★★★☆☆ / Nigerian/West African

Chuku’s review – Nigerian tapas takes Seven Sisters by storm

The entire menu reviewed starting with all the vegetarian and vegan dishes

The surprising thing about Chuku’s, to me at least, isn’t that this Tottenham restaurant serves Nigerian food. Although comparatively uncommon, Nigerian food isn’t too hard to find in London’s southeastern suburbs from Nigerian restaurants to (broadly) pan-West African takeaways.

But those eateries not only tend to assume prior knowledge of Nigerian food on your part as the diner, they’re often remarkably bad at promoting themselves with half-broken websites, inscrutably written menus and purely functional dining rooms. None of that matters if you’re primarily concerned with serving your regulars, but it’s more off-putting to potential new customers than a grease-stained bucket of half-eaten chicken wings littered all over a train carriage floor.

illustrative photo of the decor at Chuku's

The art deco-style interior is eye-catchingly chic.

Chuku’s, on the other hand, goes out of it way to be welcoming and informative. From the well-written menu and slick online presence to the friendly and knowledgeable waiting staff, it all serves to ease diners unfamiliar with Nigerian food into Chuku’s take on some West African classics. Meanwhile, their crowdfunding campaign and canny knack for getting press coverage has heightened their profile to such a level that getting a table can prove tricky unless you book in advance.

Sadly, not everything on Chuku’s menu is worth waiting for.

Small chops at Chuku’s

Nut-sized morsels of crunchy chin chin packed a moreishness akin to weaponised Digestive biscuits.

illustrative photo of the chin chin at Chuku's

Chin up, old chum.

Equally crunchy fingers of okra had an almost garlicky umami to them with a chilli honey vinaigrette dressing that was surprisingly reminiscent of a Vietnamese-style fish sauce.

illustrative photo of the sweet okra at Chuku's

Not anywhere as sticky as this photo might have you believe.

Cassava crisps were lighter and more brittle than the usual potato variety, almost like apple crisps but not anywhere as sweet. Plantain crisps were, unsurprisingly, sweeter, crunchier and far denser despite not being that much thicker. Both crisps, along with the okra and chin chin, were tantalising preludes to the larger dishes at Chuku’s.

illustrative photo of the cassava crisps at Chuku's

No salt and vinegar flavour, eh

illustrative photo of the plantain crisps at Chuku's

Chuku’s is cashless, so it only accepts cards.

Vegan and vegetarian dishes at Chuku’s

Roasted vegetable salad was a subdued introduction to Chuku’s plant-based dishes. The crisp and crunchy selection of modestly sweet and moreish vegetables was surprisingly reminiscent of a veg stir-fry. While not bad, it was a lightweight dish.

illustrative photo of the banga roasted vegetable salad at Chuku's

‘Vegetable salad’ strikes me as something of a tautology, but that’s how it was written on the menu.

Rice flour pancakes topped with pumpkin and peanut sauce improved greatly over the course of my multiple meals at Chuku’s. The first time around, the somewhat chewy pancakes only managed to pack a mild nutty moreishness that was deeply unmemorable. Both taste and texture had been goosed up on a subsequent visit though, with a mouth-tugging chewiness and a more profound nuttiness that lingered on the tongue.

illustrative photo of the rice pancakes with pumpkin and peanut sauce at Chuku's

Sinasir and miyan taushe.

illustrative photo of the sinasir and miyan taushe rice pancakes at Chuku's

I’m glad Ticketing Correspondent convinced me to give this dish another go.

The egusi bowl was an eye-opening thriller from start to finish. Soft, springy and doughy yam dumplings were like a cross between English dumplings and Chinese fishballs – firmer than the former, softer than the latter. They would only have been half as enjoyable without the trio of sauces though. The green packed a potent vegetal earthiness, while the red reminded me of a rogan josh-style sauce but with even more umami. The yellow was arguably the most sophisticated though with a complex umami layered with a sweet tanginess and a touch of bitterness. Dipping and dredging the dumplings through each sauce was not only intensely enjoyable, it remained so on subsequent visits.

illustrative photo of the egusi bowl at Chuku's

Tricolore.

illustrative photo of the egusi bowl at Chuku's Seven Sisters

Trzy kolory.

Crunchy coleslaw was never cloying or heavy, but the promised coconut and mango was transient at best.

illustrative photo of the house coleslaw at Chuku's

Dishes come out at a rapid clip.

Fine-grained quinoa was only very lightly moreish, despite having being cooked in a jollof mixture.

illustrative photo of the jollof quinoa at Chuku's

I wonder why jollof quinoa, rather than jollof rice…

The thick, crunchy mantle of the chunky cassava chips just managed to stay on the right side of leathery, contrasting with the airy lightness of the interiors. The lightly moreish and piquant sauce could’ve been punchier and hotter though, if only to add more character to the chips.

illustrative photo of the cassava chips at Chuku's

A chip off the old block.

Chopped segments of sweet and starchy plantain had been tickled with a touch of cinnamon, complimenting the caramelised sweetness.

illustrative photo of the dodo fried plantain at Chuku's

This dish does have a certain ap-peel. It’s no dodo.

Stewed beans and sweetcorn had taken on an earthy, zesty daal-like flavour that was as unexpected as it was delightful.

illustrative photo of the adalu honey beans, red pepper and tomato stew at Chuku's

Adalu.

Cubed moi moi tart had a crumbly, bready texture and a light sweetness. Akin to a quiche with pleasures that were just as fleeting.

illustrative photo of the moi moi at Chuku's

Moi moi.

