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Frieze Week London 2023

Coming to Fitzrovia: Chishuru’s Adejoké Bakare

The chef-patron of the lauded West African restaurant explains her journey from Brixton pop-up to London’s West End 

in Frieze London , Frieze Week Magazine | 11 OCT 23

‘I never thought my kind of restaurant would fit,’ says Adejoké Bakare. ‘West African food, the way I’m doing it, just doesn’t have that kind of historical representation in the centre of town.’ In 2020, the self-taught chef known as ‘Joké’ to her friends, family and legions of hungry fans, opened Chishuru in Brixton Village, and this autumn her acclaimed restaurant is staging its grand reopening in Fitzrovia. Long ruled by the prim likes of L’Escargot and Rules, it seems that the West End is finally shaking off its reputation for fusty fine dining. In 2023, the most oversubscribed spots in central London are altogether more flavourful and inclusive: from Kiln’s fiery Thai grill and Koya’s cosy Japanese udon-ya to Berenjak’s Persian sharing plates and The Tent (at the End of the Universe)’s Middle Eastern party food, which comes complete with hits of Sichuan spice courtesy of ex-Noma chef John Javier. 

‘You came to the UK to go to school and study and get a white-collar job in an office’

But Chishuru’s (re)opening might just be the most eagerly anticipated of the year. Devotees of the restaurant were bereft when its doors shut abruptly in south London in October 2022, not long after it was named Time Out’s Restaurant of the Year. With West African food the latest global cuisine to make serious inroads into Soho and the surrounding areas, Chishuru 2.0 will join Akoko’s perfect pots of jollof rice on Berners Street and lkoyi’s double-Michelin-starred £300 tasting menu at 180 Strand, where sub-Saharan flavours thunder out of beef­rib suya skewers and chicken efo stew. Another decidedly delicious new addition is Cally Munchy’s pan-African street food at The Africa Centre, offering kelewele in the shadow of Tate Modern. 

Chishuru interiors. Courtesy: Chishuru

This culinary landscape is entirely different from the one Bakare found when she moved to London from northern Nigeria more than two decades ago. ‘There was just the one grocery place dedicated to us and by us,’ says the East Ham-based chef. ‘The mom-and-pop restaurants we didn’t have, either.’ That was until the opening of Old Kent Road’s legendary 805 in 2001. Its traditional menu – heaving with ogbono soup, ayamase stew and its signature grilled monika fish – changed everything, and provided an authentic taste of home for Nigerians living in the capital. ‘It’s where we all went,’ remembers Bakare. ‘If you were coming back from church, or if you were going to mosque, or if you were having a party, you would go to 805.’ Back then, she explains, it was frowned upon to open a restaurant or work in service, so regional African restaurants were rare. ‘You came to the UK to go to school and study and get a white-collar job in an office,’ she says. ‘As more and more people came to the UK, the only way you could get food from back home that you didn’t cook yourself was at potlucks at community places. You’d think: Mavis can make puff-puff for me! People started opening small things out of that, and it just grew and grew.’ 

Photograph: Cécilia Poupon

Bakare was encouraged by friends to share her exceptional home cooking with the wider world. Never a professional chef, her dinner parties became supper clubs and, in 2019, she entered and won the amateur category of the Brixton Kitchen competition. Impressing judges Jackson Boxer of Brunswick House, James Cochran of 12:51 and Claire Ptak of Violet Cakes, she was awarded a three-month pop-up in Market Row on Coldharbour Lane. It quickly became a permanent feature, and gained the official stamp of food-world approval: a glowing Jay Rayner review. ‘It was when it was still mandatory to wear masks and he came in with his wife,’ remembers Bakare. ‘She had a really lovely necklace on and, being a magpie, I was automatically drawn to that. But then my eyes went past her and I saw this mountain of a human and thought: He looks familiar ... Then he took his mask off and I reacted like something from a cartoon!’ 

Sinasir, Peppersoup Broth, Moi moi at Chishuru. Courtesy: Chishuru

Though details of the new Chishuru menu are still under wraps, Bakare will say that the restaurant will dig even deeper into Nigerian cuisine and long-forgotten family recipes, with ancient grains, fermentation and experimentation to the fore. ‘I’m reading more and open­ing myself up to different ways of doing things,’ she says. ‘I want to provide a lush experience with richer flavours.’

Right now, bringing a restaurant into the world is harder than ever, with inflation raising the cost of food and labour as well as energy and rent. Bakare is approaching Chishuru 2.0 ‘with equal parts excitement and trepidation’. ‘What excites me is the creative aspect,’ she says, ‘as well as the chance to create a community, not just with my team, but with the guests. But there are still things to think about that leave me in a sweat!’ 

3 Great Titchfield St., London W1W 8AX. chishuru.com

This article first appeared in Frieze Week, London 2023 under the headline ‘West Africa, West End’.

Main image: Portrait of Adejoké Bakare