London is a thriving capital city that is home to a multitude of ethnicities and embraces the flavourful relishes that they bring. As a result, its cuisine offering is extensive and vibrant. The London West-African restaurant scene, though being one of the less prominent, stands proudly among them.
With over half of the Black African population of the UK residing in London, it is unsurprising to see how this culture not only diversifies the city’s ethnic landscape but also enriches it with Africa’s plentiful cuisine. Although African cuisine tends to be heavily underrepresented in the fine dining scene, Elite Traveler presents three restaurants that are subverting this situation and filling a necessary gap in the market.
From honeyed plantain and sweetbread to starchy cassava and seafood, the culinary compositions of Ikoyi, Akoko and Papa L’s Kitchen perfectly combine sweet and savory to cultivate an umami utopia.
[See also: The Best Fine Dining Restaurants in London]
Though not explicitly identifying as a West-African restaurant, the influence of the cuisine within this two-Michelin-starred establishment is undeniable. Named after the Lagos island that is popular with the extreme upper classes of Nigeria, Ikoyi re-defines African cuisine, elevating it to embody both the freshness of British produce and the seasoned spices of sub-Saharan, West Africa.
Co-founded by childhood friends, chef Jeremy Chan and restaurant director Iré Hassan-Odukale, the restaurant is symbolic of their friendship and collective artistry. Whilst Chan delivers deliciously smoked Jollof Rice, nutty Moin Moin and Pine Nut Egusi and a spicy Poppyseed & Rum Cake, it is done so with heartfelt influence from his dear friend and business partner’s heritage.
The character of the space further resonates with the warmth of their friendship and of Africa’s landscape. Situated in the heart of St James’s Market, a two minute walk from London’s famous Piccadilly Circus, Ikoyi welcomes guests with luminous tones of browns and oranges.
A rich velvet mustard sofa lines the wall, facing an intricate rattan chair that is cushioned by a pad of pale green leather. Clay lamps dangle elegantly above each table, bouncing light off of the brightly orange napkins and onto crystal glasses to create a fiery blaze of warmth. The atmospheric and flavourful environment of this restaurant is not only reminiscent of West Africa, but also welcomes guests into a friendly and sensual dining experience.
Inspired by the beautiful elegance of Ikoyi, Aji Akokomi founded Akoko, a fine dining establishment in the heart of London’s Fitzrovia. Taking primary inspiration from Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal, head chef William JM Chilila curated with Akokomi a tasting menu that compels guests to savor West Africa’s plentiful food offering.
Chilla, having previously been a finalist on MasterChef: The Professionals and spending the better part of a decade climbing the ranks of Orrery’s fine French eatery in Marylebone, is no stranger to fine dining. Having curated colorful plates of Galician octopus, barbequed hogget belly seasoned with suya spice, and Guinness bread softened by Yassa butter, he showcases only the best of West African cuisine.
As well as authenticity, flavorful freshness lies at the forefront of this restaurant’s offering. Akoko combines the freshest British produce with African flavoring, locally sourcing 90% of its food product and setting up direct supply chains with farmers in Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal for the remainder of spices that cannot be attained within the UK.
Setting the scene for the reception of these natural delights are the earthy tones of Akoko’s interior. Conceived by René Design, the restaurant features walls painted with terracotta clay and colored by contemporary African art by Niyi Olag. Ceramics artfully constructed by the West African 1960s ‘Queen of Pottery’ Ladi Kwali and mid-century Nupe pottery also comprise the sleek ambiance of this space, all of which is movingly lit by soft yellow light that recalls the warmth of Africa’s sun.
While Akoko continues to flourish and offer this London West African fine dining experience, it also hopes to launch DIY kits and virtual cook-along sessions to enhance people’s interaction with, and understanding of, West African cuisine outside of the restaurant space. Though hoping to develop conceptually, there is no intention of growing the restaurant quantitatively, however. Akoko will remain, a singular, genuine gastronomical space for the flaunting of West Africa’s fineries.
Papa L’s Kitchen
Founded by Gambian-born chef Lawrence Gomez (known as Papa L), Papa L’s Kitchen seeks to translate the flavors of African heritage into wonderfully varied modern cuisine. Having worked at top establishments in London such as The Ivy, Scott’s and Sexy Fish, Gomez took inspiration from their high-end dining style whilst innovating his own concoctions of condiments, marinades and spices.
The result is a fine fusion of African cuisine with British influence. From traditionally-inspired dishes such as the zesty red mullet stew and spiced plantain to creamy saffron mash served with buttery halibut and freshly grilled tiger prawns, the influx of flavor delivered by these meals is undeniably delicious.
The endearing tone suggested by the restaurant’s title is well transmuted into its atmosphere. Sleekly modern and comprising multiple booths, the restaurant encourages a cohesive and discursive dining experience, promising to be one of the best West African fine dining restaurants in London.