Category: Food interviews

Dark Sugars Cocoa House


Not just for chocolate lovers, Dark Sugars is a nice spot on the famous stretch of road, know as Brick Lane, East London.

When I saw how Dark Sugars do their hot chocolate on Twitter, I made a point to go out of my way and visit them. I was keen to see if this could rival my usual Starbucks hot chocolate. To be honest, with the infectious spread of gentrification spreading through London’s urban dwellings, I’m all for independent businesses stirring up the coffee shop industry. I went down to Dark Sugars with another willing chocolate-loving accomplice :-), for the hot chocolate but was side tracked by the chocolates and ‘choctails’ (chocolate cocktails)! 

This was a prime example of always being ready when you’re a blogger as you never know who you will meet on your little adventures.

After taking my own tour, buying chocolate and having some cocktails, we bumped into  Paul aka ‘The Chocolate Man’, who gave us a little history of Dark Sugars – a true (African) chocolate story.

Using cocoa beans sourced from Ghana, Dark Sugars is the perfect place to chill over some quality hot chocolate or turn up the vibes with a delicious range of chocolate treats and cocktails. There are 2 locations both on Brick Lane, Dark Sugars Chocolate Shop opened in 2013 with the Cocoa House opening 2 years later.

For tasty chocolates, cocktails and indulgent hot drinks Dark Sugars is the place!

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Fine dining with Eat Jollof London


Being one of five girls, my mum insisted I learn how to cook if I wanted a man to marry me! I’m Ghanaian, but grew up in East Africa, cooking Ethiopian, Ugandan and Kenyan food for my siblings. I’ve been cooking for my family forever! Says Adwoa Hagan-Mensah, founder of Eat Jollof London.

EJL adwoa hagan mensah

When did you start cooking for others?
At university, I cooked for friends who really liked my food. Rather than getting a traditional part-time job, I created flyers with menus and posted them around university. I got orders really quickly, then started cooking and delivering classic student meals, like lasagne. As popularity increased I introduced some Ghanaian dishes and people ordered them too, they became best sellers!

Did you study a food related degree?
I went to boarding school in Bath, England, but left without any qualifications. I felt terrible, letting my parents down after they invested so much in my education. Anyway, I managed to go through clearing and get onto a Hospitality and Management course. I then converted to a Business Management degree and found out after being tested, that I was dyslexic.

ejl jollof
Eat Jollof London – Jollof!

Our food is delicious and beautifully garnished.

Did you go straight into the food industry after university?
I actually went into recruitment, but didn’t enjoy it. So, I quit that job and started a Ghanaian street food stall in what is now a very popular food hub, Broadway Market (with my boyfriend, now husband) in Hackney East London. This was 15 years ago when there was no buzz around West African food in London!

Was it hard to get customers when you first started the street food stall?
No. We got our first wedding client, a Scottish couple from our street food stall, which was called Jollof Pot at the time (renamed as Spinach & Agushi). The demographic of our customers then was about 70% white European.

Our African and Caribbean customers used to come along to the stall and ask, “do [white] people actually buy your food?”

You’re no stranger to TV, are you?
[Laughs] We were on BBC’s The Restaurant, hosted by Raymond Blanc and Sarah Willingham (Dragons Den). It was like the Apprentice for food entrepreneurs. We didn’t think we’d last that long, but it was a way to test the market. The concept was to start a restaurant from scratch and perform a challenge each week. We came 4th out of 12 couples, which was great especially as we were representing West African Food and felt we had more to prove.

Describe the structure of your growing food empire?
Street Food…
My husband runs the street food stall Spinach & Agushi (formerly called Jollof Pot), with outlets in Portobello Market, Exmouth Market and our flagship at Broadway Market in East London. We changed the name after going on The Restaurant show. For African food to reach the masses the way Indian and Chinese food has, we make the taste palatable to the masses, while still maintaining some traditional flavours. Our food does taste different across our brands.

spinach and ahushi EJL.2
@SpinachAgushi

 

Can you maintain your Ghanaian roots and appeal to the masses?
Absolutely, we do this across our three brands and our West African clients who recognise the flavours give us great feedback.

