People 3 minutes 09 February 2024

Chishuru’s Adejoké Bakare On Her Michelin Star Success

The chef-of-the-moment talks to us about her triumphant West African restaurant

Have you ever nailed a dinner party menu and been told by your friends that ‘you should start your own restaurant’? Well, Adejoké Bakare actually did it – and now she has a Michelin Star. Unlike many who receive that accolade, she is a self-taught chef, and one whose rise to the top of British gastronomy is impossible to ignore. Her ‘modern West African’ restaurant Chishuru has been a dream of hers for some time, and now it is a quite brilliant reality.

The events of Monday 5th February, when Adejoké – affectionately known as Joké – was called to the stage to receive her Star-emblazoned chef’s jacket, will surely stick in her memory for some time to come. “I’m still shaking, still dazed,” she said after the event, when she spoke to Michelin alongside her Restaurant Manager Matt Paice.

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One thing that becomes clear when chatting to them is that neither Joké nor Matt like the phrase ‘tasting menu’ applied to Chishuru. Despite the dinner offering consisting of multiple courses with a choice for the main only, they prefer to use the term ‘set menu’. “It’s in the same way that we don’t talk about a ‘wine pairing’, we talk about a ‘wine flight’,” Matt explains. “We just want to avoid making it sound like we're trying to be fine dining.”

Fighting against the traditional image of ‘fine dining’ – an overtly formal and somewhat inaccessible version of high-end cooking – is a big part of Joké’s mission at Chishuru. “At the heart of what we do, we are quite homely,” she says, fighting to never lose the simple warmth of those much-loved dinner parties. “If you see our décor, you’ll see that we’re homely and want to just welcome you in.”

To have achieved a Michelin Star while remaining relaxed and far-removed from excessively formal dining is a point of pride for both Joké and Matt. “These days people expect that it’s not all about tablecloths and crumbing, and a guy with a golden grapes badge trying to upsell you on some wine,” he suggests. “Michelin-Starred restaurants aren't only that. They can also be places like Brat or Mountain, or Chishuru.”

The restaurant is significant not just for its relaxed style, but for the fact Joké is the UK’s first-ever black female chef to win a Michelin Star. Her cooking brings in influences from across West Africa, a culinary region that’s unfamiliar to “probably 75%” of their diners, Matt estimates. But for both him and Joké, that’s part of the fun. “A lot of our job on the floor is when people go: ‘What’s uda? What’s uziza? What are grains of paradise? What's the sinasir?’” he says. “So we explain: ‘Well, it’s a smoky flavoured spice. It's a West African black pepper. It's a fermented rice pancake.

“We had a lovely chat with Andrew Wong earlier, because he has a lot of customers who have very fixed, preconceived ideas about Chinese food and he's trying to change their minds. For us, it's more of a blank slate; they don’t really have any idea. So it's really rewarding; it's one of the things that makes working at the restaurant so enjoyable.”

Joké, too, relishes her role as host, having wanted an open kitchen in Chishuru’s relatively new Fitzrovia premises – so that she can come out into the room and “keep the connection with the guests”. The opportunity to introduce people to a new style of cooking is hugely appealing for her and informed the decision to serve a largely fixed menu. “It was a way to kind of guide people and remove a lot of the friction in how people choose,” she explains. “We make it easy and say 'don't worry about the starters', depending on what you want – vegetarian, meat, fish, whatever – we can sort it out and the only choice is your main. So that difficulty in deciding has been removed.”

Despite West African food being unfamiliar to many of their diners at Chishuru, Joké and Matt are aware of its growing presence within the London food scene. With both Chishuru and Akoko winning their first Michelin Stars this year, they feel there is a growing sense of a “West African movement” in London. It’s a testament to the city and the diversity of its dining culture. “We get plenty of customers from New York,” Matt says. “They come in and say, ‘We don't have anything like this. There aren't any good West African restaurants in New York.’”

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Lots of Londoners are becoming more familiar with the cuisine now, and with Joké’s cooking in particular. For the restaurant to be such a hit is a huge achievement, especially after the challenges faced in setting up the current incarnation of Chishuru. It started life as a pop-up, then a permanent restaurant, in Brixton Village. They had to share a less-than-luxurious toilet with the rest of Brixton Village and “when it was cold, it was extremely cold; but when it was hot, it was boiling”, Joké says. She attempted to move the business to a new home at the end of 2022, but multiple deals falling through meant this proved to be harder than planned. Eventually, Joké found Chishuru a new premises in central London, and she hasn’t looked back since.

The word ‘chishuru’ means ‘the silence that descends when you’re enjoying a meal’. It’s a fitting name for a restaurant where so much enjoyment is being had. “We have a lot of regulars that came with us from Brixton – and already around Marylebone we're beginning to see a lot of regulars come in,” says Joké. It’s no surprise; this is a restaurant where you can find exciting, interesting dishes that pack a flavoursome punch and are cooked by a chef with the skilled judgement to really make her food soar. The Michelin Inspectors – and plenty of diners too, we imagine – can’t wait to see what the future holds for Joké’s cooking. (Just don’t call it a tasting menu.)

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The MICHELIN Guide Great Britain & Ireland is published in digital format, both on our website (UK/Republic of Ireland) and via the iOS and Android apps.


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