Adejoké Bakare is expanding perceptions of West African cuisine in London's Brixton, drawing inspiration from her family background to create deeply personal dishes. Katherine Price reports.
"I wanted to showcase that there was much more to food from West Africa than what people are used to – than jollof, for example, or fufu. There's much more to our food than that," says Adejoké Bakare. The chef opened her first restaurant, Chishuru, which roughly translates as "to eat quietly" in Hausa, in London's Brixton last August.
I wanted to showcase that there was much more to food from West Africa than what people are used to – than jollof or fufu. There's much more to our food than that
Opening her own restaurant was something Bakare had always wanted to do and, despite having no professional training, it's a dream finally realised following several years of supper clubs, staging at restaurants including London's Ikoyi and Brunswick House and winning the amateur category in the 2019 Brixton Kitchen competition, which landed her a spot in Market Row. She previously worked at a property management company.
Alongside an à la carte dinner menu at Chishuru is a set lunch menu, where guests can choose from three starters, three mains and one dessert (£23 for two courses, £27 for three). The monthly changing menus are short but personal, featuring dishes that remind Bakare of growing up in Nigeria, such as prawns grilled with a spice mix including calabash nutmeg blended with chillis (£7), and ekuru (£7), which the chef makes with toasted wild watermelon seeds and black-eyed peas. She cooks the two until soft, blends them together and adds caramelised onions. "It comes out really creamy and sloppy, almost like a custard texture," she explains. This is then chilled to firm, sliced, burned to add texture and served with pumpkin seed pesto and scotch bonnet sauce.
She draws inspiration from across Nigeria: her father is from the west, her mother from the east and she herself grew up in the north, where she says her peanut sauce comes from. This she uses in a dish with grilled cucumber and a Ghanaian hot sauce called shitto (£14.50). "You go to anywhere in northern West Africa and they've got a form of peanut sauce, so I wanted that part of me to be represented on the menu as well," says Bakare.
The best-selling dish on the menu has been the goat ayamase (£16), a stew that Bakare says at least one person orders at every table. The green sauce is made using irú (fermented and processed locust beans) fried with aromats such as ginger, garlic and onion blended together, caramelised onions and green bell pepper.
Many of the herbs and spices used in the food are also used across the cocktail menu, such as uziza, a spice derived from the West African piper guineense plant, which is mixed with lime and cachaça (£8.50). Another cocktail, called Sapele Water, is a mix of gin, black tea, elderflower cordial and egg white (£9).
Sustainability is also a focus and Bakare makes use of ingredients such as fonio, a west African grain that she says is not only healthy but great for soil biodiversity. "It's very good for the soil; it grows really quickly year-round. It still has that stigma of being poverty food, but it's really, really good for you," she explains.
The venue has not been immune to the obstacles of coronavirus. While Bakare or her contacts would previously bring spices back to the UK when visiting, as she says many of the spices sold in the UK are "too old", travel restrictions have meant relying on local sellers in Peckham and Dalston.
And a shortage of staff recently forced the restaurant to close for a week, with the site already operating with a small team (Bakare is supported by one other chef in the kitchen and three front of house staff). At the time of writing Chishuru remained limited to 15 covers inside due to social distancing restrictions, although thanks to local authorities slashing planning red tape to support businesses, it has been able to expand with a further nine covers outside.
But this has not put Bakare off and she hopes to grow the kitchen and front of house team to allow her to be more creative and eventually open another restaurant. For now, she is focused on perfecting her first site, which is leased to her for at least the next 18 months.
The restaurant has already garnered positive reviews from critics, with The Observer's Jay Rayner describing the menu as "full of heat and vigour and zest". The London Evening Standard's Jimi Famurewa reviewed Chishuru's meal kit while the restaurant was closed, which he said blazed with "joy, creativity and rough-edged charm", balancing "homespun charm with a culinary verve more readily associated with fine dining".
9 Market Row, Coldharbour Lane, Brixton, London SW9 8LB
From the menu
- Bavette balangu, pickled mushrooms, yaji, peanuts £8
- Ekuru, pumpkin seed pesto, scotch bonnet sauce £7
- Grilled prawns, pepper soup spices £7
- Grilled cucumber, shitto, peanut sauce £14.50
- Chicken, black sesame, pickled sweet onions £6.50
- Ekoki, sweetcorn, kale, crispy fish £15
- Goat ayamase, spiced green irú stew £16
- Poussin, roast tomatoes £16
- Uda spiced chocolate mousse, tigernut shortbread, dates, coconut £7
- Plantain and baobab ice-cream, lime granita £5
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