The recent transcendence of Nigerian culture into the mainstream is something that I have thoroughly enjoyed witnessing. As Jamaican as I am, many people initially think I’m Nigerian and they’re not completely wrong. My dad’s research has uncovered paternal Nigerian ancestry which explains my middle name being Ayodele and is probably why I have such a strong connection to a lot Nigerian food and culture.
As much as I love indulging at Nigerian restaurants, sometimes the portions are too much and too heavy, so when I heard Chuku’s had opened a restaurant I was excited and intrigued. I had to try it! Small plates is not a concept that is often adopted by African or even Caribbean establishments and they have rightly coined themselves “London’s first and only Nigerian tapas restaurant”. I was curious to see how they scaled down, elevated and modernised some of the dishes we know and love to fit a traditional tapas format, and they didn’t disappoint me. The menu not only touches on Nigerian cuisine from different regions across the vast country, but surpasses the usual swallows, jollof rice and stews that appear on most menus. It also had an extensive vegan friendly section which I loved and enjoyed although I am far from vegan myself.
Chuku’s have successfully managed to celebrate their Nigerian heritage in a vibrant and refreshing way, drawing inspiration from Spanish culture without diluting their own. I managed to get through 50% of the menu (paid the price for it later when I couldn’t breathe, but it was well worth it), ordering a total of 11 dishes out of 22. They recommend that you order 3 dishes each as the tapas portions are true to size, but still rather generous.
All the small plates I ordered, I loved. Although the format was not traditional and some of the dishes were presented slightly different from what I was used to, myself & my Nigerian date felt that it definitely tasted authentic. Everything tasted fresh with the depth of flavour you expect from Nigerian cuisine, even the jollof quinoa which I was so excited to try and couldn’t stop eating. One thing I loved is that I didn’t feel heavy and burdened down with the weight of my food choices. As much as I ate that evening I still felt quite light and the food tasted very wholesome.
The stand out dishes for me were the cassava & ata dindin, jollof quinoa, and the kuli kuli chicken wings. The cassava fries were crispy and the pepper sauce, which reminded me more of stew, had the right amount of spice to enhance the dish without hindering my belly. Jollof quinoa is a dish I never knew I needed in my life; each grain was fluffy and full of flavour – I still wonder if I will ever need rice again. Caramel, spices, nuts and chicken – salt and sweet flavour layering is always a winner for me, paired with a chicken wing?? I was destined to enjoy the caramel kuli kuli wings. I do love a saucy wing though so I could have done with just a touch more sauce, but this just meant that nothing went to waste!
The only things I didn’t really enjoy were the desserts. The plantain waffle does not work for my palate; the plantain flavour was too raw and strong, and the texture of the waffle was far too dense. The chin chin cheesecake had a nice flavour, although I found the texture of the filling too light. I did however like the idea of the chin chin base, albeit a bit hard to work with.
They don’t have a bar so the drinks menu is concise with 4 signature cocktails, which are not particularly fancy, but still satisfying & quite refreshing. We ordered 2 cocktails, a Chapman and a pineapple juice.
All in all, I loved it. I highly recommend it and will be returning. The decor is simple; bright and airy with burnt orange tones and beautiful artwork on the walls. Their ethos is “Chop. Chat. Chill” and they create the perfect relaxed environment for that vibe. I think they make the ideal spot for a first date, over due catch up with friends or a light weekend lunch. The service was impeccable and the food came out fast, fresh and well presented. Chuku’s is a unique approach to Nigerian dining so if you do go, keep an open mind and be willing to try something new.