According to their website, social media and even the entrance to the restaurant, it’s #allaboutafrikana.
A bold statement and one that I was keen to assess for myself after the opening of the growing franchise’s latest branch on Baldwin Street.
Since this is a chain that claims to serve “authentic home-cooked African-inspired food,” I was more than a little worried. The sentiment was compounded by the mandatory pre-visit menu check that revealed enough bad puns to warrant a diagnosis of Witzelsucht.
The arrival of Afrikana saw a facelift of what was previously the pop-up pizza place Dough, and before that Aquila. They have top neighbors, with Marmo, Pasta Ripiena, Burger Theory and Cotto just across the street, but the site itself has yet to see a restaurant last more than five years.
Perhaps Afrikana, which felt relatively busy on a recent Tuesday night despite its cavernous interior, could be the one to change that.
The service was energetic and good-humored, with our waitress having a hard time concealing her laughter as she read over our order. ‘Passion please’ and ‘sweet affair’ to drink (both £6.25), followed by lamb chops (£10.95), ladyfingers (£5.95), ‘chicken fried is life’ (£16.95), ‘we’ll wrap your back’ (£14.95) and halloumi fries (£4.95).
We laughed too, having downed a few delicious glasses of smooth gavi at Cotto before leaving. Our preliminary research revealed that Afrikana is abstinent; all drinks on the menu are mocktails and soft drinks. The two we tried were pleasant enough and certainly looked the part but made up for the lack of alcohol with a healthy dose of sugar syrup.
The lamb chops rose to the challenge of being the first dish to grace the table in spectacular fashion. Medium-rare, as requested, but the char along the fat and bone was enough to instantly transport you from a humid November evening to the best of summer barbecues.
They were juicy, spicy, sweet and incredibly well thought out, and came with crunchy tempura ladyfingers and squeaky halloumi fries.
The brightly lit interior, dark walls, plush booths, and faux plants were both a generous hotel lobby and the ninth hole of a crazy Jungle Rumble golf course. The interior designer clearly has a soft spot for rope, which has been used extensively.
But despite the novelty, the groups gathered around the Afrikana tables seemed as relaxed and comfortable as if they had been coming here for years.
Afrikana is a refreshing chorus against the tide of small plates. Here, the portions are generously applied to the plates.
‘Fried Chicken is Life’ and ‘We Keep Goat Back’ were both piled high on a mountain of rice and peas, but sadly both were also joined by one of those salads where the chef has clearly a corner of the plate to fill and is trying in vain to find something green to include.
I say in vain because both salads seemed moments away from giving up the ghost altogether – shrunken and browned around the edges.
The goat curry was as tender as expected and the sauce rich and comforting, if a bit salty.
“Fried Chicken is Life” was scrumptious but didn’t have the crunch I was hoping for, possibly due to the jerk sauce drizzling after frying which kicked all powerful.
A group of teenagers next to us, still wrapped in their coats, took their attention away from their phones to slip into identical wrappers with fries (“my main chick” – £9.95), giving me some serious flashbacks to teenage visits to Nando.
Afrikana seems to me a happy reminder that chains are not always to be discarded. While I would take on an independent restaurant any day, it would still take a business with a bit of cash behind it to be able to make such a great venue.
There aren’t huge swathes of central restaurants that serve good halal food, let alone where mocktails and soft drinks aren’t just an afterthought.
Afrikana strikes me as a place that would be suitable for catering large groups and celebrations as well as Tuesday night families and groups of teenagers.
I suspect if you don’t drink, want halal food and a good central place to catch up with loved ones, then this place has ‘the goat behind your back’. Maybe for those occasions it really is #allaboutafrikana.
Afrikana, 30-34 Baldwin Street, Bristol, BS1 1NR
All photos: Meg Houghton-Gilmour
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