In celebration of culinary excellence, Adejoke Bakare, Nigerian-born UK chef and founder of Chishuru, a West-African-themed restaurant in London, has made history after being the UK’s first black female chef to be awarded a Michelin star, a prestigious mark of distinction given to restaurants for excellent cooking.
Chishuru attained this milestone on Monday, less than 6 months after establishing a permanent place in Fitzrovia, a then pop-up shop in Brixton Village. Coming from a small locality of Brixton Village, the restaurant quickly grew to prominence due to the variety of affordable dishes it offered in a particularly high-end environment. Chishuru becomes one of only two Michelin-starred restaurants in Fitzrovia specializing in West African cuisine.
Michelin’s Chief Inspector in the UK described Bakare’s cuisine as “unique and…a wonderful reflection of her personality and her cooking” “It is fun, full of life, generous and hugely enjoyable,” they said, praising her for offering superb cooking that greatly enhances the UK’s culinary offering.
According to The Michelin Guide, to obtain the coveted award, a restaurant’s cuisine is judged based on the quality of the ingredients, the harmony of flavours, the mastery of techniques, and the personality of the chef as expressed through their cuisine and consistency both across the entire menu and over time. All of which, Chishuru passed.
Rise to culinary star
Bakare grew up in Kaduna in northern Nigeria, born to a Yoruba mother and an Igbo father, which formed her culinary journey.
Some of her earliest memories of food involve watching her maternal grandmother making traditional East Nigerian street food such as dodo ikire (fried plantain), and as the oldest child, Bakare had the responsibility of cooking for her siblings, which according to her, never felt like a chore as her deep love for food had grown.
Bakare said her love for food and cooking started young when she began collecting cookbooks at the age of 11 but had been advised to seek out more professional careers. So despite this passion, Bakare eventually relocated to the UK to study microbiology at university as she considered cooking as nothing more than a hobby. She took up jobs in the health sector and then at a London property company. Cooking remained a hobby until she gave in to persuasion from her friends to organize a supper club.
After her initial supper club involvement in 2016, Bakare won the Brixton Kitchen competition in 2019, which propelled the first opening of her restaurant, Chishuru, in Brixton Village. Having never stepped foot in a professional kitchen before, Bakare decided to stage at Ikoyi, another prominent restaurant, to gain experience. After an interrupted year due to COVID, she finally opened the doors to her Brixton Village restaurant Chishuru in late 2020.
Chishuru’s West African cuisine drew the attention of the Brits and customers who grew up in parts of West Africa, attaining unprecedented recognition in the area for its largely unusual and diverse menu. Bakare’s dishes made a name for her brand. She has been featured on Great British Chefs and recognized in the top 100 restaurants in the UK at the National Restaurant Awards.
Chishuru quickly started to outgrow Brixton Village and in 2023, Bakare relocated her restaurant to a larger site in Fitzrovia.
A taste to remember
Chishuru’s coveted lunch menu features a beautiful fermented crispy rice cake with smoky, meaty mushrooms, an utterly creamy and light corn cake with fragrant coconut, date and tamarind sauce and grilled breadfruit served in a multitude of ways.
For dessert, they offer fonio-infused ice cream (fonio is a West African grain that gives the ice cream a slightly nutty flavour) with carob custard, crunchy peanut praline and a delicious coconut crisp. Their prices range from $44 to $82.
This has received tons of complimentary reviews from visitors.
Jay Rayner, a widely renowned food critic and food reporter for the BBC described Bakare’s menu as “full of heat, vigour and zest.”
Writing on his experience at Chishuru last year in October, Jimi Famurewa, a British journalist and food critic described the place as a “containment facility for the whirring dynamo of Bakare’s blazing, intuitive talent.”
“A main of chicken supreme with lemon sauce, riffing on Senegalese poulet yassa, was the quintessential Bakare sneak-attack; an unassuming gathering of beiges and browns that ignites in the mouth like a Catherine wheel of pure flavour and unexpected, infernal heat. A fiery, sour, spiced okra martini had the sort of industrial strength (it even carries one of those two-per-customer warnings that always feels like a challenge) that can turn an afternoon into a happy blur,” was how Famurewa described his main course.
Not everyone is pleased with their experience here however based on reviews online from visitors. One person on Trip Advisor said, “The critics fawn over this place, but it left us underwhelmed and nonplussed by the fuss. I was expecting bold, innovative, exciting, flavour-packed, even challenging food.
“What we got varied erratically between the highly competent, the relatively bland and unexceptional and the deeply disappointing and rather unpleasant.
“Since Chishuru has just got a star, we must have missed something, but I can’t figure out what,” the review read.
The numbers however suggest the vast majority of customers had a great experience at Chishuru, as evidenced by its 4.5 out of 5 rating on Tripadvisor.
Chishuru is one of those culinary places that could experience rapid growth with the acquisition of a Michelin star, like Ikoyi, the high-end restaurant which began humble and grew to recognition attaining two Michelin stars. Critics now say they can no longer afford the meals they could before it moved and attained its badges.
“Nigerian food continues its relentless international march. This time, Ikoyi makes Giles Coren’s list of ‘top 10 London restaurants if money was no object’. Yes, it is now a very expensive place so I’m glad I went when it was still cheap. This is a lesson for those of you who haven’t visited places like Akara or Chishuru yet,” wrote Feyi Fahwehinmi, Nigerian journalist and writer, in the latest issue of his newsletter, Below the Headlines.
The star-spangled cuisine from Chishuru’s kitchen also made it to the pages of The Sunday Times Magazine in a 5-star review that described the dessert served there as “savoury, yoghurty, perfect.”
“Chishuru, by the way, means ‘to eat silently’. Less literally, it refers to the silence that falls over the table when the food is so good nobody wants to speak. If you want to know what that sounds like, you should go,” wrote Charlotte Ivers for the Sunday Times.
“We’re [at] the forefront of West African food and there’s still much more to do so we focus on that … and just build and grow that way. In many ways being an independent restaurateur and chef is incredibly liberating. We make our own rules, we answer to no one, we do our own thing. As a black female chef I’m not totally sure I could have done it any other way,” said Bakare after receiving her award.