Something Out Of The Ordinary

We check out the authentic South African cuisine at Chakalaka

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As someone still mourning the loss of Springbok, the South African restaurant which closed on Devonshire Road some years ago, I was delighted to hear about Chakalaka coming to Chiswick and was first in line for their opening night last Saturday (1st November).

Named after a traditional spicy tomato and onion salsa Chakalaka, this specialist South African restaurant has taken over the site formerly occupied by Mow's on Barley Mow Passage. They claim to cater both for homesick South Africans and adventurous locals of which I am most certainly the latter.

The restaurant remains visually much the same as Mow’s, indeed they have kept all the furniture, bar and layout exactly as it was. What is different are the splashes of funky animal prints, zebra striped throws and tribal paintings. It's a simple, and I imagine frugal, refurbishment which can only be admired in these times and breathes new life into this awkward space.

However, the décor is where the restraint stops. The menu is literally page upon page of exotic dishes with ostrich, kudu (one of South Africa’s biggest antelopes), springbok and boerewors as ingredients. It’s too lengthy and becomes confusing. Just when you think you’ve decided on springbok you turn the page and discover they offer salads, then turn another to find a list of simply grilled steaks.

The wine list also suffers a little from being a little too extensive although you can find a very decent South African wine for £14.00 as we did with their Stonechurch Cinsaut Pinotage.

From their accents, we ascertained that the staff were almost entirely South African apart from our very sweet young waitress who thought that coming from Acton and having a Moroccan mother meant the she belonged. We generously decided that she did until she began to talk about the crocodile special and the whole menu confusion started all over again.

In the end we decided to go native and chose the crocodile skewers special (£7.95) and Kudu Carpaccio (£7.50) to start. The crocodile was rather an anticlimax tasting like a chicken / prawn hybrid but was finished with the most delicious sticky sweet sauce. We asked what the sauce was. “If I tell you that you wouldn’t have to come back to enjoy it again!” came the reply. Not really likely to find us wrestling with a crocodile in our kitchen at home so we reckoned she could have taken the chance!

We chose the Ostrich and Springbok special as a main which was served on a bed of mash potato with crisp sweet potato chips on top (£17.95) and the Surf and Turf which was an 8oz Namibian steak served with tiger prawns, French fries, salad and a choice of mushroom, pepper or monkey glad sauce (£16.95). The steak was truly wonderful, succulent and cooked perfectly, the prawns were generous in size but overcooked, the French fries were unfortunately not thin strips of golden crunchiness but large flat wedges that tasted slightly of cardboard and whilst the monkey gland sauce was not a delicacy created from simian body parts, it was pleasant enough.

We shared very good Amarula crème brulee (£4.95) for dessert and knocked back the complimentary liqueur shots that we delivered with our bill which was £76.23 including a 10% service charge.

The following morning we relayed details of our exotic feast to our three children who found it fascinating until Issy remembered that Namibia is in Africa and was decidedly unimpressed.

“All those people starving in Africa Mummy and you ate one of their cows,” she said (I would like to point out that I didn’t eat a whole one!) “That cow could have fed an entire village or given them milk! And you Daddy eating ostriches and antelopes that they could have hunted! That’s it I going to become a vegetarian.”

She caved in about 10 minutes after I served roast chicken for our Sunday lunch. We counted our blessings that she doesn’t yet have a concept of food air miles or else we would have really been in trouble.

Emma Brophy


November 10, 2008