An ancient African proverb reads: “Those who are at one regarding food are at one in life,” highlighting the unifying power of taste. For centuries, food has brought us together and post-pandemic, as the world unfolds again, the joy of eating out unites us once more. As a result, the continent is home to various excellent restaurants—from the experimental and exotic to the traditional and familiar, serving culinary delights developed over thousands of years, creating unique flavor profiles derived from years of colonization and subsequent decolonization.
Whether you’re looking for modern fusion meals or new interpretations of popular traditional recipes, discover a new crop of places offering enticing dining experiences alongside memorable meals that prioritize sustainable dining through the use of locally sourced ingredients. From the inspired melding of Southern American gumbo with Nigerian seafood okra in Lagos to gourmet vegan food in Nairobi, we invite you to plunge into Africa’s culinary renaissance with these six restaurants that are a must-visit for the discerning foodie.
Beit e Salam Restaurant. Photo: Courtesy of Beit e Salam
While sipping on a crisp rosé or a spice-infused Mombasa cocktail, you can admire the antique carvings, exposed ceiling beams, stone fireplace, and spacious atmosphere in Beit e Salam’s dining room. Then delve into the restaurant’s most popular dishes, including the crunchy, lightly browned Ostrich Reuben and golden corn ribs. The roasted cauliflower steak is a sought-after vegan option, served with a generous mix of whole grains, steamed carrots, and a vibrant homemade sauce.On the other hand, the lavish outdoor seating area lets you take in the verdant surroundings and soft night lights while nibbling on the house specialty—the Kitfo Tartare (hand-minced raw top side beef) served with a special take on traditional Ethiopian cheese, Sukuma and crispy injera chips.
Cultiva Restaurant. Photo: Courtesy of Cultiva.
Cultiva, a forward-thinking zero-waste restaurant, first opened as a pop-up eatery in 2019 and became well known for its mouth-watering hamburgers. But in a few years, the chef and owner, Ariel Moscardi, expanded the kitchen and dining areas, relaunching the establishment as one of Nairobi’s go-to spots for farm-to-table dining. “Cultiva means cultivating good practices, awareness, community, health, and fun products,” explains Mosacardi, who cites food sustainability and crop conservation as the driving forces behind his gastronomic philosophy.
The ever-changing menu presents Asian and South American fare in a refreshing style. Their pork ribs are a bestseller, and with good reason: the fat is marbled to produce more flavored meat, and the ribs are cooked sous vide for three days till they simply slip off the bone. Another crowd favorite is their fresh ceviche salad, prepared with citrus-soaked kingfish and crunchy vegetables in true Peruvian style. Other offerings, including the mock eel that looks and tastes like authentic seafood and a ‘chicken’ burger made from seitan (a popular meat substitute made from gluten), are part of Cultiva’s delights for vegan diners reinforcing their commitment to democratizing and diversifying dining in Africa.
It seems Cultiva guests have more to look forward to in 2022. The restaurant has announced new ventures to be initiated soon, including a wine bar with a sommelier, a pizza shop, a dessert bar, and a futuristic fine-dining food laboratory called The Aya Lab, which promises to merge technology with sustainable practices to grow and experiment with food. “It will be educational, with futuristic food, sustainability, a little technology, at a world-class level and speaking to customers that want experience with knowledge,” reveals Moscardi.
FYN Restaurant. Photo: Courtesy of FYN
Cape Town may be peppered with several stylish restaurants, but this space filled with Japanese-African delights is an essential stop. So make your way to the fifth floor of Speakers Corner in Cape Town’s City Center and let FYN’s vast dining room dazzle you, particularly the ceiling installation—a 1.5 ton illuminated imitation of the soroban, a Japanese abacus.
The FYN menu is just as extensive as its interior. To get the whole experience, go for the 12-course premium menu that takes you on a gastronomic journey, starting with the savory and crunchy cabbage, and pickled daikon maki sushi roll served with ponzu gel, to the wild rice with sweet furikake, a dry Japanese seasoning typically made with toasted sesame seeds, nori, salt, sugar that erupts with flavor. Described as a ‘restaurant on the edge,’ FYN promises to temper South Africa’s wild freedom with ‘the rigors of contemporary cuisine’ and urges guests to check their assumptions with their coats as they prepare for a journey of flavor discovery.
Thanks to FYN’s engaging service, dining here is interactive and immersive. At guests’ request, blue prawns are cooked over binchotan coals on a tabletop hibachi for some dramatic flair, and patrons can also enjoy the spectacle of blueberry syrup being turned into sorbet with liquid nitrogen for dessert. You may even sit at the counter, where you can watch the chefs in action in the sweeping open kitchen. If you’re dining with someone special and want to define the moment, indulge in some warm ostrich egg custard while relishing the breathtaking view of Table Mountain and Lion’s Head through their floor-to-ceiling windows.
