I’m often asked, as someone who writes passionately about food and restaurants, if I have (as the name of this magazine might suggest) a superior palate. The answer is a resounding no. I’m no gourmand, loath to call myself a foodie and I really ain’t no expert either. I’m merely an appetite with legs; someone who simply derives a disproportionate amount of pleasure from the act of eating.
I qualify this review as such, dear reader, not to position myself as any kind of professor when it comes to West African cuisine, but to simply convey my overwhelming joy after a fantastic meal at Chishuru in Brixton.
Nigerian-born chef Adejoké “Joké” Bakare had won an ‘amateur’ round of the Brixton Kitchen Competition now nearly two years ago and from it gained a permanent site in Market Row.
Amateur is a moniker Bakare hasn’t just outgrown, she’s demolished.
There’s some wonderful cooking and execution of flavours here that we simply don’t see enough of in London
Sitting down to dinner we also notice a familiar face front of house. We get chatting and it turns out Raf, who we recognise from Brunswick House, is running things on the floor. He and Bakare had met when she completed a stage under Jackson Boxer’s tutelage. Both the kitchen and the service in the dining room exude a certain generosity and an assured calm that makes what is a fairly stripped back and sparse space feel as welcoming and warm as a grandmother’s embrace.
The set menu is £45 at dinner and £28 at lunch. The evening option comprises three shared starters, a main course served with three shared sides and a dessert. It’s a rather joyful setup that naturally invites sharing, although even for cooking of this calibre, with a couple of drinks there’s no escaping it, you’d be spending over £100. That’s a lot for Brixton market.
On our visit we begin with Ekuru. It’s my first taste of watermelon seeds used in this way, essentially transformed into a soufflé style mix delivering a light, soft texture encased with a delicate crunch – it’s an unusual but delicious result served with a liberally spiced scotch bonnet sauce. The thing is a marvel. Sinasir arrived next. A pickled carrot medley atop a crunchy bed of fermented rice was redolent of an African take on smørrebrød, but infinitely more interesting. I’m usually a quick eater but this didn’t touch the sides. I snaffled this delicious treat down in mere seconds.
Next up prawns, butterflied and served with heads still intact (the best bit, if you ask me) and a highly peppery prawn broth. To really enjoy this, one must dunk and slurp and gulp and tear into it. This isn’t a dish to admire, nor is it particularly pretty, but it’s a great dish built to dive head first into.
The mains are perfectly pleasant but in truth we don’t quite reach the same soaring heights. My Ebiripo of celeriac, mushroom, fermented watermelon seeds (completely different in taste and texture to our earlier example in the Ekuru) and pickled oyster mushroom was perfectly pleasant but didn’t send my heart soaring as the other plates did. A take on black cod was next (or cod in black sauce I should say) and whilst the fish was well cooked, I felt the dish lacked a bit of oomph. I also wondered if it was added to the menu to in some way placate the less adventurous diner, a safe bet in a menu of uncertainty for those who don’t wish to delve into the unknown.
Of our main serving it was the sides that delivered the best results, a heaping of the utmost delicious rice anyone could wish for, as well as tender, crunchy fried plantain and a peppy pickled cucumber salad. These sides were stealing the spotlight, leaving our main plates playing second fiddle.
The dessert brought the restaurant back to firing on all cylinders. A part of the mulberry family, breadfruit is something we tend not to see so much of in the UK. But when served as a stunningly-made ice cream with a lightly-infused caramel, next to preserved hibiscus, I hope to see a lot more of it.
There’s some wonderful cooking and execution of flavours here that we simply don’t see enough of in London. Thanks to this buzzy little corner of Brixton market, this kind of cooking and these kinds of dishes will get the attention and recognition they, and chefs like Adejoké Bakare, evidently deserve.
9 Market Row
by Mike Daw