Kafe Utu, an Exuberant, Vibrant—and Spicy—African-Themed Restaurant in Singapore
African cuisine has been humble in the modern culinary landscape, despite the existing assertion that it is the origin of cooking, disclosed from ashes in a South African cave. Fortunately, we can count on Mr Kurt Wagner, owner of Kafe Utu, to be the first and only to unveil the vibrancy, youthfulness and exuberant colours of African food and culture to Singaporeans (and maybe spiciness too). Extending the Utu ethos of interconnection and interdependence in humanity, we visited the cosy spot to experience a ‘fiery’ and heartwarming evening.
The African hospitality – KARIBUNI
Situated on buzzing Keong Saik Road, Kafe Utu can hardly be mixed with their adjoining Western eateries catered for expats. From the rustic exterior with greenery to a colourful, wooden interior with collections from African artists, the restaurant is reminiscent of Africa from head to toe.
Projections of African tribal photography on the wall and patterned lighting deco uplifted the dining area to an immersive experience. Chatters from the crowd on large sofa seating aside pleasingly manifested our desire for a lush gathering on a Friday night. We began by sipping on two of Kafe Utu’s bespoke cocktails, the Malaika and Bosi Gin & Tonic. Prior to these beverages, we were already taken away by the dried chilli garnish on the Malaika (this might be a piece of cautionary advice to the upcoming dishes). Blending chilli Vodka, watermelon and lemon and habanero, the watermelon flavour dominated each sip, almost missing the alcoholic touch. In contrast, Bosi Gin & Tonic was considerably stronger but still kept a berrylike savour, from the highly revered and raved Kenyan Procera Gin.
We started off with three appetisers—Fried Plantains, Kickass Crispy Beef Tripe (you might take a good guess from its name) and Lamb Samosa. The deep-fried plantains, a slightly thicker and less sugary counterpart of banana, were freshly served. Dipped in the mango chilli marmalade, it was a decent traditional dish to set the scene for the night.
A delightful surprise was the Lamb Samosa—deliciously assorted coriander minced lamb, potato spice into creamy and juicy fillings, dressed with coriander mint chutney. Wrapped in the triangular puff adding crispy texture, it served best for the taste buds of mutton relish like ourselves.
The Kickass Crispy Beef Tripe was an alluring-looking plate, but we had a devil of a time easing out the spiciness. The aptly named dish was drizzled in Kafe Utu’s legendary house chilli, made with habanero and lime juice, meaning a tiny bite could absolutely kick you in the throat. Tasting the Crispy Beef Tripe solely, the flavour of spice and garlic mix seemed to emerge and bring our taste buds back to life (of course, after a good dose of water). Personally, we found this dish quite intimidating, despite enjoying Korean chilli or Chinese mala regularly, this African spice surely went beyond my limits.
The meal continued with two stews—Liberian Peanut Chicken Stew, served with Jasmine white rice, and Nigerian Peppered Pork Stew. The former, while thick and nutty, was blended with smoked fish and habanero to balance all flavours. The use of Sakura chicken thigh was a striking move and diligently elevated the dish with its smoothness. Similar to the Nigerian Peppered Pork Stew, the Black Angus Pork Belly has an exquisite balance of fat and lean, giving a tenderness to the dish. Yet, this is arguably the only flavour we could distinguish, due to the spicy wave from charred peppers, habanero, again. This hit was close enough to bring tears to our eyes, though serving with coconut rice and mango salsa did neutralise the heat by their flavourful sweetness. Thankfully, Kafe Utu had no dearth of warm hospitality. They were kind enough to offer us a glass of house white wine to comfort our taste buds, before the most anticipated desserts.
The long-awaited pudding did the best job at enticing both taste and visual appeal. The Malindi Halwa was one of my favourites. This Swahili mochi was made with fresh dragon fruit juice, giving its brick-red appearance and various kinds of nuts adding to the texture. The grand finale was the Utu Dome—a photogenic chocolate dome adorned with pink peppercorn, placed over seasonal berries with a Creme de Patissiere base. As you pour the dark chocolate dressing abundantly on the dome, it melts and uncovers the lower layer, akin to the appearance of the black forest. Although I'm not a big fan of chocolate, it was a much-welcomed rejoice to conclude our Friday night African escapade.
Kafe Utu’s dinner did not leave us indifferent with its strong flavour and particular pungency. If you are not up for the challenge, there are also arrays of options on the menu, from brunch and coffee to late-night cravings. Grasp your time to plan your next gathering under the African warmth as they take a temporary closure until 13th June 2021, in view of the latest government announcement. Until next time!
Kafe Utu, 12 Jiak Chuan Road, Singapore, +65 6996 3937, kafeutu.com