Whether you’re looking for a fragrant North African tagine, or East African injera bread topped with spicy stew, you’ll find them here. Do you agree with the choices? Use the comments box below or tweet your suggestions.
Still London’s most glamorous Moroccan restaurant, Momo attracts a fair smattering of beautiful people alongside couples on special dates, hen parties and business types. The soundtrack of classic Maghrebi beats and attractive young francophone waiting staff create a seductive buzz. Sexy Marrakech-style interiors, sparkling with light from intricately latticed mashrabiya-style windows and ornate metalwork lanterns, add to the allure. Tables are small and tightly packed, but somehow this rarely seems an imposition. Enjoy deliciously light, carefully crafted starters such as juicy prawns wrapped in crispy shredded kataifi pastry with a sour-sweet mango and tomato salsa, or scrumptious pan-fried scallops with a piquant salsa verde, before moving on to Moroccan classics such as lamb tagine with pears and prunes. But the main attraction has to be the near-perfect couscous: silky fine grains served with vegetables in a light cumin-scented broth, with tender, juicy chicken, plump golden raisins, chickpeas and harissa – all served separately so you can mix them as you please. Such delights coupled with a pricey wine list result in a hefty bill, so Momo needs to iron out the galling little niggles such as the shabby dark toilets and the occasionally inattentive service.
It’s tough finding a tagine for under a tenner in this town. But at Le Rif, only one dish on the extensive menu costs more than £5. This Finsbury Park eaterie isn’t remotely atmospheric, although there’s much to be said for a North African restaurant free of Arabic cliches. Instead, it caters to a local lunchtime crowd, many of whom eschew the North African offerings for sandwiches, jacket potatoes and spaghetti bolognaise. While such options seem bland compared to the Moroccan dishes the friendly owner can speedily conjure up, the starters were nothing special: a mild lentil, chickpea and rice soup; and houmous with olives and flatbread. The mains were excellent, though. With a combination of spinach, olives, potato, aubergine and lemon, the fish tagine got that balance of sweet and savoury flavours absolutely correct. Couscous royale was every bit as successful, with tender, succulent chunks of chicken and lamb in a subtly spicy broth. There’s only one way to end a great Moroccan meal – with pastries and a cup of fresh mint tea – although it does feel a little surreal to pour tea from a beautiful brass pot in a Finsbury Park caff.
With a name like Adams Cafe and a daytime menu of full English and other greasy spoon favourites, you might not expect the nightly transformation into a cosy North African bistro. Head here after 7pm, though, and mottled lampshades scatter pretty patterns of light across a candlelit room that’s decorated in muted blues and greens, with ornate ceramic tiling. In-the-know locals often fill the place. The menu is helpfully split into prices for one, two or three courses; you can mix and match as you like and it’s great value. Briks, doigts de fatma and cigares – all crisp little pastries, surprisingly light and delicately spiced, with meat, seafood or vegetarian fillings – are highlights among the starters. Main courses include tagines and couscous, as well as a variety of grilled meats and fish. The chefs hail from Morocco and Tunisia, and the subtlety of the aromatic dishes shows their homelands’ cuisines in their best light. Complimentary appetisers, a leisurely atmosphere and optional BYO add to diners’ sense of well-being.
The downside of this diminutive tapas bar, little sister of Moro next door, is its unceasing popularity. You can’t book for dinner (though you can for lunch), which, unless you have the timing of Eric Morecambe, almost always means a wait – though staff are happy for you to decamp elsewhere and will phone as soon as space becomes free. The upside is that the food is fantastic, the staff delightful and the atmosphere properly buzzing, as everyone is so pleased to be there. The high stools next to the bright orange bar offer the best view of the action, and are marginally more comfortable than the oddly low tables – but in general it’s a cramped experience. Do sample as many dishes as you can from the 40-strong list. Everything we tried was superb, from the very simple (tomato toast, lip-tingling pádron peppers) to old faves (patatas bravas topped with a thick, spicy tomato sauce and dollop of mayo) and regional specialities (grilled Galician tetilla cheese, with membrillo and walnut halves, and sizzling Palamós prawns with allioli). Desserts include a first-rate crema catalana (large enough for two), but the rich, boozy baklava ice-cream floating in a pool of Pedro Ximénez – the result of a happy kitchen accident, apparently – takes some beating. To drink, there are cocktails, sherries and an all-Spanish wine list, available by the glass, 375ml carafe or bottle.
