There’s nothing really as satisfying as a success story. The brainchild of Nigerian entrepreneur Aji Akokomi, Akoko was long-awaited before finally opening in late 2020, during Covid-induced restaurant armageddon. Pitched as a showcase aiming to celebrate the tradition and creativity in West African culture and cuisine, there was a worry that circumstance might rob us of a truly exhilarating new London venue.
Sitting in the humming interiors, with warm terracotta hues and a slight inspiration of Scandinavian coolness, those fears were happily in the long-forgotten past.
What Sets It Apart
Akoko has gone through several changes in its short lifespan – Ayo Adeyemi took over Head Chef duties from Theo Clench last September – but has always stayed true to Akokomi’s vision, and it has never held as vital a place in London’s culinary scene. It treads a difficult line beautifully: The tension between respecting tradition whilst simultaneously incorporating modern flair. What it achieves is to highlight the complexity, refinement and variation that already exists in the cuisine through an inventive fine dining experience.
They accommodate all dietary requirements – with pescetarian, vegetarian and vegan menus included along with the main tasting menu, based around the cuisines of Nigeria, Senegal and Ghana. At £120 with an optional wine pairing of an additional £85, it’s somewhat steep but entirely worth it for a special occasion. For a more affordable experience, there is also a 5-course lunch only option for £55.
From the first couple of small dishes, the service is friendly, relaxed and expertly informative, describing each dish as it comes and always on hand to replenish your glass if it looks in threat of being empty. The 10 course meal took the best part of three hours, so this is definitively event-dining, the type to mark in your calendars and count down the days until.
The food is, overall, spectacular: Immaculate and playful presentation, sweet, spicy and wildly flavourful, it can surely claim to be one of the best tasting-menu experiences in London. For a menu that works so well as a holistic enterprise, picking favourites can be difficult – each course has a solid claim – but a few have stayed with me.
The moi moi, a savoury Nigerian pudding served in a banana leaf with yellowtail amberjack and vatapa, led to quite a serious internal debate as to whether I would continue to be polite or instead request an entire vat of the stuff to take home with me. Likewise the abunuabunu, a Ghanaian soup, is paired beautifully with monkfish and white asparagus.
Jollof rice, if you didn’t know, is kind of a big deal. Creating this dish, a staple of family tradition in which every nuance and complexity will be critiqued by diners who have their own personal history with the dish, is a challenge I imagine would give any chef sleepless nights. Its importance is reflected in the booklet that comes served alongside the dish, detailing its history and different regional variations.
Served with Herdwick lamb, or delicious grilled octopus if you opt for the pescetarian menu like I did, it manages to be innovative – served with dried puffy rice and chives on top – it will also avoid any accusations of sacrilege.
Our waiter informed us that, usually, the jollof rice would be significantly spicier. But given that there were three courses left which, ideally, the restaurant would like their customers to enjoy without succumbing to cold sweats, their tongue aflame, I’ll give them a pass.
Entering into the essential framework of the London dining scene is, you can imagine, a monumentally difficult task. But through the strength of concept and creativity of its execution, Akoko has succeeded. Rarely has a meal so lived up to expectations, and left such an enduring impression. It’s earned this through what is clearly a tremendous amount of time, effort and passion, but it has somehow managed to retain the essence of why it exists in the first place – joy.