The celebrated West African restaurant’s chef-patron discusses her transition from a Brixton pop-up to London’s West End. Adejoké Bakare claims, “I never imagined my kind of restaurant would fit.” “West African food, done the way I am, just doesn’t have that kind of historical representation in the center of town,” the cook said.
The famed restaurant Chishuru is holding its big reopening in Fitzrovia this autumn. Chishuru was founded in Brixton Village in 2020 by the self-taught chef known as “Joké” to her friends, family, and legions of ravenous admirers. It appears that the West End is now getting over its image of fooftuffy fine dining, which it long had because of the prim establishments like L’Escargot and Rules. From Kiln’s fiery Thai grill and Koya’s cozy Japanese udon-ya to Berenjak’s Persian sharing plates and The Tent (at the End of the Universe)’s Middle Eastern party food, which comes complete with hits of Sichuan spice courtesy of ex-Noma chef John Javier, the most popular spots in central London in 2023 are altogether more flavorful and inclusive.
“You came to the UK to study and work in an office as a white-collar job,”
But the (re)opening of Chishuru may be the event people look forward to the most this year. The restaurant’s fans were devastated when, in October 2022, it unexpectedly closed its doors in south London, not long after being crowned Time Out’s Restaurant of the Year. Chishuru 2.0 will join the likes of Akoko’s perfect pots of jollof rice on Berners Street and lkoyi’s double-Michelin-starred £300 tasting menu at 180 Strand, where sub-Saharan flavors thunder out of beefrib suya skewers and chicken for stew.
West African food is the latest global cuisine to make serious inroads into Soho and the surrounding areas. Cally Munchy’s pan-African street cuisine at The Africa Centre, which serves kelewele under the shadow of Tate Modern, is another fantastic new addition.
When Bakare went to London from northern Nigeria more than 20 years ago, she encountered a different gastronomic world. According to the chart Ham Chef, just one grocery store is made for and by us. “We didn’t have the mom-and-pop restaurants either,” she added. That was before the fabled 805 on Old Kent Road opened its doors in 2001.
Its traditional cuisine whacked with ogbono soup, ayamase stew, and its famous grilled moMonikaish, altered everything and gave Nigerians residing in the capital an actual sense of home. It’s where we all went, Bakare recalls. “You would go to 805 if you were going to a party, going to the mosque, or coming back from church.” Regional African restaurants were uncommon back then because, as she says, it was frowned upon to start a restaurant or engage in the service industry.
YoShe asserts that they came to the UK to attend school, pursue a degree, and work in an office; as more and more immigrants arrived in the UK, potlucks in public locations were the only place where you could have food from home that you hadn’t prepared yourself. You could think Mavis can make me some puff-puff! OuPeopleegan opened tiny things out of it, and it continued to grow.
Friends pushed Bakare to introduce the world to her superb home food. Her dinner parties evolved into supper clubs, and in 2019, she competed in and won the amateur division of the Brixton Kitchen competition despite never having been a professional chef. She won a three-month pop-up in Market Row on Coldharbour Lane after wowing judges Claire Ptak of Violet Cakes, James Cochran of 12:51, and Jackson Boxer of Brunswick House. A raving Jay Rayner review instantly cemented its status as a permanent feature and gave it the seal of approval from the culinary industry.
Bakare recalls that he entered with his wife, and masks were still required. She was wearing a running necklace and immediately pulled to it. Because I’m a magpie. But once I had moved past her, I noticed this enormous man and thought, “He looks familiar.” When he removed his mask, I behaved in a cartoon-like manner.
The new Chishuru menu’s specifics are yet unknown; according to Bakare, the restaurant will go even further into Nigerian food and long-forgotten family traditions, emphasizing ancient grains, fermentation, and old family recipes. She declares, “I’m reading more and exposing myself to various approaches to problem-solving.” I aim to offer a luxurious experience with more flavorful foods.
The labor, food, electricity, and rent costs are rising due to inflation, making opening a restaurant more difficult than ever. tChishuru 2.0 is being approached by Bakare “with equal parts excitement and trepidation.” She adds that the creative component and the opportunity to build a community—not just with my colleagues but also with the visitors—arfafascinateserBut I still have a lot to consider that makes me nervous!