Much of London's best Nigerian food is to be found in Peckham, because that's where the majority of Nigerian people live in London. In fact Peckham is home to the largest community of Nigerian people in the UK, and as such is sometimes nicknamed ‘little Lagos’ (Lagos being the largest city in Nigeria) or ‘Yorubatown’ (the Yoruba being an ethnic group of Nigeria and Benin).
Our top four Nigerian restaurants are concentrated around the Peckham area, then, but we're keen to know if the talent spreads elsewhere. Others we've tried have since closed down, like Moyo Ma on Walworth Road. Here are four places that are still going strong.
Obalende Suya Express
Suya is basically Nigerian BBQ, and it consists of thin strips of meat, which are rubbed with spices and ground peanuts, then grilled over open flames. It’s a very popular street food snack and can be found all over Nigeria. There are a few places in London that we know of, but we find Obalende to be the best, even if the quality does drop off every now and then.
The first thing you will notice in Obalende Suya Express is the glorious smell of smoke and coals, as they have a huge and fierce grill — important for giving an essential smoky flavour. The menu can be slightly intimidating, featuring gizzards and, bizarrely, “crocodile/shark”. We're not sure when those two animals became interchangeable, so we generally play it safe and order the beef.
It arrives off the skewer, sitting on top of bright orange jollof rice, with a pile of suya spice, plus an onion and tomato salad – these are the traditional accompaniments to suya. The meat is soft in the middle and crisp at the edges; every now and again offering up a treat of sizzled fat. Peanuts add a sort of creamy intensity to the flavour and boy, has it got some spice. The flavour is sort of musty, in a nice way.
Obalende Suya Express, 43 Peckham High Street, SE15 5EB
Cafe Spice is another Peckham institution, available since we can't remember when, for all your Nigerian snack needs. Everything is piled up in the window, although the place goes back quite a way and there are tables for sit down customers too. Traditional West African treats include moin moin, which is a steamed bean pudding, and puff puff, which are a bit like Nigerian doughnuts. People can be seen eating in and standing outside of this place all hours of the day and night, always with a snack in hand. The owner takes particular pride, it seems, in greeting everyone as they walk past. This place is a fixture of Rye Lane, and we just couldn't imagine Peckham without it.
Cafe Spice, 88 Rye Lane, SE15 4RZ
You can smell the scotch bonnet chillies cooking as soon as you get within 20 paces of this little restaurant. Their spiky scent is carried on the air, tantalising passers by, as it starts to waft about several hours before Lolak Afrique actually opens for lunch. This place is small, and the menu is more of a guideline than set in stone, but they tend to do traditional dishes such as groundnut and egusi (a type of melon seed) soups.
Lolak Afrique, 38 Choumert Road, SE15 4SE
805 Bar and Restaurant
This large restaurant on the Old Kent Road (they also have a Hendon branch which we've yet to try) is always packed with Nigerians eating vast plates of homely dishes such as stewed cow's foot. In case you've never tried it, the foot breaks down during cooking releasing gelatin which gives a highly prized and sticky quality to the sauce. We've found that these are the dishes that 805 does best, along with the sides, like jollof rice, and a great pepper soup with real kick. Their grilled fish is good too. The atmosphere is very informal — a little like eating in someone's living room.
805 Restaurant, 805 Old Kent Road, SE15 1NX