Monday 2 November 2020

Chishuru, Brixton

A car park in Peckham. A concrete forecourt in Old Street. The back of a Piaggio Ape 3 wheeler van on Berwick Street. Some of our most beloved restaurants and food heroes made their first tentative steps to fame and fortune from some of the most unlikely corners of the capital, and in the most unlikely ways. It's almost impossible of course to know which startups and street stalls will eventually go big (or even global - RIP Meatliquor Singapore) but it seems London is good at nurturing food talent, and Londoners are good at spotting it - if you're good at what you do, there's a good chance you'll do well.

So there's a chance - an increasingly vanishing chance, but a chance nontheless - that Adejoké "Joké" Bakare's stunning modern West African food, served in her little corner of Brixton's Market Row, without pretention or fanfare, will not get the attention it deserves. But if I know London like I think I do, a city of impeccable taste and experiment still, despite everything that's been thrown at it recently, then you'll be hearing a lot about Chishuru over the coming weeks and months. And here's why...

This is "Ekuru", the first of countless reasons to visit Chishuru. A kind of vegetable mousse made by steaming certain kinds of peas - black-eyed peas amongst them our waitress said although she appeared almost as mystified by the dish as we were - it seemed impossible that it didn't contain any egg, as the texture was so firm yet light, and yet no, we were assured that it was entirely vegan. Topped with a pumpkin seed pesto, it also came alongside a dollop of the coyly named "Scotch Bonnet Sauce", a mixture so beguiling and complex with its battle of chilli and citrus that we fought over the very last drop of it.

Cassava fritters were crisp and greaseless, more than worth the effort by themselves. But they came with an extraordinary coconut and lime chutney which turned it into something else entirely, the match of root vegetable and coconut suddenly feeling like the most natural thing in the world.

Chicken "sweetbreads" were various bits of offal, a mixture of soft and crunchy and fatty but all grilled precisely so and topped with another masterclass in chilli/citrus saucing. All through the meal at Chishuru were little surprising flavour notes here and there - an unusual herb perhaps, or a texture - but there was nothing deliberately weird, nothing so crass as a texture or taste introduced just to shock. It was all, if not the definition of comfort food by most measures, definitely comforting food. Refined, and easily enjoyable.

Goat "ayamase" had shades of a top Malaysian rendang, with huge chunks of meltingly soft goat meat, slow-cooked into a rich spicy green pepper sauce. On its own it was the kind of thing you could eat bowl after bowl of and not get bored, but with the "Attasi" rice (made with various types of beans, and topped with colourful pickled peppers) to add a bit of starch it went down even easier.

Bavette suya was the last of the mains, pink strips of genuinely good beef (tender, but with a nice chew) dressed with a myriad of dried herbs that managed to showcase the protein without being the least bit either bland, or overseasoned. The beef was so impressive, in fact, we asked where they'd got it from, expecting to be told some artisan grass-fed herd out in the West Country, but apparently it's just from one of the butchers on Electric Avenue. Which as well as making a nice bit of symbiosis with local businesses, just goes to show you don't need blindingly expensive raw ingredients if you have a bit of skill with the seasoning.

Other sides included glazed plantain - nice, but as the chicken sweetbreads came with plantain as well we were a little plaintained-out, and a green leaf salad which I can imagine some people wanting around to counteract the densely meaty other dishes but which I couldn't really find much of a call for. Next time I think I'll just have another bowl of the Ayamase.

We'd pretty much made up our minds that Chishuru was one of the most exciting new restaurants in London as soon as the Ekuru arrived; everything that came after that was just a case of having our decision confirmed. Dishes of warmth and personality, matched equally by their skill and invention, by a singularly impressive young talent, well situations like this do not come along very often. It's just sheer bad luck that Bakare's career is beginning in the middle of a global pandemic, but I've every confidence that it will outlast it easily and go on to thrive. For £50 a head (we had a bottle of the Mestizaje which was the most expensive red on the list, but it was lovely and comes highly recommended) you too can have a small part in that journey, and in a few years time, you can say, you were there when it all started. One to most definitely watch.