The story of Chishuru is one of a speedy, spectacular rise, and most of all, phenomenal graft.
Joké Bakare's independent West African restaurant started life after the British-Nigerian chef won a contest to stage a Brixton Village pop-up during the most ruthlessly confounding part of the pandemic tier system. That pop-up rightfully became permanent when word spread about her sensational cooking – a fiery dollop of scotch bonnet gel here, some hake in spiced plantain sauce there, and buttery, caramelised scallops to round things off. Her alchemical way with flavour was heralded in our original review as ‘the perfect collision of sweet, salty and peppery heat’. Chishuru was – and is – Joké’s first ever restaurant; before that she was a skilled home chef, though one who also had a day job that wasn’t remotely kitchen-related.
A crunchy sinasir rice cake with white crab meat and a smear of sorrel puree sets the tone for a menu smouldering with prestige comfort food.
Chishuru was this magazine’s best London restaurant of 2022, but only six months later it closed due to staffing issues. What followed was a flurry of crowdfunding, whispers of a move to the middle of town, and yet another pop-up for Joké. Now, a year on from the original site’s closure, she brings you Chishuru v. 2:0.
A discreet kind of place from the outside – we stride past the glass frontage then quick-turn after realising we’ve missed the front door – Chishuru is small, with two cosy floors, including a stellar, tucked away-ish basement booth that yells ‘bring your best mates and feast loudly like champions as people on other tables roll their eyes’. There are putty-coloured plaster walls, salmon pink terrazzo tables, carved wooden detail and the overall feeling that you may have returned to the womb.
There's a set five-courses at £65 a head (with a £35 lunch version) and we’re happy to go along for the ride; when one of London’s most talented chefs choses your dinner for you, you’d be a fool to question her menu.
But first, an earthy, spiced okra Martini, which are wisely limited to two per person – we want to remember this meal, not come-to three hours later in a nearby pub wondering where we put our shoes. A crunchy sinasir fermented rice cake with white crab meat and pumpkin and a smear of sorrel puree sets the tone for a menu smouldering with prestige comfort food. At Chishuru warm flavours and soft textures envelop you like a trusty duffle coat. A puddingy moi moi bean cake followed, its potent spiced heat calmed by creamy duck egg sauce and an addictive pile of crunchy fried tomato bits. If Joké wishes to sell these in small snacking bags, like vegetarian pork scratchings, I will be the first to order a dozen. The only issue with the bowl of fragrant pepper soup broth that followed, topped with neon green ribbons of kale, was that there wasn’t enough.
With its sweet, crispy skin, the guinea fowl main event was cooked to perfection. Served with taro root, ehuru and uziza sauce, again, it was a hug on a plate. A pearlescent pollock fillet was the pescetarian option, and so pretty I wanted to attach it to my blouse like a brooch. Both came with a deeply flavoursome bowl of rice, some fluffy fried plantain and a plate of house pickles, of which the perky grape was an unrivalled king.
After all that tongue-tickling flavour, an unassuming pudding of rice ice-cream with ehuru oat crumble and ginger cream might not have reached their dizzying heights, but it is very bliss itself to have Chishuru back where it belongs; at the forefront of the London dining scene.
The vibe A snug and lively two-story West African restaurant in Fitzrovia with some of the punchiest flavours in town.
The food A near-flawless set menu spanning Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba cuisines, helmed by the charismatic Joké Bakare.
The drink A wine flight accompanies dinner for £56 per head, but the innovative (a plantain Sazerac or perhaps a pineapple smash with two kinds of rum) cocktails are where it’s at.
Time Out tip Go with two pals so you can get all three mains and share the meat, veggie and fish options.