Khamsa is a homely neighbourhood eaterie run by a couple who quit their jobs to pursue their goal of making Algerian cuisine better known. It’s an exceptionally pretty spot with intricate handmade crockery, colourful pillows and curtains, timber-panelled walls and blackboard menus. The marvellous meze selection (£12, large enough for two) includes velvet-smooth zaalouk (aubergine and walnut paste), beetroot salad with fennel and anchovies, garlicky chickpeas topped with spicy meatballs, lentil and bulgar wheat salad, and a light yet flavoursome couscous salad. The mains weren’t so impressive. Fish tagine came wrapped in silver foil, which aided temperature control, but made it cumbersome to eat, and the salmon lacked flavour. The ‘modern couscous’ dish featured a fantastically punchy broth, fresh vegetables, succulent grilled chicken and a spicy merguez sausage, but was let down by chewy pieces of lamb. Service was generally pleasant, but we were alarmed by the owner’s stern tone when he asked why we were photographing the food. You can bring your own booze (no corkage), or there’s a range of fruit juices.
This tiny restaurant is the perfect destination for those unacquainted with the joys of Ethiopian cuisine; the smiley, chatty staff will happily talk you through the menu and, if necessary, offer tactical advice on eating with injera, the sour, spongy pancake that comes with every meal. And you won’t be disappointed if you do know your kitfo (raw beef marinaded in spices; available in two varieties here) from your doro wat (chicken and egg stew): the food isn’t dumbed down, although the heat setting is dropped for local palates. We loved the gomen injera (spinach and crumbly cottage cheese rolled in injera), while zilbo stew combined collard greens with tender strips of lamb and a heady mix of ginger and garlic. The lentil and cabbage stews in the vegetarian platter were slightly underwhelming – we’d have liked more of a kick – but the well-balanced use of turmeric and ginger enlivened the platter’s third component, a yellow split-pea dal. Ethiopian trinkets, furniture and art make this an atmospheric place for a leisurely meal, and it’s great to see St George – Addis Ababa’s favourite beer – on the menu. The coffee is served authentically: slowly, ceremonially and very, very strong.
London may have swooned for Ottolenghi and Yalla Yalla, but this homage to Egypt’s hole-in-the-wall koshari vendors, from food writer and champion of Levantine cooking Anissa Helou, is still a brave move. The small, pristine space with a stainless steel counter is slightly reminiscent of a school canteen: there are a handful seats along one wall. This is really a takeaway joint, with a menu only a shade more varied than it would be at a stall in Cairo or Alexandria. Warming, comforting and many-layered, koshari is falafel’s more substantial older brother – a solid, simple dish of lentils, pasta, vermicelli and rice topped with tomato sauce and fried onions. That’s it. Helou’s version comes in mild, hot and ‘mad’ (it’s not really), plus a twist of her own doqqa recipe – ground spices, nuts and herbs. Then there are a couple of plain salads, a daily soup (we had sharp, lemony lentil and chard with real depth of flavour), freshly pressed juices and traditional desserts – muhallabiyeh milk pudding and mishmishiya apricot purée, the former creamy and laced with rosewater like a grown-up version of a Wall’s Mini Milk, the latter an intense shot of fruit like a blast of summer sunshine. Service in the early days of opening was haphazard, but charming. Let them iron out the wrinkles, and London may swoon again for this simplest of Middle Eastern menus.
