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As restaurants are starved of staff, Akoko hits the sweet spot

After surviving the loss of its head chef, thrilling Fitzrovia venue returns with a genuine adventure on a plate

24 June, 2021 — By Tom Moggach

Akoko’s smoked jollof rice, carrot terrine with Ivorian aubergine sauce

RESTAURANTS are open but face a new existential threat – a chronic shortage of staff.

For decades, this great city attracted people from across Europe keen to ply their skills. But a combination of Covid and post-Brexit immigration rules has sparked an exodus back home.

It’s a cruel twist of the knife for restaurant owners after a terrible year – and one more reason to show our support.

Akoko in Fitzrovia briefly opened in September last year then promptly shut for lockdown. The head chef then hung up his apron and left for pastures new.

Now this thrilling destination is back and firing on all cylinders – serving some of the most exciting food in London right now.

Akoko is on a mission to celebrate the diversity of West African cuisine. We’re talking bold flavours and unfamiliar ingredients – a genuine adventure on the plate.

A smoked pumpkin soup is served Nigerian style, with a layer of fresh crab, discs of pickled squash for crunch and lashings of the velvety liquid; a Carlingford oyster, cooked in its shell over hot coals, is glazed with a fruity Gambian stew.

Technique is tremendous here, such as their delicate terrine made by slow cooking compressed ribbons of carrot. This is charred then served an aubergine sauce from the Côte D’Ivoire and jollof rice billowing with wood smoke.

Akoko is a stylish affair where dinner, served Wednesday to Saturday, is a six- or nine-course tasting menu priced at £75 or £95. Lunch is served on Friday and Saturday.

Every detail of the experience is well thought out. The interior features low lighting, a terracotta colour palette and a collection of contemporary African art.

On our visit, an acoustic consultant was discretely checking how the hum of conversation bounced around the room.

Behind the bar are shelves of thin-stemmed glasses of every conceivable size; the British Nigerian owner even helped to design bespoke cutlery for each dish, ranging from dainty, hand-forged metal spoons to rustic knives carved from hardwood.

We took a table near the open-plan kitchen, where a team of chefs worked in well-drilled harmony. One handled the sous-vide turbot, carefully spooning a Ghanaian leafy sauce; another fired up the electronic smoke machine, inserting the long nozzle in two-part bowls of rice.

We spent two hours here and service was pretty much flawless. Waiters were informal, chatty and clued-up, guiding us through the less familiar ingredients in each course – from melon seed miso to calabash nutmeg.

We started with a negroni with the subtle notes of date and cacao-nib infused Campari, poured over one large ice cube; finished with a hit of iced cider from the Czech Republic, a highlight of the eclectic wine list.

On our visit, thankfully, it felt like Akoko hit the sweet spot – with enough staff to make the evening sing. This is a restaurant to watch. Book a table while you can.

Akoko
21 Berners Street, W1T
0207 323 0593
www.akoko.co.uk
@akokorestaurant

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