No one would rationally choose to pay for something that they could get a higher quality version of for free. This reasoning is exactly why, as young West Africans, we’ve thus far been hard pressed to readily cite a West African restaurant as a favourite or as one we’d frequent. Whenever our cravings for jollof rice or plantain arise, some of us can simply head to our fridges and retrieve home-cooked portions.
We were hopeful, nevertheless, that we might be impressed by the food at Chuku’s Nigerian Tapas pop-up restaurant, which conveniently arrived in our vicinity. And impressed we were.
Pop up restaurants are hard to pull off convincingly. Yet the team at Chuku’s clearly put thought into the decoration of the venue, inducing elements of Nigeria throughout – from the literary titles that were dispersed for patrons to thumb through as their food was being prepared, to the authentic afrobeat that was playing loud enough to enjoy but quietly enough not to be imposing, to the endearing placards placed upon each table which displayed the meanings of different Igbo names. Even the rustic wood of the tables and chairs seemed to make reference to the Nigerian outdoors. The thoughtfulness was self-evident.
Yet despite the excellence of the environment that was curated, the interesting ‘chop, chat, chill’ concept that worked in tandem with this and the attentive, conversational service, the ultimate criteria upon which a restaurant should be judged is obviously the food – and it is in this arena that Chuku’s shone most brightly.
The home-made BBQ sauce in which the peppered chicken chops were glazed was divine – the perfect balance between mildly sweet and soulfully savoury. While food that one is accustomed to can become monotonous, Chuku’s revitalised popular dishes with forward-thinking innovation. The plantain, perfectly ripe and fried carefully and precisely until our preferred shade of brown, was topped with ginger and cinnamon for a unique tang. Take for further example the ‘jollof quinoa’, a fresh rendition of traditional jollof rice, which is insanely common in Nigeria and other parts of West Africa. The unique texture and taste of this was striking, with the added benefit of at least appearing more healthy than plain old rice – great for the conscience if not the waistline. Yet another example of their innovation is in dessert, which isn’t exactly the strong point of African cuisine. The team at Chuku’s conceptualised a ‘chin chin cheesecake’, a fusion of the crunchy Nigerian biscuit with the fluffy European topping in true, hybrid, second-generation immigrant fashion. This was most impressive.
We’ll certainly be visiting Chuku’s pop up whenever we can, and we recommend you catch them when they are around! We are excited by the prospect of them having a permanent fixture in the near future.