Opening its doors on 8 October at Berners Street in Fitzrovia, Akoko is set to offer London diners a unique window into the cuisine of West Africa. British Nigerian restaurateur Aji Akokomi has taken inspiration from family recipes and his travels across the region. Working with Head Chef JM Chilila, the team pay homage to West Africa’s culinary heritage by using recipes passed down through generations and traditional cooking techniques of smoking, curing and fermenting. Akoko, which translates to “time” as well as “the first” in Yoruba, celebrates the richness, vibrancy and diversity of the Saharan region in a contemporary way. The restaurant boasts a creative menu combining high quality produce from African and British suppliers, with an emphasis on seasonality. To learn more about the project and what we can expect from the menu, Something Curated spoke with Akokomi.

Something Curated: Can you tell us about your background; what drew you to a career in food?

Aji Akokomi: I have always loved to be around food and feel at home when I am close to the kitchen. Growing up I worked in my mother’s bakery. Back in Nigeria, preparing for the family feast was always a lively process and you could only find me in the kitchen with the aunts cooking away. Since moving to London decades ago, it has always been my desire to present what I know of the delicious flavours of West Africa to London.

SC: How was Akoko born?

AA: Akoko was born from my desire to celebrate the flavours of West Africa. I generally love to entertain and impress my guests with good food, but most importantly, my desire is to offer my take on West African hospitality. Once I decided that I would like to have a restaurant in London, I never looked backed.

SC: Can you give us some insight into the distinctive characteristics of West African food?

AA: I like this question; it is so important. The flavours of west African food are mostly made up of dried fish, shrimps and prawns as key condiments, fermented seeds such as melon seeds and locust beans, concentrated bouillons, hot peppers of course and spices. Umami (savouriness) and peppers are dominant in the cuisine as well as sourness from tomatoes, lemons and limes. Hearty soups, stews and sauces are very prevalent. The use of dried seafood and fermented seeds provide a powerhouse of umami flavour to most West African dishes.

SC: What are some of the dishes you’re most excited about sharing on Akoko’s menu?

AA: The dishes I am most excited about sharing are: lobster egusi soup with pounded yam, slow cooked goat with smokey jollof rice, and a quail yassa dish.

Images courtesy Akoko

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