What's the draw
With a well established diaspora spanning generations and some great local and community restaurants in the capital, the cuisine of Nigeria and its neighbouring countries has always been well represented in London if you knew where to look. But the last few years have seen some exceptional Nigerian-run restaurants opening up, from casual joints like the excellent Chuku's in Tottenham and Chishuru in Brixton to the Michelin-starred Ikoyi in St James's Market. Founded by British-Nigerian Ajo Akokomi, Akoko has more in common with the latter, and serves elegant and frequently exceptional dishes inspired by flavours from West Africa in the form of a deftly considered and thrillingly paced tasting menu.
What to drink
The excitement at Akoko comes mostly via the food, but that's only because the food is so memorable in its own right – drinks are no afterthought, from gently spiced versions of classic cocktails (the French 75-style '75' is freshened and sweetened by the use of fig leaf extract and honey, while egusi seeds and goat's milk turn a regular highball into something malty, creamy and delicious. Wine-wise, there are items on the list that don't need to be too out-there to be interesting, like a chablis-style unoaked burgundy from the only producer allowed to use the esoteric Coteaux de Dijon appellation, Domaine de la Cras, which is acerbic and grassy, and full of green fruit. A rich bordeaux blend named Marathon from Paserene in Stellenbosch isn't cheap at £17 a glass, but it's a brilliant example of why many look to these shores for great-value alternatives to top-end claret, with plenty of elegance and refinement to go with its big, bold spice and dark fruit notes, and a perfect foil, as you'd expect, for a sumptuous barbecued lamb belly skewer.
What to eat
The restaurant is the brainchild of Akokomi (hence the name), but recently installed in the kitchen is Theo Clench, formerly of Portland, who brings not only exquisite finesse to the five- and seven-course tasting menus, but also a sense of serene authority to kitchen operations that's pleasantly at odds with the fun brashness of the soundtrack, as he and his brigade work with metronomic precision in the open kitchen.
Food Stories Media Ltd
Food Stories Media Ltd
It's almost a shame to debase a menu that's so holistic and thoughtful in its construction to a few namechecked dishes, but there are nonetheless a couple of standouts: octopus, salty and full of umami, in a slick of peanut sauce with an octopus cracker providing texture; a fluffy doughnut filled with braised veal cheek peppered with mouth-warming scotch bonnet; and a sweet and luscious carrot 'terrine' atop of gently fragranced aubergine purée, served alongside that hero dish of jollof rice that's gloriously unrefined aside from a few grains of puffed rice for texture. Beef sirloin is served blushing pink, with an egusi (the name given to melon and gourd seeds used in cooking) sauce with a popcorn richness, with kale and a rich pan reduction, and its classic fine-dining plating and French technique belie gently unfamiliar and exciting flavours. My favourite dish, though, is the simplest: that lamb skewer, unctuous and yielding, presented with swaggering assuredness alongside just a mound of West African spices, and a dish that emphasises the restaurant's sky-high quality and ambition across every dish from the unfussiest to the most complex.
Tasting menu from £75. 21 Berners Street, W1T 3LP; https://akoko.co.uk/