A Celebration of West African Cuisine at Akoko, London
Photos courtesy of Jennifer Chee
A short walk from Oxford Street is Akoko, a restaurant celebrating West African culture with a set 8-course menu and optional wine pairings. The ambience was beautiful, with a collection of natural hues and exotic interiors including gorgeous featured chandeliers.
Terracotta hues and wooden furnishings created a natural ambience that was both impressive and comfortable. From our table, a clear view of the open kitchen, enabling us to see the talented chefs in action. Upon arrival, we were kindly greeted with a light and bubbly sparkling wine to begin our dining experience that provided the perfect freshness.
Small touches were consistent throughout our evening, as simple as folding the napkin onto our seat when leaving the table, and this intricacy was equally reflected in the carefully curated dishes. One of my favourite parts of this experience was the set menu, as a person that cannot make decisions when looking at a menu, it was a welcoming and intimate approach to the dining experience as we place our trust in the fabulous chefs.
Our course begun with Etor, a smoked Quail egg atop an avocado mousse and a crispy plantain fritter. Decorated with Trout roe, it was the perfect one bite beginning to our courses. The sweet plantain was an impeccable pairing for the perfectly runny egg yolk, providing a sweet and creamy flavour that was well cut with the subtly fishy roe. An amalgamation of textures, from the fluffy fritter to the firm egg, with a surprising burst of the roe to conclude. As a start to the experience, it was both delicious and impressive.
Next up, and one of my personal favourites, was the Sauce Yohoss, which comprised of shrimp stuffed Blue Mussels paired with a creamy tomato based sauce and Heritage tomatoes. The set menu also provided specific cutlery per course, ensuring the correct way to enjoy the dining experience. The smoky and sweet mussels had a subtle fishy flavour, and a perfect tenderness to pair with the silky sauce. Cream and sweetness were also paramount in this dish, with a lightness from the tomatoes to create another delicious ensemble. Each element was carefully matched in flavours, and the sauce itself equally had a subtle fish taste to tie the dish together. It really did taste as good as it looked, from the vibrant tomatoes to the colourful garnishing.
Our third course was the Moimoi, comprised of Yellowtail Amberjack, a creamy tomato sauce and Vatapá, a Afro-Brazilian sauce that had notes of fish and tomato, brought together with a deliciously creamy base. Paired with the dish was a West African dumpling, that had a spicy and sweet meaty flavouring, and enhanced the subtle flavour of the yellowtail. The fish itself was perfectly cooked, drawing flavours of salty and smoky, with a substantial meaty texture. The skin was perfectly chargrilled, a basic flavouring but an effective choice for drawing the flavours of the fish itself. Texturally, it was a smooth dish, yet still differed as the smooth dumpling also had a grittiness to add a complexity to the smooth melt-in-the-mouth yellowtail. Paired with the meal was our first wine, a 2020 Spanish white; a subtle and woody ensemble that was an effective tie to the chargrill skin.
Next up was the Abunu Abunu, a piece of monkfish with a white asparagus blended cream. An innovative take on a traditional pairing with the fish and asparagus, textures were also played with with the flaky fish and utterly smooth asparagus blend. A crispy chicken skin atop provided the perfect depth to the meal, and a saltiness that matched the briny fish. The white foam enhanced the fishy flavour and provided a gastronomic element that was a cool aspect to the dish. Our wine pairing for this course was a 2019 Sauvignon Blanc from Austria, a full-bodied white, that had hints of orange and made a good balance with the lightness of the course.
Next up was a cult favourite, a family recipe Jollof Rice with puffed crispy rice, Lake District beef, carrot sauce and a herbaceous wild garlic sauce. After recommendation on how to go about the dish, and learning about the history of Jollof, we tucked into the rice first. It was a perfect blend of tomato and smokiness, with a sumptuous crispiness from the puffs. Next, the meat. Impeccably cooked medium with a chargrilled crust creating a barbecued, smoky flavour and a tender yet firm cut. The small touches of this dish were well executed, as the rich floavours of the Jollof and beef were cut with an extremely fresh green sauce, one of my favourite aspects. Our wine pairing was a delicious 2021 San Franciscan Light Red, with strong notes of berries such as blackberries and raspberries yet it was not at all sweet, which I personally prefer in my wine - to date it is one of the nicest wines I have tasted.
Our concluding savoury course was the Suya, speared beef tongue with a bone marrow sauce. I have never tried beef tongue before, and this was the perfect introduction, as the meat was sliced into bite sized morsel.s The skewer was perfectly barbecued and had a unique texture that my guest personally loved. A sweet glaze enveloped the meat and retained the juicy tenderness of the meat cut, which made for a great contrast to the tart bone marrow sauce. It also had a smokiness, that enhanced the chargrilled fattiness of the tongue, creating a familiar flavour of a delicious barbecue, with an experimental twist. The wine pairing consisted of a 2021 French red, woody, and full-bodied with a slight bitterness to it reminiscent of the charred barbecue flavour. As the only red of the menu, it provided a delicious deepness that I often option for with my own red wine choices and complimented the flavour palette of the dish very well.
To begin our dessert course we were served the Chanterais Melon with Ogogoro, lime and a star anise cream. Underneath was a bitter jelly, which contrasted with the sweet anise cream and shaved melon ice. It was a deliciously unique flavour, continued further with a slice of chilled melon with essences of lime and black pepper. I have never before thought to sprinkle black pepper onto my melon, however after tasting this, I will continue to do so. It created a unique flavour that was flavourful and light, and the perfect fresh beginning to the dessert courses.
To conclude our dining experience, we were brought the Smoked Squash, a smoked squash ice cream atop meringue discs, Ehuru, green pistachio cream and bergamot. Caramelised pumpkin seeds added a smoky sweetness which balanced with the warm, nutty pistachio cream. The squash ice cream contributed a subtle smokiness that was enhanced by the nutty aspects of the dish. It was a greatly unique flavour and equally innovative in decoration, looking as good as it tasted. This course was in fact my guests favourite, as she delighted in the complex flavours. Paired with this dish was our final wine, a 2016 Pinot Gris fruity wine that was not too sweet and perfectly balanced the rich flavours of the dessert itself.