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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Crunchy coleslaw was never cloying or heavy, but the promised coconut and mango was transient at best.
Fine-grained quinoa was only very lightly moreish, despite having being cooked in a jollof mixture.
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.
Chopped segments of sweet and starchy plantain had been tickled with a touch of cinnamon, complimenting the caramelised sweetness.
Stewed beans and sweetcorn had taken on an earthy, zesty daal-like flavour that was as unexpected as it was delightful.
Cubed moi moi tart had a crumbly, bready texture and a light sweetness. Akin to a quiche with pleasures that were just as fleeting.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Branch tried: 274 High Road, Tottenham, London N15 4AJ
Phone: none listed
Opening Hours: Tuesday-Thursday 18.00-22.30. Friday 18.00-23.00. Saturday noon-23.00. Sunday noon-22.00. Closed Monday.
Average cost for one, including soft drinks: £35-40 approx.