London’s Best African Restaurants
Just Opened London’s ‘Best of’ series covers a combination of recently opened venues and established London favourites, to make sure you get the full lowdown on where to spend your time and hard-earned cash.
Africa is the world’s second-largest continent containing 54 countries, so it’s frustrating for restaurateurs to be lumped together under the umbrella of ‘African food’ because really, that’s about as useful as talking about ‘Chinese’ or ‘Indian’ food. These are vast and varied cuisines.
Recently, London has seen a flurry of new openings that have changed the African food game significantly, and while we’ve still grouped these restaurants by South, East and West, we hope you’ll forgive us these broad strokes when the representation of African food in London still has a long way to go. To quote the owner of Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen, Zoe Adjonyoh speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme recently, the term African food ‘will do for now.’
These, then, are our current favourite African restaurants in London.
Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen
Zoe Adjonyoh is one of the proudest and most important voices in African food today. She began cooking her food at supper clubs before moving Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen (‘it’s Ghana be tasty’) into Pop Brixton. Recently, she began a new residency at The Institute of Light in east London.
She’s famous for her rich peanut stew (the first dish she cooked for friends which became the inspiration for ZGK), although her most popular dish now is Jollof spiced fried chicken. This spin on one of London’s most popular dishes uses the spices commonly found in the comforting rice dish, Jollof rice, of which there are many variations throughout the 17 countries of West Africa.
Zoe is adept at taking the flavours of traditional Ghanaian dishes and giving them an update, so beef suya (usually skewered meat grilled and served as street food) is repackaged into a burger at this new residency, and cassava crisps are flavoured with the drink Supermalt. We also love that she’s introduced a range of popcorns at The Institute of Light (also a cinema) flavoured with different kinds of butter including kelewele (usually spiced, fried plantain), baobab or ground hot pepper.
Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen, Arch 376, 10 Helmsley Place, E8 3SB
Ikoyi recently refocused their menu so that it has a much larger focus on seafood, something we were fully behind. Their version of Jollof rice, therefore, has the inspired addition of smoked crab. We love that the menu invites so many questions because it’s full (to us, at least) of unfamiliar ingredients and dishes. What is ehuru? Well, it’s African nutmeg. And banga? That’s a soup made with palm fruits and dried fish. It’s a glorious education.
What Ikoyi does so well is elevate these flavours to what is arguably pretty high-end cooking, without being at all stuffy. Settle in among the plants, terracotta pots and earthy hues of the restaurant and enjoy some of the most groundbreaking West African cooking in London.
Ikoyi, 1A, 1 St. James’s Market, SW1Y 4AH
Obalende Suya Express and Café Spice
If you’re in the mood for a casual Nigerian snack then head to one of these two Peckham institutions. Obalende Suya Express serves traditional suya, so that’s beef or other meat (even gizzards) rubbed with spices and flame-grilled. It’s traditional to serve a little pile of the spice mix alongside the meat with sliced onions and tomatoes, as they do here, and we recommend getting the rich Jollof on the side. We also love the way they slightly pickle their plantains, which offsets the intense creamy sweetness.
Café Spice is such a fixture of Peckham’s Rye Lane it’s hard to imagine the road without it. Snacks such as chin chin and puff puff are piled up in the window and you’ll often see the owner standing in the doorway, greeting regulars and friends as they walk past. Perfect for a quick fix on the run.
Obalende Suya Express, 43 Peckham High Street, SE15 5EB; Café Spice, 88 Rye Lane, SE15 4RZ
I Go Chop
A fairly recent addition to the Camberwell food and drink scene, I Go Chop has taken the familiar Nigerian takeaway model and modernised it with slick décor and a modern website – it seems to be paying off. The hungry should choose the Oga Burrito, a behemoth packed with jollof rice, beans and plantain for sweetness.
The cow foot stew is one for those who enjoy gelatinous textures and although it can be a shock for the uninitiated, it’s actually very comforting. Sticky lips ahoy. Oh and don’t miss their house-made hot sauce, which has great chilli flavour as well as quite serious heat.
Kudu was recently opened by the daughter of restaurant royalty Chris Corbyn (The Wolseley, The Delaunay) in a rather unlikely location: Queen’s Road Peckham. This area has transformed in recent years and whatever your thoughts about that, it’s surely hard to dispute the fact that this restaurant is a real boon for the area.
It’s beautiful inside, all earthy tones and velvet banquettes, plus the service really shines. What we love about Kudu is the way they do South African influenced food, without being a slave to traditional methods or dishes. We’ve eaten one too many dodgy dishes of bobotie, thanks very much. The traditional bread that comes with shrimp butter, for example, is soft and light-as-a-baby-mouse, to be dunked into a cast iron pot and saturated with sun-yellow butter. Lamb’s neck is cooked on the ‘braai’ and mussels are cooked in a ‘potje pot’ – all of these work as influences rather than staunch rulebook adherence.
Finally, it would be a crime if they ever remove their chocolate mousse from the menu, which comes topped with a peppermint crisp. Mint and chocolate forever.
Kudu, 119 Queen’s Road, SE15 2EZ
African Volcano, and the man behind it, Grant Hawthorne, can be found at Maltby Street Market, one of London’s best food markets, on Saturdays and Sundays. What started out as a series of sauces and marinades is, well, still a series of sauces and marinades but here you can both buy them to take home and taste them in a range of towering sandwiches.
Grant was born and raised in Cape Town and was inspired to make African Volcano sauces by a recipe passed to him by a Mozambique-born lady. Give the sauce a try in one of his peri peri burgers, which come with streaky bacon on a brioche bun. The sauce packs a wallop without too much astringency, thanks to his limited use of vinegar.
African Volcano, Maltby Street Market, Maltby Street, SE1 3PA
We fell in love with LemLem after one bite of owner Makda’s Eritrean ‘tacos’. She cuts injera – the staple bubbly pancake-like food of Eritrea and Ethiopia – into small circles. This allows customers to get a taste of the slightly sour, fermented injera without committing to what is usually a vast amount.
Her berbere (a terracotta coloured spice mix) wings are some of the very best chicken wings in London, too; rust-red with a finger-staining paste and a not insignificant thrum of chilli.
LemLem Kitchen, 13 – 23 Westgate Street, E8 3RL
Blue Nile Café
Blue Nile Café is regarded by many as one of the very best Ethiopian and Eritrean restaurants in London. What’s the difference in the cuisines of these two neighbouring countries? Well, Ethiopian food tends to be a little more richly spiced but truth be told they’re very similar.
One of our favourite dishes here is the Doro Stebhi, a rich, red stew made with chicken and hard-boiled eggs. We also love that the dishes come in separate bowls to add to the injera yourself, rather than already piled on top as is often the case – this allows you to choose how wet you get your injera! The spicing is rich and complex and really quite gobsmacking in places. If you’ve never tried Ethiopian or Eritrean food before then you could start here and frankly never bother going anywhere else.
Blue Nile Café, 73 Woolwich New Road, SE18 6ED