I met Masterchef the professionals Victor Okunowo several years ago at a flat in Romford and wrote a piece then about how he was “passionate and had many creative ideas”. He used African spices to create dishes that evoked memories of my time growing up in Nigeria and took them a step further by elevating those dishes to create some very memorable plates of food .
Back to present day and it’s amazing and exciting to see him on Masterchef the professionals. The fact he ended up being a semi finalist on Masterchef is truly impressive and only goes to show how far talent, hard work , sweat and toil can get an individual who truly believes in their own ability.
Now Victor mentioned he was going to be the headchef of a restaurant called the Talking drum a few months ago, so as soon as Lord Farquaad ( sorry I mean Boris ) lifted the covid lockdown I booked a table for me and my foodie bubble. Well that and it was going to be difficult finding a seat as Victor progressed through the rounds, so getting one early makes a lot of sense.
Masterchef the professionals Victor Okunowo at the Talking Drum
I booked this restaurant on 610 Old Kent Rd for 6.45pm, but cheekily told my bubble it was 6pm because African’s and time have a special relationship.
The first thing that stood out about the restaurant was the decor . It was absolutely gorgeous with low level lights , flowers on the ceiling and a huge bar with golden lights in the centre. The Talking Drum is a truly hidden gem.
Di got to the restaurant early due to my tricks and as soon as I stopped admiring the decor I noticed she already had a cocktail in her hands and was purring about ordering a second.
We caught up with Victor Okunowo while waiting for the rest of our bubble to join and spent the few minutes wait salivating about all the innovative dishes on the menu. The menu had Jollof rice as a side dish ( tick ) , Suya calamari , Jerk chicken taco, Charcoal Suya beef taco , Guinea fowl with peanut sauce , Moi Moi and king prawns, Jerk Poussin, roasted pumpkin soup….the list goes on. This was a menu that stayed true to its African roots and true to form didn’t disappoint .
Charcoal Suya beef taco , Suya calamari and Jerk Chicken Taco : The side dishes we ordered was quite tasty. The jerk chicken taco had a hint of spice from the jerk , sweetness from mangoes and a herby flavour from the Callaloo Chimichurri. It was packed with soo much flavour we ordered a lot of those. The other 2 sides were very good with that Suya spice , but the Jerk ( especially with that Chimchurri ) reigned supreme.
I also loved the chickpea chips
Braised beef marinated with Suya spices was fragrant with a hint of spice. The cress, onion and tomato garnish brings freshness and colour to the dish. This dish was tasty but needs a tad more sauce to make it extra moerish. Perhaps a peanut or peppercorn sauce might be good addition.
Moi Moi and King prawns with quail eggs, avocado, sea herbs and tomato was absolutely delicious. The Moi Moi snack transported me back to Saturday mornings at my Grans place in Ogun state, Nigeria. What’s this tasty snack that tastes so good they named it twice I hear you ask ? Well it’s a traditional Nigerian steamed bean pudding dish that’s normally accompanied with Ogi , a sour creamy porridge made from fermented maize. I loved Victors dish , especially with the emulsion and tomatoes sauce and will definitely order one next time instead of taking bites out of Diana’s plate .. a seriously dangerous undertaking as she isn’t one for sharing like me lol.
Another angle showcasing the juicy king prawns
Seabass with spinach stew , abacha and lemon emulsion was soo soft , fresh and delicious. I was able to eat a good chunk of this because Martha was stuffed by time the dish arrived in front of her. I recommend this dish if you love fish.
Jerk Poussin : sweet potato , callaloo purée, heritage carrrots and pimento jus was well seasoned and tasty. I would have loved a good dollop of the chimchurri from the chicken taco right next to the jerk chicken though.
Lamb Rump with aubergine , almonds , coriander , kale and tagine sauce hit all the brief. We also ordered some Jollof rice and plantains with our dish. Jollof is a Nigerian staple dish and Nigerian restaurants are judged by how Perfect they execute this dish. I am happy to report that the Jollof rice was on point. It was smokey and beautifully seasoned. Some of the high end Nigerian fusion restaurants have been to always seem to struggle a little with their Jollof, so it was a massive relief when this touched our lips.
It was very nice catching up with friends over several tasty plates of food that ticked the right boxes. We ate well, drank well and laughed about many things, one of which was finally being allowed to visit restaurants again. Restaurants are finally back people, lets rejoice.
PS : Since I wrote this 2 weeks ago, we have had a new Tier 4 system and a Brexit deal is finally in place. With soo many changes in a short space of time, it’s good to see that Victor’s dishes though evolved, remains constant by always bringing a smile to one’s face. Compliments to you and your team.
Keep up the good work Victor