Akoko: West African Haute Cuisine in Fitzrovia, London
It's not every day you hear whispers of a swish little spot in London serving up West African haute cuisine, so when we did, we knew we had to check it out on our visit to the capital. The team behind Akoko are a passionate, skillful and professional bunch of culinary visionaries who have banded together to deliver Aji Akokomo's bold and one-of-a-kind, contemporary vision putting West African cuisine right in the middle of London's gastronomic map.
The moody and low-lit space sets a seductive and serene atmosphere with eye-catching statement artworks and decor commanding your attention to notice and recognise the backstory and cultural significance behind the area such as the variety of tools and furniture found in local communities presented against clay walls with modern West African art.
The vibe is simple, sophisticated and understated, the style afro-minimal, with an open kitchen. This is an establishment that is prepared to allow their incredible mastery over flavours, textures and gastronomic creativity to speak for itself without any of the usual rigidity and air of pretentiousness you'd find in most other gastronomic joints. Head Chef Ayo Ayedeme and the Akoko team bring together a vigorous menu that takes you on a consummate journey through the traditions, culture and tastes of West African heritage spun with innovative takes and authentic spices imported all the way from out by the gulf of Guinea.
The menu is a legendary 10-course extravaganza served up on aesthetically dynamic crockery - delivering deliberate and confident presentations with no finicky fussiness. And it starts us off with delectable and appetising welcome snacks including a creamy mushroom croquette with a texture that flakes off as soon as it hits the tongue. There was the vibrant cardamom orange Gambian stew dusted with a generous smattering of coriander powder, a unique thick serving of stew with blooming tomato and creamy pumpkin notes that didn't feel too rich nor heavy. An inspired combination of the soft and yielding oyster with delectable chopped vegetables underneath and it was fascinating to pick up some fresh acidity from the pickled cucumber coming through. The yassa sengalese stew is utilised in creating the light, whipped butter to accompany the bread.
Ata Dudu – Galician octopus with fried Cordyceps
This special Nigerian black stew was introduced to me for the first time tonight called Ata Dudu and it was a true treat to behold as it was paired with potentially the tastiest marine protein graced to mankind gracing us with sensational plump and chewy textures.
The flavours and sauce were integrated with Japanese influences that offered reflections of the famed teriyaki sauce, bathing over a bouncy, perfect slice of octopus tentacle and not to mention the elevated textural experience of the crisp and crunchy cordyceps.
Ofe Nsala – Shetland pollock, Shito XO sauce, smoked vinegar gel
The pollock fish sported a beautiful dark brown and golden char on both ends with a great, firm texture to the protein that flaked off perfectly.
The mild and delicate fish combined excellently with the Ghanaian hot condiment, the shito XO sauce, creating a flavourful earthy, smoky and spicy combination of flavours with hints of miso-like notes.
Smoked Jollof rice – aubergine sauce, carrot terrine
As a young woman with a mother who spent a decade of her adolescence out in Ghana and brought back fond memories and famed recipes to our kitchen, it has always made me yearn to experience West Africa authentically at some point in my life. When I had my first spoonful of the smoked jollof rice complete and layered with an array of spices with tomato sweetness, I felt l had taken my first real step into authentic West African cuisine. The aubergine sauce was a creamy, mild and delicate base paired with the sweet charred carrots.
Yaji – Hereford short rib, leek, tomato
Yaji spice also known as 'suya spice' is a popular, versatile West African spice that is a dry peanut-based powdery spice rub used for marinating beef. Here, we tried the Hereford beef short rib rubbed with Yaji spice which was a rich and umami-packed blend of flavours with the obvious taste of peanuts, and ground chillies and I managed to identify some wonderful gingery and cinnamon notes. The charred leek atop the rib lent a great, slightly crunchy texture and milder, fresher flavours to balance out the power of the Yaji beef.
Egusi – Launceston lamb, charred greens
The presentation of the lamb loin dish was immaculate with contrasting colours from the vibrant, deep scarlet-pink of the meat against the vivid orange of the Nigerian sauce and dark greens. The protein was cooked perfectly, visible just from its impressive colour, and by taste with a gorgeous, almost instant, melt-in-the-mouth texture. The burst of umami flavours from the garlicky powder and the Nigerian pepper sauce was a real delight and by the end of our dinner, I had noticed one consistent element throughout the courses: that West African spices and sauces are integral to the elevation of their proteins, vegetables, carbohydrates and to the overarching practice of their cuisine. There is an astounding complexity of flavours and ingredients that come together in each plate that make up their unique delicacies.
Compressed Pineapple and Iced Tea Turmeric
A delectable fruit to be sure, entirely ripe in its sweet and tangy fresh flavours enhanced by its frozen-cold temperature.
The dessert is best enjoyed with the turmeric iced tea, a very special earthy and peppery taste that compliments the wonderfully simple fruit very well. The compressed pineapple is an authentic reflection of West Africa's penchant for fruit-based desserts and the popular incorporation of fruits into their diet.