The glitzy interior doesn’t hint at Brilliant’s longevity (a photo of a glossy-haired Prince Charles meeting the proprietors provides a clue), but this Southall landmark has been trading for nigh-on 40 years. It now has a first-floor banqueting hall seating 120 and runs cookery courses – videos of which are shown on three flatscreen TVs in the ground-floor restaurant. The owners, the Anand family, hail from Kenya (see the carvings of Maasai tribeswomen), and the menu reflects this in starters of tandoori tilapia fish and mogo (cassava-root chips). Nevertheless, it’s for exemplary versions of straightforward Punjabi cooking that the restaurant has gained acclaim, and a cabinet full of awards. Fish pakora followed by methi chicken karahi remain sublime options, though a recent meal began with fried masala egg (two hard-boiled eggs laced with spices in a crisp batter) then a far more thrilling palak lamb, where both the spinach and tender meat shone through the warming spice mix, and nutty dahl tarka (one of several ‘healthy options’ using less ghee). Prompt, smart service, first-rate accompaniments (six own-made chutneys, skilfully rendered breads, high-quality basmati rice), a cocktail list and a room full of happy multicultural parties confirm Brilliant’s pedigree.
Lalibela charms from the moment you cross the threshold and smell the coffee beans roasting by the bar. It resembles the home of an eccentric africophile uncle: full of carvings, figurines, textiles, instruments and portraits of elegant Ethiopian luminaries. The smiling and attentive manager is keen to recommend dishes and explain how they can be served (on a very fine circle of injera). Unlike most Ethiopian/Eritrean restaurants, Lalibela doesn’t offer sharing platters, but the menu is long and there are plenty of adventurous house specials. To start, Lalibela salad – beetroot and potato served warm – was tangy and sweet, and spiced chicken salad packed a punch. For mains, we tried fried lamb with spinach and spring greens, as well as a little separate pot of spiced couscous, just in case we developed injera fatigue. Tofu spinach tibs (tibs are sautéed dishes) was deliciously savoury, if very oily. Fried fish tibs, with tomatoes and peppers, was delicately flavoured with rosemary and lemon juice and went well with shiro (peas, shallots and hot spices). It was a hot and steamy night, so we eschewed the coffee ceremony in favour of a couple of cold St George beers (from Ethiopia).
A mosob is a handwoven table around which people gather to eat. This is one of the many facts about Eritrean cuisine we learned at this welcoming restaurant. In fact, instruction on Eritrean life and culture goes well beyond food, because the people who run Mosob are on a mission to promote their homeland. A very good job they do too: in the gaps between courses, our beaming waiter produced a well-thumbed book about the buildings of Asmara, and we also learned about the Italian occupation – at which point the pudding list (tartufo classico, tiramisu) became clear. But the main event is the cooking, especially the gloriously diverse vegetarian choices; these include beautifully spiced lentils (timtimo), pounded and stewed chickpeas (shiro) and spinach (hamli), and often involve cottage cheese. Meat eaters also fare well, thanks to the likes of the Mosob special (marinated lamb chops with spinach and lentils) and the muscular combination of hamli mis siga (tender stewed beef with spinach and garlic). Everything is served on spongy, yeasty injera, which is also used to scoop up the food. After such a feast, plus a few Serengeti lagers and the warm popcorn served as part of the final coffee ceremony, we didn’t need feeding again for 24 hours.
Jambo might inhabit a utilitarian building in an economically deprived part of town, but seven days a week it serves up Ugandan food of the highest quality in the warmest of atmospheres. And the portions are unquestionably generous. The £10 ‘variety meals’ here are the best value, comprising hearty relishes (stews or vegetables) and two starch staples. Our meal of beef with groundnuts (ground peanut stew) and spinach was the perfect match for fluffy Ugandan sweet potatoes (called lumonde), and a virtuous kalo (a thick millet porridge). It’s the kind of place that feels like home, even on your first visit, meaning it probably won’t be your last.
This colourful Old Kent Road restaurant proves something of a hit with local Nigerians looking for a taste of home. There’s a choice of two dining areas: the smarter executive suite (which can also be hired for events) and the main dining room, which is less pristine but equally popular. Diners come here to wolf down large Nigerian-style portions of cowfoot, spiced chicken gizzards, fish pepper soup, jollof rice and peppered snails. Tilapia with fried plantain, grilled chicken with couscous and salad, and tiger prawns in a chilli and garlic sauce also feature. There's another branch in Hendon, and another back in Abuja, Nigeria, should you really get the taste for it.
