Jerky, sizzling spice and all things nice in a Greenwich industrial estate
Update 4/01/2021 – added details about half-a-goat, guinea fowl, lamb ribs and masa
Lockdown, whether in spring, autumn or winter, can feel like a literal and metaphorical wall blocking you off from other parts of your own city, never mind the rest of the world. While food can offer a glimpse into the wider world beyond your own post code, its effectiveness can be a post code lottery.
Many London high streets offer little beyond anglicised Chinese, Indian and Turkish takeaways. At best they’re like Thomas the Tank Engine – while charming enough on their own terms, your horizons are ultimately narrowed rather than broadened given that they’re little more than cartoonish caricatures. They’re there to be outgrown.
Some parts of London are more blessed with takeaway bounty than others though, with surprises tucked away in the most unexpected of places. Alhaji Suya serves up Nigerian suya and kilishi, grilled marinaded meats and jerky respectively, from a unit in a North Greenwich industrial park having relocated from Peckham. Its location isn’t quite as incongruous as it first appears, with branches of Chinese supermarket See Woo and Swedish juggernaut Ikea – complete with takeout counter and cafeteria respectively – as neighbours.
You don’t need to be a North Greenwich local either, as Alhaji also offers its jerky and a limited selection of its vacuum packed suya for next day delivery throughout London and most of the UK.
The fatty beef or tozo suya is the only one that’s available for both local takeaway and nationwide delivery. Both versions of the tozo suya were consistently but modestly tangy and fatty with a light chew. Some bites were even more pleasing than others, adding a crisper, bouncier, caramelised chew into the mix. The fatty beef wouldn’t be complete without a helping of the powdered spice mix, or yaji, served on the side in a wee container. Slightly sweet and astringent with a citrusy brightness, it should nonetheless be applied with care as its cumulative heat brought bulging beads of sweat to my forehead and left my lips trembling.
As takeaway, you can also opt to have the tozo suya tightly tucked into a wheat flour tortilla along with a hefty heap of onions and a smoky hot dog. The former cut through the fatty, bouncy chew of the tozo suya and the potent spicy heat of the yaji. The hot dog wasn’t really necessary, but it did add some meaty variation and was hardly a distraction.
The ‘regular’ lean beef suya was far more dependent on the yaji for flavour and charm. Lacking the tozo’s beefy tang and mouthfeel, but with nothing to take their place, it made for a far less interesting and memorable eat.
If you’re averse to beef for whatever reason, then don’t opt for the chicken suya. It was, as expected, desperately lacking in texture and would’ve been a total bust for taste if not for the yaji’s pep. Chicken wings were barely any better.
The bovine-free option to go for instead has to be the lamb. Each meaty morsel not only had comparable levels of caramelisation, unctuous fattiness and bouncy crispness as the the best of the tozo, but packed in a gentle earthiness too. Laced with yaji, the lamb practically sprang out of the foil carton and into my mouth. Don’t overlook the puddle of meat juices at the bottom of the carton, both with the lamb and tozo suyas. Boldly moreish, it’s definitely worth mopping up with bread or drizzling over Alhaji’s citrusy bright and moreish jollof rice.
The unexpected star of Al Haji’s menu was the kilishi. Not as fibrous or as tough and excessively chewy as some other jerkies, each slender wafer – for the most part – bent, snapped and sheared apart easily with only a modest toothy tug. Already exceedingly moreish, its deepily savoury character was enhanced further by the pre-applied yaji. Its astringent citrusy notes and bristling warmth are, for my money, better appreciated on the kilishi rather than the suya due to the superior grapple factor of its mouthfeel.
Winter 2020/2021 home delivery update
I hadn’t intended to update this review of Al Haji Suya so soon, but several new additions to the home delivery menu piqued my interest.
A whole broiler chicken was a rather scanty bird. While it lacked meatiness, it was at least a moist affair with dimpled, reasonably supple skin despite its initial waxy appearance. If you’re dead-set on poultry, you’re far better off with the whole guinea fowl. As with the broiler chicken, it was neatly chopped into manageable chunks but that’s where the similarities ended. It was a far more bountiful bird – meatier and juicier with an effortlessly supple, moreish skin. All of those qualities were magnified when dusted with the yaji.
The beef tozo and lamb suyas, as well as the kilishi beef jerky, were just as good as they were before.
Lamb ribs are only available in 2kg portions. They weren’t anywhere as crisp and bouncy as the best lamb ribs available elsewhere though, nor were they as succulent and fatty as Alhaji’s regular lamb suya.
If you’re feeding your whole household, a county-sized tailback of lorry drivers or merely have an voracious appetite, then you can always order a whole goat. Or just half-of-a-goat, as I did to sustain me over the festive period. The approximately 5kg of goat meat arrived in a styrofoam container large enough to eclipse an entire stovetop hob.
Cleaved into easily manageable, distributable chunks, the goat was dense, meaty and very occasionally fatty. It’s worth sprinkling it with water when reheating though; otherwise it can get a little too chewy and hard in places. While satisfying enough when dusted with yaji, the goat was otherwise a surprisingly muted affair with little to say on its own either in terms of mouthfeel or flavour. When compared to the far more pleasing guinea fowl, beef tozo or lamb suyas, it plaintively bleats for your attention rather than head-butting you in the back of your knees.
Although the masa may look a bit like blanched crumpets, these roughly saucer-sized discs were actually made from rice flour and yoghurt. Airy, lightly chewy and with a touch of sweetness, they were apt as a milquetoast counterpart to the more robust and strident yaji-induced heat of the meaty mains.
Even though Alhaji Suya has one too many duffers for a menu so short, I still have a soft spot for this outfit as the best of its dishes linger long in the memory. With the tozo and lamb suyas as well as the kilishi, this small takeaway delivers big, bold and unmistakable flavours – all of which makes it a great gateway into the world of West African food. If more of the nation’s takeaways were like Alhaji Suya, then we’d all be immeasurably better off.
What to order: Lamb/ram suya, tozo fatty beef suya, guinea fowl suya, kilishi
What to avoid: Chicken suya, chicken wings, lean beef suya
Name: Alhaji Suya
Address: Unit 15 Angerstein Business Park, 12 Horn Lane, North Greenwich London
Phone: 07459 739273
Opening Hours: seven days a week noon-23.00 (order 30 minutes in advance).
Average cost per carton of suya: £10 approx. (£7 per 180g approx. if you order online for next day delivery. The goat and certain cuts cost more.)