The prospect of opening a restaurant in a London landscape of social distancing and rigorous sanitisation is enough to spook the most seasoned restaurateur. And particularly an opening like Akoko, a new West African eatery on Fitzrovia’s Berners Street, which is so clearly a labour of love.
You suspect founder Aji Akokomi and chef William JM Chilila didn’t have a huge amount of choice but to plough on, given the project’s lengthy delays and the fact that construction was underway pre-lockdown. And fine diners after something a little different will be glad they did. The pair have set out to challenge perceptions of African food with an inventive double act of tasting menus – one vegan – served in a striking space with walls clad in terracotta by Clayworks.
With particular focus on fare from Nigeria, Senegal and Ghana, the menu offers traditional-with-a-twist – there’s a wonderfully smokey jollof rice with goat and a subtly spiced dish of grilled plantain with cashew cream and peanuts – alongside what will be less familiar territory for many, like the Nigerian pumpkin soup topped with lobster and moringa oil or the goat milk ice cream. All are served with natural wines selected by in-demand sommeliers Honey Spencer and Ania Smelskaya.
In their words, it’s ‘cooking with coal and wood fire, pounding with large mortar and pestle, vibrant spices, big bold flavours and traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation.’ Either way, it’ll have you in rapturous anticipation of what’s turning up next.
Almost as important to Akokomi and Chilila, whose turn on Masterchef: The Professionals in 2018 earned him a place in the final, is that Akoko might pay tribute to West Africa’s wealth of culture and creativity. Conceived by London-based interiors firm René Dekker Design, the space is at once welcoming and finely tuned, with walls hung with works by contemporary African artist Niyi Olagunju.
Tableware is equally tactile, with an edit of bespoke ceramics inspired by West African ‘Queen of Pottery’ Ladi Kwali and pottery by the Nupe peoples of Nigeria, crafted by artists and makers Andile Dyalvane, Isatu Hyde, Sarah Jerath, Cara Guthrie Ceramics, Stefan Anderson, Jono Smart, Sofia Ceramics, Kat Wheeler Ceramics and Jun Rhee. Think beautifully whittled spoons and butter spreaders, speckled plates and serving bowls etched with linear patterns – worthy vessels of the delights that await within. akoko.co.uk
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