The Red Sea is one of those London secrets you almost don’t want to share, lest it should shed the ramshackle appeal of its MDF tables and workman caff aesthetic for mainstream respectability. The menu offers an intriguing mix of Eritrean, Ethiopian, Somali and Yemeni cuisine, plus the odd bit of Italian (African spag bol anyone?), and the food is an eccentric delight. Here you’ll find one of the broadest Horn of African choices around, at almost unreasonably good value. Our selections of spring lamb served with a special pilau rice, and lamb stew with okra and onions, were two of the more conservative options. The four-page menu (a whole page of which is dedicated to ‘Abyssinian’ cuisine) offers innards in spiced butter, among other delicacies. Customers are a blend of young, urban expats, veiled women of various nationalities sipping on refreshing lemon milkshakes (like a creamy freshly squeezed lemonade), and single men enjoying the hearty cooking of home. Service is languid, the decor a kitsch collage of Eritrean landscapes and London skylines, and there’s no drinks licence (but many non-alcoholic options). Still, at such prices these are minor grumbles.
Named after an ancient port on the Red Sea, this coffee- and spice-scented restaurant provides a large and lovely Eritrean feast – though note that the lunchtime opening hours can be rather erratic. It’s an interesting-looking venue: lots of dark furniture, a bar-front studded with seaside rocks, and walls punctuated with little alcoves containing random finds (from Aladdin lamps to model ships to old-fashioned dial phones). The menu has some intriguing additions too, though, sadly, the linseed stew wasn’t available on our visit. We settled for a chilli-scattered dish of crushed fava beans, stewed long in olive oil and onions and served with piles of toasted pitta.There are also fish dishes, as well as tender, fragrant ground-beef kitfo and other spicy stews. The sharing platters showcase the star turns on both meat and vegetarian fronts: little dollops of chicken or lamb stew (fried tripe, also available, doesn’t figure on these platters), spicy chickpeas or lentils, fried greens and spinach with cottage cheese. Big-flavoured dishes like this call for a long cold drink, such as Savanna cider (from South Africa) and Tusker beer (Kenya), or there’s sweet, delicately spiced Eritrean honey wine.
Occo’s stylish decor (a modern take on traditional Moroccan crafts) looked a touch worn on our last visit. We arrived well after the popular two-for-one happy hour, but a boisterous young crowd round the bar was more intent on drinking than sampling the Moroccan and Mod Euro fusion menu. The premises contain an intriguing warren of rooms on various levels. A tête-à-tête is best suited to the conservatory: a quiet space, but rather low on atmosphere. The cosy red boudoir room is often colonised by parties. Fresh ingredients and subtle spicing characterise the cooking, and the food made our taste buds sing, but service, though friendly, was haphazard. After an excessive wait, a cod and king prawn brochette (with sweet-potato mash and rich fig and almond-blossom chutney) arrived minus prawns. To be fair, the owner quickly made amends, providing drinks on the house and deducting the dish from our bill. Our other choices – tender calamares in feather-light batter with fragrant fennel and garlic aïoli, and chermoula-marinated sea bream with minty broad-bean and yoghurt zaalouk – ticked all the right boxes. With a sprucing up of decor and service, Occo would be a winner.
With walls the colour of an African sunset and the sounds of uptempo Ethio-pop mingling with the buzz of diners, Addis offers a generous array of meat, fish and vegetarian dishes. Diners sit at either western-style tables or traditional mesobs (tables with near-floor seating). Service is friendly but slow, giving you time for a couple of Batis (Ethiopian beers) between ordering and eating. Charcoal-grilled lamb kebab was delicately spiced and tender, while yetesom beyaynetu (chickpeas, cabbage and carrots, served with fresh injera – spongy flatbread) was perfect for veggies. Take advantage of the weekday lunch offer to try something different, such as the Horn of Africa favourite fuul (fava beans with feta and falafel), or the more adventurous dulet (spiced lamb innards).
