restaurant on the world's biggest rating website, with The Four Sisters number two.

"Then we went to number two and they went to number one."

It's a friendly rivalry, the two restaurants complimenting one another, and showing the quality Ethiopian dining can achieve.

"We both do it very well, but differently," says Susan.

FACT FILE

Days in Ethiopia are part of Travel Directors' African Dawn tour - a 28-day journey through Uganda, Rwanda and Ethiopia from January 4 to January 31, 2015. It's a mix of diverse experiences and sights, from Lake Victoria and the source of the Nile in Uganda, to the rare mountain gorillas of Rwanda and on to Ethiopia - the cradle of civilisation. It is $18,880 per person, twin share, and single supplement is $3250 per person. The cost includes economy class international airfares, all internal flights in Africa, accommodation, meals, Travel Directors tour leader and local guides, entrance fees, the US$750 permit to visit mountain gorillas in Rwanda, visas. 9242 4200 and traveldirectors.com.au

Across Abyssinia has packages and group tours but also caters for individuals, couples and small groups. They can follow Across Abyssinia's itineraries, or amend them. But in looking at the website, consider the Northern Historic Route (14 days on road, or eight days flying). Visit adventureabyssinia.com, email info@adventureabyssinia.com or call +251 911440145.

Qatar Airways flies daily direct between Perth and Doha and connect to Africa, among its 130 global destinations. qatarairways.com/au and 1300 340 600

The West Australian

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