To relinquish control to the omnipotent energy of a tasting menu is a wonderful, eminently sensible thing. If a cook has got to the point in their career where they’re in charge of a central London kitchen, then – you would hope – they almost certainly know their onions; and their pies, risottos, bisques and bavettes too, for that matter. At Akoko, diners wisely put their stomachs in the knowledgeable hands of Ayo Adeyemi, who took over executive chef duties at this West African restaurant in September of last year.
Pulling largely from the cuisines of Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal, Akoko offers a ten-course tasting menu, which in the absence of à la carte is the only thing on offer, with vegetarian and vegan options. It might run to a lofty £120, but fiddly and teensy Michelin-star food this isn’t. At the end of this culinary voyage, you’ll be pleasantly stuffed. I was so full I had to take home my chocolate petit fours to scoff the next morning. Hardly a chore, but proof that Adeyemi isn’t just keen on impressing you with his witty, inventive food, but also more than happy to fill you to near-bursting point.
It’s no giddy exaggeration to say everything at Akoko was spectacular and packed full of huge flavours
Opened in late 2020 by first-time restaurateur Aji Akokomi, Akoko is an airy, open space, with plaster-coloured walls and a playful splash of dried foliage dangling from the ceiling near the shiny open kitchen at the back of the room. Despite his lack of experience, Akokomi’s vision for the place was pure – to soup-up family recipes to a fine-dining standard and show off the multifarious delights of West African cooking on an elevated platform. Alas, this is still something of a rarity in London, which currently has only the significantly more expensive Ikoyi as a contemporary, which similarly focuses on sub-Saharan West African food and charges a whopping £300 for the pleasure of its own tasting menu.
From the opening cocktail – a sweet and zippy cacao and date Negroni – to a pudding of Ghanaian bofrot doughnuts decorated with elegant flowers – it’s no giddy exaggeration to say that everything at Akoko was spectacular, and packed full of huge flavours that you’re unlikely to stumble across elsewhere in Fitzrovia. Yam croquettes dusted with nutmeg-like ehuru and penja pepper from Cameroon came with folds of truffle on top; a perfectly pretty Nigerian Waina, a kind of masa, came with a Platonic-ideal portion of chicken mousse and a smidge of Senegalese yassa cream. And that was just the pre-starters.
Served in the kind of tasteful small ceramic bowl that I would be inclined to slip into my handbag were I more of a committed kleptomaniac, the miyantaushe pumpkin stew crunched addictively with pumpkin seeds, before thick, meaty hunks of lobster claw arrived alongside the Goldilocks of scotch-bonnet pepper soup: neither too spicy, nor too mild, but just right, and based on Adeyemi’s mother’s recipe. ‘We had to tone it down a bit,’ he confessed as he placed it on our table with a smile.
There is, of course, jollof rice, which came with a full printed explainer on its sacred status, and the various regional interpretations of the iconic dish. This one came topped with crispy puffed rice and the desperate urge to polish the whole thing off, despite the fact four more courses were incoming. There was duck, then cod served with shoestring plantain fries and black pepper shito sauce, as well as a refreshing fruit course of compressed pineapple with a fermented tepache sipping sauce.
At just shy of three hours for dinner, an evening at Akoko is an experience, not just a meal.
The vibe Relaxed fine dining in a lively yet laidback room in central London. Lush.
The food West African small-ish plates as part of an endlessly exciting tasting menu.
The drink Wine pairings with almost every course are available, but there's also a soft version for the non-booze crew.
Time Out tip If you can't finish your final dessert – a selection of petit fours – don't leave them behind, ask the friendly servers to box them up for you.