In London, we’ve long been able to find plantain, yam and jollof rice (a one pot rice, tomato and meat dish that is, I’ve learnt, the West African equivalent to hummus, in that no one can agree on its country of origin). The city has long catered to its West African population in the form of neighbourhood restaurants and at the likes of Brixton, Peckham and Ridley Road markets where the essential ingredients abound.
But as Londoners of all backgrounds wake up to the joys of West African food, it’s breaking out of its enclaves.
Ikoyi made waves when it arrived at St James’ Market in 2017, the capital’s first modern take on Nigerian cuisine. It offers a not-always-authentic but certainly eye-opening odyssey of flavours, championing ‘bold heat and umami’: upscale twists on old favourites, like aged beef and carrot maafe (peanut stew), melon seed soup (egusi/agushi) with January cabbage and smoked jollof rice, all for a hefty though not unjustified price tag (£65 for 8 courses).
Zoe Adjonyoh's supper club Sankofa
Monkfish, banga and citrus asaro at Ikoyi
Omolola Brown of Callaloo Kitchen
Zoe Adjonyoh, formerly of Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen, is launching Sankofa, in March, which offers an African tasting menu and wine flight from her east London home. It’s also worth keeping an eye on what the West African street food and pop-up businesses have up their sleeves as they come out of hibernation for the spring, from Ghanaian food stall Chalé Let’s Eat to supper clubs from Hibiscus author Lopè Ariyo and medic-turned-cook Omolola Brown of Callaloo Kitchen. Spinach & Agushi is a Ghanaian mainstay, serving favourites like groundnut stew, fried tilapia and black eyed beans in London markets (variously, Exmouth, Broadway and Portobello), seven days a week.
If you’re keen to try Nigerian and Ghanaian foods without Millennial embellishments, the Big Smoke’s stand-outs are Homerton’s Eko Wine Bar and Restaurant with its exhaustive selection of stews, such as ayamase (locust bean, green pepper, boiled eggs, crayfish, beef), with pounded yam and okra; Holloway-based Ghanaian, Sweet Handz (shout out to the kontomire stew made with cassava leaves and spinach with tomato and scotch bonnet); and then several in Peckham, such as Obalende Suya Express, which serves Nigerian barbecue, or Lola Afrique where the stewed shaki (tripe) seems to be popular.
Mina Holland is an author and deputy editor of Guardian Feast