This cavernous underground restaurant – all rich hues, carved wood and metal screens, reached by a winding staircase – is a bit groovier than its location, in an office complex off Liverpool Street, would suggest. It’s a pity, then, that the food doesn’t always match the decor. While perusing the menu, diners are presented with high-quality olives, a wide and fresh range of raw vegetables to dunk in minty cucumber and yoghurt dip, and excellent pickles: all complimentary. Tiger prawn falafel made an interesting departure from the norm, with minced prawns providing a pleasant lightness. Tiny Moroccan sausages were tart. Best stick to the carte, as our lunch specials (£10.95 for two courses) were dull. Starters in both vegetarian and meat meals relied heavily on pastry that tasted reheated, and thus was soggy when it should be crisp. Houmous was bland too. The wine list has a number of Lebanese options, yet is largely unexciting. The restaurant’s name means ‘treasure’ in Arabic, but despite its looks, the venue has all the soul and originality of a Dubai nightclub. Belly dancers feature at night, when cocktails also come into play.
In a bland modern development off Tooley Street, this branch of the South African-owned mini-group sticks to a winning formula, with a basement restaurant complementing the deli counters upstairs. Although there’s wine-themed decoration in the form of posters and crates, the climate-controlled cheese and wine rooms provide the most attractive element of the design. The list pays attention to all the classic French regions (Champagne is particularly well represented) but it’s difficult to avoid drifting back to the outstanding selection of South African wines. Some mark-ups are minimal - barely higher than the retail price - while others are fairly steep but not outrageous by London standards. There is a decent selection by the glass. The menu is international in scope with an emphasis on French and Italian cooking, but makes a special feature of dishes from the grill, including Pata Negra pork chops and a côte de boeuf for two people. The bar has a simple menu of cold dishes, especially platters of charcuterie.
This quick-fix open all-week spot has taken fusion to a new level with new-fangled spins on South African bunny chow - Durban’s comforting curry-in-a-loaf staple. After selling bunnies from a food truck and then a pop-up in Shoreditch, the team who set up Bunnychow have switched its allegiance and turned the dial down low on its South African roots. The chilli-flecked mutton curry has gone, and in its place is a globetrotting choice of wacky fillings - haddock chowder, Cumberland sausage and blue cheese, and even an all-day English breakfast. We’re missing the masala, the mess, and the chilli kicks. By Roopa Gulati
In common with London’s other Eritrean restaurants, this low-key Brixton café named after the capital of Eritrea and decorated with a few East African touches, trades on its novelty value. Staff are efficient and well-versed in the ‘have you eaten Eritrean food before?’ schtick. The chicken dishes are particularly popular – well-seasoned ghee sauce seems to complement the meek white meat with aplomb. But we opted for the vegetarian mosob meal for two, consisting of red and green lentil stews, spinach, fried and sauced mixed vegetables and a smooth, spicy dish of ground chickpeas. The injera was plentiful, and also lighter and less spongy than others we have sampled. True to tradition, it serves as both plate and fork (scoop up the stews with torn-off pieces of bread, but try not to lick your fingers in the process – this is food to be shared). The set menus include the much-vaunted coffee ceremony, with its attendant waftings and frankincense burning. The coffee is excellent: roasted (under your nose) to perfect richness and tinged carefully with cardamom and cloves. A big bowl of fresh, warm, salty popcorn ensures that no one feels cheated by the absence of puds.
There’s a childish sense of fun about a restaurant that allows you to eat the tablecloth that the food is served on: the injera pancake upon which Eritrean cooks set out their wares becomes hearty stuff once the sauces have got into the grain, and a pleasure to tuck into. Proprietor Tsige Haile is a heroine back home – she wrote the first Eritrean cookbooks – and her restaurant bridges the gap between eaterie and chill-out room with its painted tables and zebra rugs. Our falafel starter seemed strangely meagre, and main courses mingle together, so make sure you choose contrasting stews; zigni derho is fiery, with a jerk chicken edge, while alicha lamb is mellowed by lentils. The weekend buffet offers the best of all worlds.
Caribbean comfort food is the real deal at Negril. It’s a popular spot in spite of service that slows to a snail’s pace when the place is heaving, and the cramped, unadorned interior (decoration is limited to pages torn from Heat covering the walls of the lone toilet, which is accessed through the kitchen). Standards such as jerk chicken and ackee with saltfish are best enjoyed with a side of fried plantain, while tender goat curry should be mopped up with a perfectly fluffy roti. A hearty brunch menu featuring the likes of jerk chicken sausage is popular among local party animals repairing the ravages of the preceding night, while the quaint roadside garden is charming in summer. Don’t forget to bring your own beer or wine.