Emeka and Ifeyinwa Frederick have just finished a month-long residency in Hackney’s Nest. It’s the last pop-up the siblings had planned for the summer – and perhaps the last one ever.
That’s not because the Fredericks are shutting up shop. On the contrary, their growing success over the past two and a half years has convinced them it’s time to open a permanent home.
“We ended our summer series of pop-ups at the beginning of September and the most common ask from guests was for us to open our place,” says Ifeyinwa. “We're hoping to both make their and our dreams a reality by opening the first Chuku's site this year so guests can chop, chat and chill in their mini-Lagos all year long.”
Claiming the title of London’s first Nigerian tapas restaurant, Chuku’s food is served as sharing plates to encourage everyone to taste a little bit of everything, set to the rhythms of Afrobeats.
So what exactly is Nigerian food? “It's punchy, bold flavours and intense, fragrant aromas,” says Emeka. “It's fluffy dumplings made from natural, earthy crops dipped in rich stews where fruits from the motherland, leafy superfood greens and magic beans form the base.
“Peppered with mixed spices, grilled meats and smoked fish, it’s dramatic, hearty food. No frills, no airs and graces. This is comfort food that gives you a big hug and says welcome home.”
Here, Ifeyinwa and Emeka describe three of Chuku’s best sellers and what makes them so popular with customers.
What is it: Jollof rice is probably one of the most celebrated and most popular dishes to have come from West Africa. It is made by steam cooking rice in a rich, seasoned stew of sweet red peppers, plum tomatoes and ginger. The bright hues of the tomatoes and peppers infuse the rice to give it its signature bright orange colour.
Why it’s popular: At Chuku's, we put our own spin on the dish and swap rice for quinoa, making our signature jollof quinoa. It has all the great tasting umami flavour of ‘party jollof rice’ – which is saved for special Nigerian celebrations – whilst being lighter and having a superfood protein boost.
What is it: This traditional dish is the king of any Nigerian party. A nutritious source of protein, our moi moi is a savoury vegan tart made from pureed black-eyed beans, which are blended with fresh onions, sweet red pepper and a dash of Scotch bonnet chilli. The batter is then steamed in the oven, giving it a light, fluffy texture. Ours is then dressed with fresh spinach, cabbage and a honey-chilli vinaigrette.
Why it’s popular: With many of our guests commenting they've never tasted anything like it, it is a vegan favourite that is also loved by our meat eaters. Both sets of guests savour the way in which each bite of the tart is packed full of flavour.
What is it: Plantain is a yellow-skinned, exotic fruit that looks similar to a banana but has its own distinctive taste. This ingredient is typically used for savoury dishes and is loved for its flavour and versatility. A food you can never get bored with, it can be cooked in a multitude of ways, and it sweetens as it ripens, turning from green to yellow and from yellow to a blackened skin. Traditionally in Nigeria, we grill or deep-fry ripe plantain to make savoury dishes known as boli and dodo respectively. The latter we offer at Chuku's, but since our inception, we've also had fun in the kitchen creating novel plantain desserts, from plantain pancakes to a plantain Valentine's cake. The one that all our guests are talking about at the moment, however, is plantain waffles.
Why it’s popular: Since arriving on our menu, this has been our most popular dish. We top our waffles with fresh berries, a dairy-free ice cream and maple syrup. And our wholehearted vegan and gluten-free guests love it, as they can indulge in a dessert which is made for them!