Jollof. Ayemase. Egusi. Do these dishes mean anything to you? If you’re from Dubai’s West African community, very likely. If, like myself, you’ve not (yet!) travelled there, the cuisines of Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Ghana may have passed you by, seeing as they are very few restaurants serving them in Dubai. It would be a shame to miss out any longer, however, because, as I discovered this week at Kiza, a new pan-African restaurant, they are delicious.
Kiza is the brainchild of a passionate British-Nigerian chef and restaurateur, Daniel Olurin, and it aims to serve dishes the African community in the UAE might be missing from home, but also introduce non-Africans to the cuisine of the continent, from north to south, east to west.
“Kiza” means community in an Angolan dialect, I am told by Lukman Akanbi, the restaurant’s managing partner, and both he and Olurin place importance on making the bar-lounge-restaurant a centre for the UAE’s residents to tuck in and enjoy African culture, from food and art to music and fashion.
“It’s a journey of what Africa is like,” says Olurin. Art plays a major role in his concept. “Instead of having a gallery, I thought about the food,” he says, but he didn’t completely abandon the idea: one wall of the restaurant is filled with sculptures by artists from all over the continent, a constantly updated gallery with items for sale.
Can you really cover an entire continent in a restaurant, I wondered, as we sipped signature cocktails from calabashes, bowls made from hollowed-out gourds. Akanbi is not worried. “First I am African. Then I am Nigerian,” he says. “We are still a closed community. We are looking for a way to show the world we are not the way we are portrayed on Discovery Channel. When people think of Africa, they think of Kruger Park.”
While there are some hole-in-the-wall African eateries around, the pair are aiming high with Kiza, a modern place to entertain and spend an evening eating and drinking rather than a quick eats spot. There’s an extensive bar area (Ghanaian drums are used as stools), a lounge area which can turn into a dance floor (there’s a DJ nightly, playing music from South African Brenda Fassie to French-Nigerian star Asa).
So what of the food? I tried the West African classic, egusi (Dh65), a meat stew thickened with ground melon seeds, served with pounded yam. It’s called a soup, but with hearty chunks of meat, and a rich, but unexpected flavour, it’s a full meal. The yam is a stretchy, smooth starch that is used to soak up the sauce. Ayemase (Dh75) is a dark stew of a mix of meats — including tripe and cow foot — that has the famously fiery Scotch bonnet peppers as a base. It’s certainly hot, but a deep flavour of chili shines through, and was a dish I’d return for, along with the addictive fried plantains that come alongside. Many of the dishes will appeal to chilli addicts, especially the pepper soup, a light broth also featuring the Scotch bonnet, which I had with sherry fish but can also be served with chicken or meat.