Beyoncé grant helps Nigerian tapas restaurant in London | Food

Must Try

Squishy rectangles of bean moi moi, warmly spiced egusi stew and rice pancakes topped with savoury-sweet pumpkin and peanut – these are among the Nigerian dishes that deserve a greater showing in the UK’s culinary repertoire, and Beyoncé is here to help.

They count among a host of Nigerian specialities on the menu at Chuku’s in Tottenham, which has just received an £8,000 funding boost from Beyoncé as part of her pledge to spend $1m (£790,000) on businesses near the venues on her world tour, including 10 Black-owned businesses in London.

Chuku’s is run by siblings Emeka and Ifeyinwa Frederick, who set it up to bring the Nigerian flavours that they grew up with to a wider audience, choosing a tapas concept to allow people to sample as many dishes as possible and experience what Emeka describe as “boisterous, bubbly” Nigerian-style hospitality.

“We knew from friends who had tried our food in our lunchboxes [growing up] that the food would be loved by many people,” says Ifeyinwa. “We wanted to create a restaurant that would share Nigerian culture as loudly and proudly as we felt it should be shared and celebrated. By the time we got into our 20s, that desire grew into a frustration that it didn’t exist – we didn’t come from the hospitality industry, but we thought: why don’t we give it a go.”

Emeka (left) and Ifeyinwa Frederick at their Tottenham restaurant Chuku’s, which has received £8,000 from Beyoncé’s charity fund. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian

The pair credit London’s thriving popup scene with allowing them to launch without taking on too much financial risk in 2016. When that turned into a success, in February 2020, they alighted on Tottenham as the place to open their doors, drawn to the area’s economic regeneration, diversity, community spirit and connections into central London.

The restaurant they created is a homage to Nigeria, intended to appease the country’s culinary traditionalists while remaining accessible to new audiences. Afrobeats and highlife are the soundtrack, books by Nigerian authors such as Wole Soyinka adorn the shelves and the walls feature Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa proverbs. The food draws from all over the country, and dishes are recognisably Nigerian, but with a twist, from putting quinoa in the jollof to deconstructing stews.

Like many independent businesses, Chuku’s struggled during the pandemic and has since had the two-pronged challenge of soaring costs and shrinking disposable income among its customer base. Last year they urged residents to book tables or watch another much-loved venue shut its doors for good.

This is why Beyoncé’s arrival, and the festival atmosphere it created, meant so much, Emeka says. The restaurant was packed throughout the run, including accommodating a special request from fans to extend its opening hours. The funding they received from the singer’s BeyGood Foundation will give Chuku’s a much-needed boost, allowing repairs to be made and the coral-pink decor to be refreshed.

The siblings have ambitious plans to open more sites in London and later the rest of the UK, as well as to expand a programme of Nigerian cultural events, but Ifeyinwa continues to worry for the future of the business and how the economic climate could stifle the capital’s burgeoning west African food scene.

“When you look at the restaurant industry, Black founders are underrepresented, she says. “That’s only going to be worsened by the economic climate – those barriers to entry are high, and there’s a reason why a lot of what people were experiencing or discovering in west African food was through the popup scene. Making that transition to permanent restaurant is extremely challenging and requires a lot of capital.”

Despite the economic headwinds, Ifeyinwa remains hopeful that the success of Chuku’s will inspire customers to sample the diverse cuisines of Africa’s 54 countries, citing the Senegalese former popup Little Baobab in Peckham as a favourite. “I don’t think we’re even scratching the surface. I wouldn’t want customers to get complacent thinking that if they’ve tried food from one or two west African countries, they’ve ‘done’ west African food in the UK.”

Citing the broader growing interest in Nigerian music and culture, Emeka agrees: “West Africans in general are having their time in the spotlight.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Latest Recipes

More Recipes Like This