London’s West African dining scene gets greater by the year, and Aji Akokomi is one of the influential restaurateurs leading the all-important charge. His original restaurant Akoko opened to barnstorming acclaim a few years ago, and now he’s launched Akara, a more casual, but by no means less fantastic, restaurant in Borough Yards.
It's a cool, calm and contemporary space, with natural textures of pale wood, exposed brick and white limestone illuminated by the soft glow of moody lighting. On the left as you enter, a six-seater bar is nestled beneath one of the historic building’s natural arches, and we’d be perfectly happy perched here for an hour or two with a couple of its excellent date and cacao Negronis. Instead, we're guided to the rear of the restaurant to an oak counter overlooking the open kitchen. From here, one can watch the team inject smokey flavour into its dishes in all manner of ways, from barbecuing skewers over the open grill to torching individual lime segments.
Any meal here should begin with the restaurant’s namesake akara, a distinctive black-eyed bean fritter hailing from West Africa. These freshly battered spheres are akin to a savoury doughnut - soft, fluffy and crisp on the outside - then filled with the likes of braised ox cheek and sweet peppers and served with a fluorescent hot sauce.
Indeed, heat and smoke feature heavily on the menu, and bring particular depth to a fantastic piece of blackened poussin served with a sweet and punchy Senegalese hot sauce. Better still is a piece of meltingly soft pollock paired with a delicate tangle of sweet onions and a tangy 'yassa’ sauce. Even a bowl of fluffy Efik rice had all the authority of a main course; supremely fluffy on top and hiding more of that spicy hot sauce beneath. We'd argue the savoury courses are the main attraction at Akara, but sweet-toothed fans will find a lot to like in a slightly boozy tamarind date cake drizzled with rum caramel.
The competition might be high when it comes to dining in Borough, but Akara is bringing the heat with its bold plates, relaxed service and achingly cool aesthetic.