Reviews: Jay Rayner finds Humble Chicken to be more than humble, while Hilary Armstrong says Akoko reimagines contemporary West African fine dining

06 July 2021
Reviews: Jay Rayner finds Humble Chicken to be more than humble, while Hilary Armstrong says Akoko reimagines contemporary West African fine dining

Jay Rayner of The Observer writes that "the dear chicken is lifted far above the humble" at Humble Chicken in London's Soho

Cubes of thigh, alternating with slivers of grilled spring onion, are seasoned with just a little salt and pepper. Inner thigh gets a glaze of spicy miso and a sprinkling of sesame seeds. Pale pieces of fillet have a nose-tickling punch of wasabi.

For me the true joys lie in the bits others might reject. I'm thrilled by a line of four triangular parson's noses, grilled to a fatty crisp, but still running with juices. I delight in concertinaed folds of darkly glazed and crunchy chicken skin. I am utterly taken by those soft knees; by the squeaky, savoury, salty bounce of the extremity.

While our eyes widen at the menu's chicken anatomy lesson, they give us a bowl of cool, crisp white cabbage in a sparky soy ponzu dressing. We keep emptying it. They keep refilling it. There's a single warm oyster in a creamy dressing flavoured with citrus and chilli. Lozenges of cured mackerel arrive, skin-side up, in a tomato and ponzu-flavoured jelly with curls of battered and deep-fried seaweed. Thin folds of velvety tuna lie in a puddle of another soy citrus dressing and are dotted with toy-town cylinders of fermented white asparagus. A plate of pickles turns up looking like things raided from the candy jar: there are glossy red crescents of cherry tomato and shiny pink segments of turnip and the pale green of crunchy cucumber.

We finish the savoury end with two dishes from the section headed "Bigger". A round of fatty braised pork belly, falling apart with a mere nudge, comes with cured egg yolk and a seed-dotted mustard sauce. Then there's the crispy chicken thigh, which is simply one of the best rice dishes I've had in a very long time. The boneless meat is encased in a square, round-edged envelope of golden batter as if it's just been fished out of the bubbling oil at a Glasgow chippy. It is shredded in front of me and mixed in with warm rice, which is banging with ginger, citrus and cured vegetables. It is £13.50 of comfort eating, for people too old to call for their mum.

Price: yakitori, £3-£4.80; other dishes, £5-£16; desserts, £6-£8.50; wines, from £30

Humble Chicken
Humble Chicken

The Daily Telegraph's Hilary Armstrong says Akoko in London's Fitzrovia reimagines contemporary West African fine dining for London with success

[Aji] Akokomi launched Akoko in late 2020 for a few short pre-lockdown weeks with chef William Chilila. Chilila moved on, and [Theo] Clench stepped in: "It's the start of a very exciting journey for me as a chef."

Clench did ‘a crash course' in traditional Nigerian dishes with Akokomi, dishes he then dismantled and rebuilt again and again during lockdown until they were tasting menu-ready. When Akoko originally opened, the menu was £59; it's now a self-confident £95 for 10 courses of such West African classics as suya, maafe and egusi.

The first appetiser sets the tone: a bite-sized yam croquette served, fittingly, on a clay pedestal, fully the equal of its luxurious truffle garnish. Smoked pumpkin ‘miyan taushe' with crab is warming and comforting, more smoke than spice.

Best of all is Norfolk quail breast and confit leg with fragrant yassa hollandaise –Clench's Michelin-star-winning form very much in evidence. Desserts are compelling: a sphere of baobab ice-cream bleeding crimson hibiscus juice; caramelised agege bread with grilled pineapple and irú miso (locust bean); and an unforgettable passion fruit ‘pebble' enrobed in darkest black Ivory Coast chocolate.

Akoko offers an experience both utterly joyous and deadly serious, just one interpretation of what new African cuisine in London might be.

Price: £95 for 10 courses, £75 for six


Giles Coren of The Times discovers a "beautiful menu" at Thomas by Tom Simmons in Cardiff

First out of the kitchen was a basket of "Ground Bakery" breads and various house butters (I recall a delicious, densely mushroomy one). These disappeared in seconds and would probably have done most of the family for lunch. I was thus the only taker for four excellent little spherical mushroom croquettes with wild garlic mayo and Parmesan (£5) and the whipped cod roe with basil and paprika and a scattering of cod's eggs (£5) – although the children piled into the spectacular giant squid ink crackers that were meant for my dipping.

For my own main, I had a thick, wobbly tranche of turbot with a smoked mussel velouté in a big, sexy black bowl with charred baby leeks and dots of cod's roe (£34). Would have been so good with a nice glass of ice-cold, flinty Montrachet. A pint glass.

Alas, just as I was about to tuck in, Kitty's full-sized, rare Welsh ribeye steak (£26) arrived. So there was the chopping-up of that to be done for her while my turbot cooled, and the sculling of two or three deliciously grainy, ferrous offcuts, with some of her skinny fries into the bargain.

Then more chips, Tom's special ones (£6) this time, which are of a type that I first encountered at Cora Pearl in Covent Garden, where potatoes are sliced wafer-thin into a tray and par-cooked, then chilled, turned out and sliced into rectangles, then deep-fried. And these were as good as those get. Which is very good.

Score: cooking: 8/10; service: 8/10; room: 8/10; total: 8/10

The Caterer Breakfast Briefing Email

Start the working day with The Caterer’s free breakfast briefing email

Sign Up and manage your preferences below

Check mark icon
Thank you

You have successfully signed up for the Caterer Breakfast Briefing Email and will hear from us soon!

Jacobs Media Group is honoured to be the recipient of the 2020 Queen's Award for Enterprise.

The highest official awards for UK businesses since being established by royal warrant in 1965. Read more.


Ad Blocker detected

We have noticed you are using an adblocker and – although we support freedom of choice – we would like to ask you to enable ads on our site. They are an important revenue source which supports free access of our website's content, especially during the COVID-19 crisis.

trade tracker pixel tracking