Chuku's Nigerian Tapas
It's Chuku's time!
That's right our favourite Nigerian Tapas is back with a late summer residency in Hackney's Nest Restaurant. Fusing authentic flavours with experimental cooking, their dishes are served with a twist - Jollof Quinoa anyone? ...Or maybe some Plantain Waffles?
A visit to Chuku's is sure to delight more than just the tastebuds though, the chilled out atmosphere, Nigerian beats and positive vibes will have you coming back for more.
We spoke to the founders, brother and sister Emeka & Ifeyinwa Frederick, to tell us more about their inspiration behind the concept, more about their motto 'chop, chat, chill', and how we can all slow down our lives a little:
Tell us more about Chuku’s and why you founded it...
Emeka: Chuku’s is the world’s first Nigerian tapas restaurant and home of the ‘chop, chat, chill’. The idea of doing a Nigerian restaurant came from long-standing discussions in our family home. Growing up together in a Nigerian household, our family always struggled to find a place to enjoy Nigerian food outside of either ours or our grandma’s house. When school friends came over to try our food or curiously sampled the jollof rice in our lunchboxes, they always loved it but didn’t know where to find it for themselves. Year after year we found ourselves asking the same question - if the food tastes so good, why, given London’s appetite for a diverse range of cuisines, did Nigerian food not really have a presence on London's food scene?
When things continuously frustrate you, you have two choices: put up with it and stop complaining or do something about it. Ifeyinwa and I are very talkative people, so we chose the latter. We decided that it was time we shared the foods of our heritage that we know and love. The question was ‘how’? We know that people eat with their eyes first, so we started by thinking about presentation, which led to the idea of small plates. I’d previously lived in Spain and realised that what we were essentially describing was tapas. Having spent much of my time in Spain chilling out in tapas bars with my new friends and making even newer ones, I knew that tapas culture was about more than just small plates of food. The social dining element is key and this seemed to marry so perfectly with the focus of Nigeria’s own dining culture so it wasn’t long before we’d developed the whole ‘chop, chat, chill’ idea.
Photo Credit - ©Angus Bremner & and ©Contagious Wykeham Journal
What does your motto ‘chop, chat, chill’ mean?
Ifeyinwa: Chop, chat, chill is representative of the three tenets underpinning all Chuku’s activity and illustrates what guests can expect from their Chuku’s experience.
Chop is Nigerian pidgin for 'eat' and shows Nigerian food is at the heart of what we do. In our restaurant we offer a selection of traditional dishes, for example moi moi and plantain but we also offer those with a special Chuku’s twist, such as our jollof quinoa and plantain waffles. However, all our dishes are centred on authentic Nigerian flavours and the “chop” in our slogan highlights that regardless of what we serve, the dish has roots (like we do) in Nigeria.
Chat is for Nigeria’s social dining culture which we wholeheartedly embrace. Socialising is centred around food in Nigeria and we believe there’s no better way to catch up with friends than over a good meal. This is why our tapas dishes are made for sharing and socialising. We encourage loud chatter and bubbly conversation and for us this idea of socialising goes beyond talking to the people you came with. We’re building a community of chop-chat-chillers in our restaurant who share the same values of warmth and openness. We’ve had the joy of seeing connections being made and friendships sparked in our restaurant and this is something we want to see continue as the brand grows.
EF: Chill is for our relaxed atmosphere. In London where everything, including meals, happens at an accelerated speed, we wanted to slow things down: do less, live more. With our Nigerian chill-out beats and Nigerian-inspired art, we share the best of Nigerian culture in our restaurant to help guests unwind and transport them away from their day-to-day lives. So, whether they’re flicking through one of the books by a Nigerian author on our bookshelf or playing Lagos monopoly, we’ve created a culturally immersive dining oasis where guests can make themselves feel at home.
What inspired you to do a menu centred on authentic Nigerian flavours and who taught you to cook the dishes?
EF: The very idea of the restaurant sprung from our Nigerian heritage and our desire to share our favourite tastes and flavours with the rest of the UK, so we were always going to serve Nigerian cuisine. However, our signature dishes, which can be said to push the boundaries of Nigerian cuisine, are influenced by our experiences growing up as part of the diaspora in the UK and also our respective travels across the globe. We’ve both spent significant time living abroad – I in Spain and Ifeyinwa in Martinique and we both love to travel when we can.
Some dishes we had grown up seeing our mum and grandma cook, others we learnt from aunties and for the rest, we have a lot of fun playing around in the kitchen until we get it right.
You both believe in a slow and relaxed approach to life, that by doing less we can actually enjoy more – do you have any tips on how others can do the same?
IF: Yes, in fact we wrote a whole blogpost on it a couple of years ago. My tip: self-reflection. We so regularly check-in with friends and family but how often do we check-in with ourselves? So for me, my diary is everything. I’ve been writing one for the last eleven years and I can’t think of a better way to just take time out - it comes with me everywhere. In addition to my main diary where I write streams and streams of consciousness, I also have a one-line-a-day journal. I always suggest starting with this journal for those new to keeping a diary. It runs for five years and each page allows you to write a one-line entry for the same date over a five-year period. So when I write today’s entry for 2017, I’ll be able to see what I did on the same day in 2016, 2015 and 2014. And as much as I recommend writing a diary as a way of reflecting, I also recommend reading back over previous entries to see how far you’ve come with certain challenges and to remind yourself of little moments you’d forgotten.
EF: Sometimes just switch off. We spend our whole days being inundated by notifications - WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook Messenger, text, work e-mail, personal e-mail - it’s crazy. Even these fitness and meditation apps notify you that you’re supposed to be exercising or chilling out. “Just leave me be, man!”. Sometimes you just have to turn it all off. Or, if your phone is as slow to switch on as mine, put it on airplane mode for an evening. When I first started doing this, I feared I'd be missing out on important messages from friends and family but to date I’ve never missed an “emergency” and there hasn’t been an “important message” that wasn’t able to wait until the next day. After a few days of doing this, you’ll start to cherish those hours of non-connectivity.
IF: And one more. There’s a Lil Kim song that says “if you can’t be with the ones you love, then love the ones you’re with” and one of the ways you can just relax and enjoy more is by just making the most of the situation you’re in. Since starting Chuku’s we don’t have as much time to see our friends as we used to, but rather than spend our time always wishing we were elsewhere or killing ourselves by over-committing to social plans, we just make sure we have fun with each other.
So, what’s next on the horizon for Chuku’s?
EF: After two and half years successfully popping up around London, being recommended by the likes of Time Out and recognised as one of the 15 Most Exciting Food and Drink Entrepreneurs in the UK by the Great British Entrepreneur Awards, we now feel it’s time to step up and build that permanent home for the chop, chat, chill. So at the moment we’re searching for our first place where we can officially put the Chuku’s name above the door!
IF: The location is still very much a work in progress but we’re confident that we’ll find that dream site soon.
Want to try some Nigerian tapas for yourself? Chuku's are open every Thursday to Sunday until 9th September at Nest Restaurant, 177 Morning Lane, Hackney, E9 6LH. To be the first in the know about their permanent site, follow them on social media: Facebook, Instagram & Twitter.