Luxury catering…
 Our luxury catering company is Eat Jollof London (EJL). We do a lot of corporate events for various companies and individuals. We’ve catered for fashion designer Ozwald Boateng, TV personality June Sarpong’s MBE party, Amnesty International, World Vision and UNICEF. The name (EJL) came about because Jollof (originating from Senegambia) is synonymous with West Africa and we are a West African catering company.

EJL confit duck
Confit duck, with tatale (plantain fritters) and pickled vegetables @EatJollofLondon

One of our summer dishes is a duck confit salad and tatale (Ghanaian plantain fritters) and thinly cut yam chips.

Recently we did a wedding between a Nigerian and Jamaican couple and made Ackee & saltfish stuffed dumplings and had a fusion menu, blending the two cultures.

caribbean food, african food, recipe, dumplings, saltfish
Ackee and saltfish stuffed mini dumplings @EatJollofLondon

 

ejl desserts
Mango cheesecake and rocky road made with Ghanaian chocolate @EatJollofLondon

Fine dining supper club
Tunbridge Wells, where I live, is a quintissential English town. When we moved there, neighbours would ask me about Ghanaian food. So the Ghana Supper Club, was born. It’s a five course supper club at my house that I run with a friend. It’s grown so much that we even have people coming from Brighton to dine with us!

ghana supper club
@Ghanasupperclub

It’s been such an emotional journey but I love it and seeing other African food brands coming up, is great! Supporting each other and sharing ideas will give West African food more prominence in the UK.

What does fine dining mean to you?
It’s refined, tasty West African food, with traditional flavors and amazing presentation.

Do all your brands have one unifying ethos?
All our brands are approachable and we pride ourselves on excellent customer service, which unfortunately isn’t synonymous with African catering businesses.

Your most popular veggie dish, Spinach & Agushi contains…
Tomato stew mixed with grounded Agushi (melon seeds), ginger, garlic, chili pepper and toasted Agushi seeds as a garnish with fresh baby spinach!

spinach and ahushi EJL
The signature dish, which is gluten free and vegan friendly! @SpinachAgushi

Your most popular meat dish is…
Antelope; a nice lean meat we slice finely across Jollof rice. It delicious!

What’s been your biggest learning so far?
After running Jollof Pot with my husband for 12 years and then losing the business in the last recession, I realised we couldn’t work together. We had two young children and the pressure was just too much.

Anyone who’s lost a business know what it’s like, but you must pick yourself up and move on.

Any exciting developments?
We’re expanding EJL to Ghana! For our London customers were developing a food delivery box service, which will contain pre-cooked meals and also ingredients to make your own meals from scratch.

Keep up with EJL and their food on social media.

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INTERVIEW: Tokunbo’s Kitchen – Serving up a different kind of Supper Club


 

Come alone, leave with friends…My supper clubs have a networking vibe, if you come alone you won’t feel out of place. There are games, communal dining where you share a plate of food and get mingling, says Tokunbo – founder of Tokunbo’s Kitchen.

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Supper Club time! @tokunboskitchen

 

I came out of Angel tube station and immediately tapped in the address of the Starbucks where Tokunbo and I agreed to meet. I have the worst sense of direction and only had 10 minutes to get there, so I didn’t have time to get lost!

But by anxieties where unwarranted, the Starbucks was just across the road from the station and I was 5 minutes early. I bought a herbal tea and found a table. Notebook and pen ready, red record button on my iPhone begging to be pressed. I waited for ten minutes then Tokunbo rushes in flustered and apologetic for being late. Selfishly, it made me feel more at ease because I wasn’t late lol.  Anyway, after big smiles and greetings exchanged we got started…

African food is becoming more popular in the UK, why do you think this is?
Social media! Our generation isn’t shy about documenting their food experiences. People create hashtags like #jollofwars, giving African food publicity!

Why did Tokunbo’s Kitchen start?
My mum taught me to cook Nigerian food from a young age with the expectation that I’d be cooking for a family one day. I saw that you can do so much with it and wanted others to experience it. Friends always commented on my food and I’d spoken with a friend about getting into the street food business. So, I did it!

I love being in the kitchen, making things happen and the freedom of running my own business.

smiling-t
Hitting the streets – @tokunboskitchen

I do everything myself, so creating a permanent team would help. The hardest part of running Tokunbo’s Kitchen is doing festivals and market stalls – I get around 5 hours sleep, cook, set up, on my feet all day, and do the washing up!

