Considering that Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, with a substantial expatriate community in London, it’s surprising that there aren’t more Nigerian restaurants in town. Nkem’s, which opened at the end of 2011 in Nunhead, promises authentic Nigerian food – ‘just like mum’s cooking’. And in this café’s case, it really is owner Mikey Nkemdilim’s mum who’s cooking.
The menu focuses on Yoruba dishes from western Nigeria, which rely on starchy, stomach-lining base ingredients paired with meat, then laced with heat from fiery scotch bonnet peppers.
Moin moin is a sort of cake made from cooked beans, a popular Nigerian starter. The pressed loaf’s mushy texture is similar to polenta cake – but is flavoured with dried prawns, giving the dish a distinctive fish-flake aroma. Another starter of barbecued chicken gizzards were very chewy, served in a concentrated tomato paste.
For mains, you can mix and match the starch base and stew. A huge portion of jollof rice (cooked in a spicy tomato mixture) was relatively dry. Still, the rice was spicy and fragrant from the use of dried thyme. Pounded yam is eaten with your fingers – pull off a portion of the glutinous yam dough, and dip it into the accompanying stew.
We opted for a mixture of three different stews: efo (a vegetable stew), egusi (melon seed soup) and meat stew. The spicy concoction was pungently flavoured with dried prawns, and dotted with chewy chunks of beef and slices of gelatinous cow’s foot. The flavours and textures of Nigerian cuisine can be quite challenging to the uninitiated, but Nkem’s friendly owner Mikey was happy to offer guidance, and was flexible with the dishes’ spiciness levels.
If the heat is still too much to bear, have a sip of Nigerian Star beer or Nigerian Fanta.
Nkem’s small premises only have room for three tables and a takeaway counter, which, on our visit, was busy with Nigerian women picking up a homely dinner.