A Guide to African Cuisine and The Best African Restaurants in London
They may not be first to mind when people in the capital start thinking about eating out, but African restaurants in London are no longer few and far between. Indeed, African food is immensely popular in London, so much so that it’s important to know what makes North African cuisine different from West, East or Southern African.
So, as we run through the best African restaurants in London right now, we’ll also go through how African cuisines differ from each other. Africa is made up of 54 countries, after all, so the food is way more rich and diverse than it tends to get credit for.
To include the cuisine of every African nation would keep us here for hours, so for now here’s a summary of the better known ones, organised by region.
Sudanese – A Sudanese staple is a special type of bread called Kissra, eaten with a stew made from dried meat, spices and peanut butter. Using peanut butter is what makes Sudanese food distinct. Porridges made with wheat flour or corn are also a big deal.Moroccan – Probably the most European of the African cuisines, Moroccan food uses plenty of meat as well as Mediterranean fundamentals like olive oil, grapes and wheat. Popular dishes like lamb tagine with couscous uses varied spices thanks to Morocco’s Arab influence.Tunisian – Tunisian food is the spiciest you’ll find in North Africa thanks to the Tunisian kitchen’s love affair with harissa, and there’s also quite a lot of Turkish influence. Tunisians go mad for baklava and grilled and stuffed veggies (much like a dolma) with beef.
Where to eat North African food…
Mandola Sudanese Restaurant
At this Sudanese spot just out from Notting Hill there’s a small menu but the options on it are properly authentic. It’s a small restaurant, too, making it good for casual, perhaps intimate occasions with no frills.
When to go: Go on a weeknight when it’s not as busy so you can really take your timeWhat to eat: The meat and peanut soup to start, followed by boiled broad beans with falafelAtmosphere: Nothing fancy but very friendlyAddress: 139-143 Westbourne Grove, London, W11 2RSPrice: Extremely cheap considering it’s in Notting Hill. Mains no more than £10
No prizes for guessing what sort food of Tagine serves. It’s a Moroccan restaurant in Balham with cool, Moroccan-style furniture and decor that makes it almost as cosy as your living room. Tagine has been open for over 10 years now, which means it’s popular and very much the go-to for a casual Moroccan meal in this part of London.
When to go: An evening meal here on a Friday is perfect for bringing in the weekendWhat to eat: In a restaurant called Tagine, try the signature fish or lamb taginesAtmosphere: Cosy and rusticAddress: 1-3 Fernlea Road, London, SW12 9RTPrice: The tagines (unless you get the veggie one which is cheaper) are £15
Cuisine of the Horn of Africa
Ethiopian – Injera is the sourdough flatbread that’s part of almost every single meal in Ethiopia. It’s often used to soak up or hold rich, vegetable-based stews, as well as kitfo, a sort of beef tartare. Ethiopia is great at coffee, too, but you probably knew that already.
Eritrean – Eritrean food shares a lot of similarities with that of neighbouring Ethiopia. However, being on the coast, it tends to use more seafood, either grilled or mixed into a stew. Also because of its coastal location, there’s a little more European influence in Eritrean food.
Where to eat food from the Horn…
Named after a small town in northern Ethiopia, Lalibela is award-winning and beautiful in every sense of the word. Be drawn in by the eye-catching green exterior and stay for the irresistible food and the charming Ethiopian decor and service. This is a restaurant for a casual meal out that’s way different to the norm, and there’s even lots of vegan options.
When to go: Go on a Sunday instead of your roast dinnerWhat to eat: Start with crispy injera with aubergine, follow with assa fish tibsAtmosphere: Like you’re sat in some kind of Ethiopian clubhouseAddress: 137 Fortess Road, London, NW5 2HRPrice: Mains range from £8-15
Mosob Eritrean restaurant in Kensal Green has been a family-run restaurant since 2004 and it’s still going strong. It’s a great place to take the family for something a bit different and we like it because the team in the kitchen are far from shy when it comes to making sure each dish is booming with authentic, often fiery flavour.
When to go: An early dinner on the weekend as it opens at 3pm rather than 6pmWhat to eat: Zilzil quluwa – grilled beef sautéed with onions, mixed peppers and awaze dipAtmosphere: Feels a little like a gastropub thanks to the well-stocked barAddress: 339 Harrow Road, Kensal Green, London W9 3RBPrice: A starter and a main will be less than 20 quid
Kenyan – The traditional food of Kenya is as varied as its tribal areas and landscapes, but a national staple is ugali, a stiff, white porridge that’s good for dipping in stews or making into a makeshift spoon when you eat with your hands. Kenyans are also big on street food like corn on the cob, grilled or skewered meats and samosas.