When did you start Tokunbo’s Kitchen?
In 2015 I went to a festival and queued for over an hour for jerk chicken! That’s when I thought I can definitely do this myself, and started Tokunbo’s Kitchen in September 2015.

What was your first Supper Club like?
At my first supper club, I served pounded yam in a communal setting, with a big bowl of Egusi stew (the same way you would get it in Lagos). That way people can try as much as they like. Many Nigerian dishes are vegan based and we cook with palm / coconut oil.

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Pounded yam and Egusi stew: @tokunboskitchen

Nigerian food is a burst of different flavours. I make a chilli sauce as a side, so people can add spice themselves – anyone can eat my food.

What do you think about ‘African fusion’ food?
It’s fine, but I also like to keep food authentic especially when introducing it to a new audience. My non-African customer base is increasing, so I wouldn’t stray too far from my roots. If I did I would lose what makes me special.

What’s Tokunbo’s Kitchen ethos?
Bringing people together through great food, giving them a taste of Nigeria.

african food
@tokunboskitchen

“When people are thinking about what to have for a takeaway I want them to think of Nigerian food and say ‘Let’s go to Tokunbo’s Kitchen and have some Jollof rice’”.

Have you eaten anything interesting lately?
The other day I had suya chicken and puff buns, it was like the Nigerian version of Chicken and Waffles. ‘Suya’ is the name of the popular beef snack but suya chicken is quite new in Nigerian cooking. The spice yaji used to make suya, is very versatile.

Most Popular dish of 2016 from Tokunbo’s Kitchen?
My Jollof, Ayamase stew (with green chili) cooked with palm oil and Iru (locust beans). Akara, which is black-eye bean fritters, was also quite popular last year.

jollof-rice
Jollof! Jollof! Jollof! @tokunboskitchen

What’s new in 2017?
There’s a lot in the works: A meal subscription service, more supper clubs, and pop-up venues across London. My first of the year will be at Craving Coffee on 3rd February, in Tottenham, London. I’m interested in doing a series of networking talks, on running a business, women empowerment and other topics, where of course there will be good food!

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No, those in the middle aren’t chunky chips…its fried yam! @tokunboskitchen

#OyaComeChop! Have a taste of Tokunbo’s Kitchen and keep up with all the food on social media!

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My Liebster Award – I accept!


Liebster-Award-Badge

Big shout out to Life of Afua of Friday Born Designs who nominated me for a Liebster Award! I know what you’re thinking….”What’s a Liebster Award?”….

It’s the Grammy awards for new bloggers, who are nominated by their fellow bloggers to show some love and appreciation for all the hard work we put into our blogging craft!

The rules:

1. Each nominee must link back the person who nominated them

2. Answer the 10 questions which are given to you by the nominator

3. Nominate 10 other bloggers for this award who have less than 400 followers

4. Create 10 questions for your nominees to answer

5. Let the nominees know that they have been nominated by going to their blog and notifying them

My Nominees:

SNAP

BEGINNERS MIND

 kryticalmind

Aurella Yussuf

The Commentator: Observations Of A Modern Life

Cerriann Taylor

African Art in London

sugarythings

TaDaa Nails

Questions for my nominees:

1. The inner city or the leafy suburbs?    2. What is your favourite quote and who said it?

3. Which actor would you choose to play yourself in a biopic film?    4. What’s your favourite colour?
5. What is the main theme of your blog and why?    6.One of the best books you’ve ever read?
7. If money was not an issue, what would be your dream job?    8.Cocktails or wine?
9. If you could make one thing in your country free, what would it be?  10. Is school the best place to learn. Why?

My answers to Life of Afua’s questions:

1. Favourite city you’ve ever visited? Having lived there for a bit would have to say NYC

2. Favourite song? I’m taking it waaaay back – Erykah Badu, Next Lifetime

3. What person inspires you the most? This is tough as there are quite a few but would say, Nelson Mandela

4. What made you start your blog? Encouragement from a friend and a chance to get my thoughts out to the world! lol

5. Favourite pizza toppings? Spicy beef

6. If you could do a degree in something new/different, what would it be? Geography

7. Apple or Samsung? Apple

8. Favourite childhood movie? Home Alone

9. Spring or Autumn? Spring

10. One piece of advice for the person reading this? Never convince yourself that you’re not good enough!

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