Fancy something different for dinner? Head east to Brick Lane for the last Sunday residency of Chuku’s at the Canvas Cafe. The friendly Nigerian food pop-up bills itself as the ‘world’s first Nigerian tapas restaurant’ and is the perfect spot to unwind with family or mates.
The easygoing vibe at Chuku’s is encapsulated in their ‘chop, chat, chill’ code (‘chop’ is Naija slang for ‘eat’). Nigerian Brits Ifeyinwa and Emeka (Chuku’s is taken from his full name, Chukwuemeka) are the brother and sister team behind this concept.
Having each enjoyed a slower, more communal pace of life abroad (Spain and Martinique), they decided to create a chilled out destination in London built around Nigerian food.
Nigerians are passionate about Nigerian food, sometimes to the point of obsession. Just ask Jamie Oliver: his version of jollof rice nearly broke the Internet (see #Jollofgate). Let’s not talk about his attempt at making suya!
For decades, it’s been a struggle to find decent quality Nigerian food at restaurant standard in London. Instead Naijas would trawl the city for random locations, dodgy service and terrible presentation just to get their fufu fix.
Thankfully in the era of Instagram, food bloggers and supper clubs, Nigerian foodies are raising their game. My cousin Nky produces mouthwatering cookbooks and runs delicious Nigerian dinner pop-ups and catering under her Executive Mama Put brand. Spots like 805 restaurant in Peckham and Hendon (great Nigerian food and setting, pleasant but slow service) are also doing their bit to put Naija nosh on the London map.
We were excited to try** Chuku’s and their ‘Nigerian tapas’ (we call them ‘small chops’ back home). On the Sunday we visited, the cafe was bustling with Shoreditch trendies, laptop hustlers, young Africans and families. Consummate hosts, Ifeyinwa and Chuku glided from table to table, making sure everyone was getting the best out of their experience.
The Canvas Cafe is a great place for kids, with sociable staff, comfy sofas and walls made for scribbling on.
Chuku’s had taken over most of the space: bookshelves stacked with Nigerian fiction, Nigerian icons on the walls, Fela Kuti and Highlife music in the background. At our table downstairs, we played Lagos Top Trumps, while snapshots of Africa’s largest, loudest city flashed up on a big screen.
I was feeling quite nostalgic — and hungry — by the time our food arrived.
Even though we’d ordered practically every dish on the menu, we wondered if it would be enough.
Luckily, a mix of small plates can be surprisingly filling and everything was super delicious. Ifeyinwa and Emeka collaborate on the dishes, best described as Nigerian fusion. Avoiding the Jollof wars (an ongoing ‘battle’ between West Africans over who makes the best jollof rice), they serve Jollof Quinoa instead. It’s not a patch on the original but tasty nonetheless. I loved their moi moi (steamed savoury bean flan). Often this can be dry and stodgy but at Chuku’s, the moi moi is light and fluffy. BBQ chicken gizzard went down a treat, with a little ‘Ade’ green (hot) pepper sauce on top.
The boys were pleased to discover that what the menu describes as ‘Cassavas Bravas, the nutty flavoured Nigerian staple root vegetable, diced, fried and served with a mild salsa’, tasted just like their favourite fried yam chips and stew!
The big hit for our table was sticky Caramel Kuli Kuli (ground peanut and spice mix) Chicken wings and we ordered two more plates. We also got seconds of Honey Suya Prawns (honey glazed king prawns in suya spice) and that was my absolute favourite dish. I could have polished off another two plates by myself!
Serving up Nigerian food as ‘tapas’ is a fantastic idea, allowing newbies and picky eaters (i.e. 90 per cent of kids) the chance to discover a range of Nigerian cuisine.
At a typical Chuku’s meal you can wash down your meal with Nigerian malt drinks, Heineken or Star beers, or Palm Wine (a traditional wine made from palm tree sap). They’re not able to serve their own drinks at Canvas Cafe, but you can still enjoy a range of beverages from the cafe’s own bar.
We chopped, chatted and chilled until we’d had our fill, then strolled out to explore the sights and sounds of Brick Lane market. Few better ways to spend a Sunday in London.
**UPDATE (MARCH 18)
Chuku’s has extended their residency at The Canvas Cafe, 42 Hanbury St, London E1 5JL (Shoreditch High St overground/Liverpool St tube). Now open every Thursday and Friday, 6pm-10pm.
Keep up with them @ChukusLDN on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to find out where they’ll be popping up next!
**We were invited to review Chuku’s but paid for our own drinks and extras!