ÌTÀN TEST KITCHEN
Itan Test Kitchen. Photo: Courtesy of Itankitchen.
Located in the heart of Ikoyi, ÌTÀN Test Kitchen is known for its meaningfully adapted tasting menus designed to reveal new perspectives about the foods found in different regions of Nigeria. Drawing from his experience at the Culinary Institute of America and working at two Michelin-star restaurants, head chef Michael Elegbede’s open kitchen has sent shockwaves through Lagos’ gourmet community. Yet, the entire experience goes beyond savoring world-class dishes. ÌTÀN translates to ‘history’ in Yoruba, and Elegbede stays true to the name, narrating expansive stories about each course and educating diners on his meticulous processes.
Dishes are curated under diverse menus, which change every so often. One such menu, ‘In Diaspora,’ featured a gumbo soup infused with snail andouille, finely charred and crisp okra, prawns, and smoked dried fish. Another titled ‘A Journey North’ stars a moist dawadawa cake (made from fermented locust bean) and a chocolate peanut pyramid mousse, reminiscent of the groundnut pyramids common in 20th century Northern Nigeria.
ÌTÀN’s latest helping, a Nigerian street food menu comprising fusion dishes such as abacha (shredded cassava) with spinach-wrapped knife fish, kola nut sorbet, and suya (grilled beef strips) accompanied with cream of yam, charred corn, green beans, and pickled yam leaves, is a welcome dose of nostalgia. As usual, each ingredient used is homegrown and sourced from the Abori collective, a community created by Elegbede to connect Nigerian farmers with no online presence to local restaurants and chefs to improve networks for more seamless farm-to-table dining experiences.
Nyurah Restaurant. Photo: Courtesy of Nyurah.
Wood-paneled flooring, large potted plants, and a diverse collection of local art provide a suitably simple backdrop to the elegant ‘afro gastronomic’ dishes served at Nyurah. Inspired by the Kinyarwandan term ‘Kunyurwa,’ which translates to ‘be greatly satisfied,’ Nyurah’s menu was designed to satiate food lovers with its unique selection, sourcing creative recipes from around the continent presenting them with a local twist.Emphasizing locally sourced ingredients, resident chefs Fidel Nshimiyimana and Odette Nyiranubaha showcase culinary excellence while promoting Rwandan farmers and regional markets. As a collective, Nyurah’s mission is to “showcase African culinary elegance to a diverse clientele, while rewriting the African food narrative.” They certainly do just that through their carefully curated menu, prioritizing innovation and sustainability.
A trip to Nyurah would not be complete without trying the thinly sliced beef tataki, lightly seared to a perfect rare, and served with a citrus soy dipping sauce. A nod to Japanese cooking, the tataki is a method of preparing beef fillet reminiscent of sashimi and pairs beautifully with umami sesame dressing, pickled ginger, avocado puree, and herbal pesto for a flavorsome dish. The boneless chicken thigh, stuffed with creamy spinach and chickpeas, is a prime example of the possible fusion of taste and flavors between Rwanda and the world. Served with pounded African yams, potato fondant, and topped with a caramelized onion grazing, it’s a titillating melting pot of textures and tastes for the global citizen who wants a piece of both home and away in one unforgettable bite.
Saakan Restaurant. Photo: Courtesy of Saakan.
Saakan is the brainchild of Christelle Vougo and Frank Anet, a young couple whose travels around the world inspired them to experiment with fusion cuisine, merging local ingredients with culinary traditions from Japan and Thailand. As a result, Saakan has become widely known on the Abidjan restaurant scene for their distinctive takes on popular local dishes, such as their iteration of classic smoked salmon, elevated with Ivorian spices and their delicate ostrich carpaccio, which bursts with flavor from a heady mix of olive oil and lemon juice. Vougo explains, “I deeply love African dishes. That’s why I enjoy revisiting them so much.” This is clear from their eclectic menu, which offers a yam and tuna millefeuille and pan-fried eggplant with crayfish, successfully integrating foreign cooking techniques with quintessential regional ingredients.
Within the cool blue walls and art-filled corners of the extraordinary space, you can enjoy indulgent portions of tender grilled duck served with sweet potato puree that melts in the mouth, or other specials like the mushroom stew and the N’damla beef fillet, both served with the same spicy Ivorian sauce that dances across the tongue. To end on a sweet note, Sakaan are best-known for their array of delicious desserts—we have it on good authority that the cream of baobab and the iced grotto yogurt always hit the spot.
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