At the time of this review’s jaunt, eating out in the then new normal (with its 10pm curfew) meant 6pm reservations (even on a Sunday evening), travelling to Seven Sisters to #supportsmall and cubicle dining. Though an unpromising combination, I was willing to bite the bullet and commute up to the ends of the Victoria line to Tottenham for dinner at Chuku’s, a Nigerian tapas spot that’s won praise from critics. It opened just this year, mere weeks before lockdown.1, in what proved to be very unfortunate timing.
Co-founders Emeka and Ifeyinwa Frederick are brother and sister, both with impressive CVs: she’s a Cambridge grad entrepreneur, and he’s a former Morito and Savoy chef. The pair grew up in Ilford and talked constantly about food, trying to figure out how to distil a relatively unknown cuisine, albeit eaten by 200 million people, into a delicious crash course into Nigerian tapas. They spent the last four years running pop-ups and supperclubs that aimed to bring a slice of their Nigerian heritage to London. They wanted people to experience the country’s all-inclusive, high-energy dining culture within a concept they termed “chop, chat, chill”, a moto now imprinted on their window.
As you walk through the coral-coloured door into Chuku’s, you’ll pass underneath a sign stencilled in golden lettering that says “Welcome to Lagos”. The small space inside feels bright and vivd: think blush pink walks, pop art and bright green foliage. It feels a little cramped, particularly on our visit when plastic screen had been erected between adjacent tables, though a small interior is typical of many tapas restaurants.
The menu is centred on authentic Nigerian flavours, offering a selection of traditional dishes given a Chuku’s twist. Given the flavours, colours and social nature of the food – at Chuku’s at least – I’m surprised there aren’t more Nigerian restaurants in London – or perhaps they’re difficult to find / bad at self-promoting with half-broken websites, illegible written menus and functional dining rooms. Promisingly, the menu has a whole section dedicated to “Plant-Based/Vegan” choices, which celebrate vegetables in their own right and thankfully don’t seek to mimic meat dishes. From that, my companion and I shared a few and each was very filling: though the menu describes the plates as tapas, Chuku’s dishes are on the generous side.
The egusi bowl (£7.50) was probably the winner. Its pretty presentation is awe-striking: a vivid tricolore of spinach, tomato and egusi (melon seed) stews studded with soft, springy yam dumplings, the firework display was packed full of flavour. The sauces were as tasty as they looked: the green one packed a potent earthiness, the red had umami notes, and the yellow was layered with a sweet tanginess and a touch of bitterness. Dipping the dumplings through each sauce was intensely enjoyable.
Another winner was the Northern Nigerian Sinasir and Miyan Taushe (£5.25): rice pancakes served with a pumpkin and peanut dipping sauce. The nutty topping to these pancakes were moreishly addictive – proper Sunday fun food.
But not everything was quite so sparkling. The log-lined cassava (£4.75) fries didn’t have enough ata dindin, their hot pepper dressing (I ended up dipping the fries into the egusi sauce) and the sauce could also have been more fiery to lend character to the cassava. The Jollof Quinoa (£4.75) – a celebrated Nigerian dish given a modern take with quinoa – was also dry, again with insufficient spoons of the red pepper, tomatoes and ginger and stew.
For afters, my companion had the Plantain Waffle (£7), topped with blueberries, maple syprup and vegan ice-cream. This is certainly a dish for those with a sweet-tooth – the waffle was already very sweet and from my taster bite, didn’t need the added syrup or ice cream.
I’d love to be able to tell you that Chuku’s is an unequivocal triumph but on my visit, the food was hit and miss and our service was also rushed – probably because of their tight 7.30pm booking following ours – but it felt like our waitress was trying to rush us out throughout the evening. So not really fulfilling the “chill” part of their moto! But that’s 2020 for you. It may be that Chuku’s are still adjusting to the new climate for businesses and there’s a lot of joy to be had in certain dishes – not least the egusi, brimming with layered complexity. They also clearly have a good PR team behind the restaurant. There’s clearly significant potential at Chuku’s – here’s hoping they can live up to it.
Chuku’s, 274 High Rd, Tottenham, London N15 4AJ