Meat dishes at Chuku’s

The flesh spheres used in the suya meatballs bore such an uncanny resemblance to Swedish meatballs, they’re either yet another example of culinary convergent evolution or proof of an emergency kitchen supply run to the nearby branch of Ikea. The real surprise was the sauce, which turned out to be a tamer version of the red sauce gracing the egusi bowl. The double hit of the surprisingly familiar quickly faded from my memory, leaving little behind.

illustrative photo of the suya meatballs at Chuku's

Red balls.

Chicken gizzards were unexpectedly tender. Although they never became too mushy, I ultimately still prefer the Japanese, Korean and Uyghur method of grilling offaly organs so that they spring, bounce and snap in their firmness. Even so, these gizzards weren’t a total loss as they had been simmered in a mildly sweet and smoky sauce.

illustrative photo of the chicken gizzards at Chuku's

This review’s procrastination was brought to you, in part, by ZZ Top.

The thin yet crunchy batter of the chicken wings got a second wind from the dusting of crushed nuts which were almost as crunchy. It was a short-lived effect though as there wasn’t enough nuts to go around and what little there was had trouble clinging to the wings. Still, the lightly sweet moreish glaze and the moist chook underneath ensured that these wings took flight. Eventually.

illustrative photo of the caramel kuli kuli chicken wings at Chuku's

Not a grounded flight, but not soaring high either.

Honey suya prawns turned out to be a wilting wallflower of a dish, the reasonably firm crustaceans licked with a mildly sweet and moreish glaze. A dish quickly consumed and forgotten almost as speedily.

illustrative photo of the honey suya prawns at Chuku's

Dead in the water.

A modestly tangy and moreish sauce clung to shreds and ribbons of beef. Although hardly a potent force of nature, the sauce was nevertheless essential given the timidity of the beef.

illustrative photo of the beef ayamase at Chuku's

Beef ayamase.

The best of Chuku’s meat dishes was actually its pescatarian croquettes. Although the filling of yam and smoked mackerel didn’t really capture the fish’s finest qualities, it was still meaty, sweet and starchy with the fiery scotch bonnet jam the proverbial cherry on top. The highlight was definitely the croquette shells themselves, perfectly and evenly crisp with an almost feathery lightness that should pique the interest of tonkatsu fans.

illustrative photo of the ojojo water yam and smoked mackerel croquettes with scotch bonnet jam at Chuku's

Ojojo.

Desserts at Chuku’s

The creamy just-set filling of the cheesecake had a light orange and ginger flavour to it, but the real star was the dense crunch of the biscuit base. It won’t set the world of cheesecakes alight, but it makes for a fine ending to any meal.

illustrative photo of the chin chin cheesecake at Chuku's

Even with the din rising to noticeably loud levels, Chuku’s is a decent enough place for a chin wag.

Plantain waffles were unexpectedly chewy and dense. While this mouthfeel was far from unpleasant, it felt incomplete given that it came with only so-so cream and blueberries for company and character.

illustrative photo of the plantain waffles at Chuku's

Yes, I deliberately focussed on the waffles in this photo rather than the blueberries and cream.

Brownies made with yam as well as chocolate had an unexpected woody smokiness. This surprising flavour profile was ample compensation for the somewhat dry cake-like texture – both Ticketing Correspondent and I prefer our brownies to be far gooier.

illustrative photo of the yam brownies at Chuku's

Look at me, yam-mering on.

The Verdict

I would love to be able to tell you that Chuku’s is an unequivocal, unconditional triumph but that just wasn’t my experience. The vast majority of Chuku’s dishes were surprisingly understated and tame, almost to the point of forgettability in some cases, while some had a recurring yet timid sweet-moreish motif.

That doesn’t mean you should avoid Chuku’s though, far from it. The egusi bowl is the singular stand-out dish, brimming with such layered complexity and sophisticated beauty that it verges on the divine. There’s a lot of joy to be had in the plantains, the rice flour pancakes, the adalu, the croquettes and the desserts. Despite the tapas-sized portions, Chuku’s dishes are often hefty enough to be quite filling. It’s worth noting that not only are Chuku’s plant-based dishes generally better than its carnivorous ones, they also don’t imitate meat – and are better off for it.

Still, even all that isn’t quite enough to constitute a full meal, especially if there are more than one or two of you and you all have ravenous appetites. Unless, that is, you take the ‘tapas’ part of Chuku’s marketing strapline to heart and treat a few plates here as a prologue or epilogue to a night spent at other neighbourhood eateries such as the Latin Village just across the road or the relatively nearby Osteria Tufo. This is especially the case as the staff will strictly enforce the 90 minute limit on table occupancy if they’re especially busy.

Ultimately, Chuku’s is more a triumph of clever bootstrap marketing, PR and crowdfunding than a cohesive, blockbuster menu firing on all pistons. But there’s clearly significant potential at Chuku’s – here’s hoping they can live up to it.

What to order: Egusi bowl; adalu; rice pancakes; croquettes; plantains

What to skip: Nothing was bad enough to be worth avoiding entirely

 

Name: Chuku’s

Branch tried: 274 High Road, Tottenham, London N15 4AJ

Phone: none listed

Web: http://www.chukuslondon.co.uk/

Opening Hours: Tuesday-Thursday 18.00-22.30. Friday 18.00-23.00. Saturday noon-23.00. Sunday noon-22.00. Closed Monday.

Reservations: essential.

Average cost for one, including soft drinks: £35-40 approx. 

Rating★★★☆☆

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