Ugandan – Ugandan food has a lot of Indian and British influence, meaning a roast chicken or tandoori-style flavours are quite a common occurrence alongside carbs like millet or maize. Many dishes feature sweet yams, too, one of the most famous African ingredients.
Where to eat East African food…
Poussin Plaice in Edgware is an authentic taste of Kenya with no frills – just honest, simple, homemade food. The menu is proud to feature lots that you’ll be hard-pressed to find elsewhere, owing to the fact that whilst Poussin Plaice is a Kenyan restaurant, it’s also a chippie… Quite the mix, we know, but one that works a treat. Poussin Plaice is an off-the-beaten-track gem.
When to go: Go for a weeknight dinner to spice things up a bitWhat to eat: The Mombasa mix of potatoes and black peas cooked in coconut sauceAtmosphere: Endearing Kenyan greasy spoons sort of placeAddress: 41 Queensbury Station Parade, London, HA8 5NNPrice: You can easily eat two courses for less than a tenner
South African – We’re not sure why, but most of the best foods in South Africa begin with B. Biltong, bobotie, bunny chow, the list goes on. Of these, bobotie is our winner, comprised of gently spiced minced lamb or beef topped with an eggy, milky layer and browned in the oven.Namibian – Similar to other Southern African cuisines in terms of its love for dried beef (biltong), but unique in that Namibian oysters are some of the best in the world. There’s also omajowa, a giant wild mushroom native to Namibia that’s foraged and common in stews.
Where to eat Southern African food…
Opened in 2010 and covering 27,000 square foot in Camden’s The Stables Market, Shaka Zulu is London’s biggest and most famous South African restaurant with a fantastic live open kitchen. But to be fair, it’s way more than just a restaurant. Shaka Zulu is a bar and club as well, with carved wooden murals covering every inch of the walls.
When to go: Steak Mondays, Surf ‘n’ Turf Tuesdays, Thermidor Wednesdays, the list goes onWhat to eat: Start with crocodile cigars, then traditional South African beef bobotieAtmosphere: Dark and intriguing with plenty to look atAddress: Camden Market, Chalk Farm Road, London, NW1 8AHPrice: Around £40 for a two-course meal and a drink
Nigerian – Maybe the best known African cuisine in London, Nigerian food is also the most moreish, thanks to staples like jollof rice, – the recipe for which can include just about anything – okra soup and crispy, fried plantain.
Ghanaian – Ghanaian food is similar to Nigerian in that rice is a big part of it. Curious dishes like waakye, however, also include spaghetti alongside the rice, avocado and grated cassava. It’s one you’re better off trying rather than reading about.
Cameroonian – Probably the most varied cuisine in Africa due to its location between the north, west and centre of the continent, Cameroonian food still qualifies as a West African cuisine due to its use of rice, plantain and sweet potato. Probably due to bygone British and German influence, Cameroonian cuisine also means meat pies and plenty more pastry.
Where to eat West African food…
Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen
What began as a supper club in Zoe’s own living room, this after she made a Ghanaian peanut butter stew that people literally queued outside her house for, Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen now pops up in various locations around London and caters for all kinds of events. The most recent pop-up was in Brixton and the food is healthy, conscious and always packing a very flavourful punch – the proper Ghanaian way.
When to go: When the line for the peanut butter stew is shortestWhat to eat: Peanut butter stewAtmosphere: Friendly and fun, courtesy of ZoeAddress: Catch it when you canPrice: Fair, street food prices
805 Restaurant is a modern West African restaurant in Peckham that’s an extension of the original 805 in Buja, Nigeria. London’s flagship store, 805 Restaurant Peckham serves staple Nigerian food in a way that puts the presentation of dishes on a par with their flavour, which means although 805 Restaurant is chilled, it also feels rather refined. Jollof rice in a cool, contemporary space? Yes, please.
When to go: The restaurant suits for brunch, lunch and dinner. Take your pickWhat to eat: Get some jollof rice with fried or pounded plantain. It doesn’t get more West AfricanAtmosphere: Bright, airy, casual and coolAddress: 805 Old Kent Road, London SE15 1NXPrice: Jollof rice, fried plantain and a drink, around £20