Supper club: The Matatu Kitchen

“The yeasted, fried doughnuts were served with coconut and lime ice cream, and a pot of chai-spiced caramel sauce, for dipping – or drinking, if you’re us”


The

Matatu Kitchen

supper club is serving African food like – we’re confident enough to bet – you’ve never tried before…

For all the diverse cultures and culinary experiences Bristol has on its books, there are still some styles of food that perhaps haven’t been repped as widely as they deserve. That’s just

one

of the reasons the novel

Matatu Kitchen

supper clubs are going down such a bloomin’ storm. Taking inspiration from their strong East African links, the guys behind it – Fozia and Edwina, with  Somali and Kenyan heritage respectively – began hosting dinners late last year. Their mission: to introduce Bristol to this region’s food.


Although perhaps a bit more challenging to define than, say, Indian or Italian food, East African fare is nothing if not pretty darn exciting in its variety. The influence of trade links across the Indian Ocean – predominantly with the Middle East and India – is constantly evident, and especially so in the Somalian offerings. (After all, that country has generous stretches of coastline and a strong maritime history.) Couple this with the fact Africa’s believed to have the longest history of human inhabitation on the

planet

, and you know you’re going to get some interesting grub, right?


And especially when it’s cooked by Foz and Ed. The pair rarely try to produce exact replicas of traditional dishes, but instead use the styles, principles and techniques of Somali and Swahili food to create modern meals that are unmistakably rooted in the customs of East African cooking, but also relevant to contemporary diners and the food scene we’re all so spoilt with on this turf.


The particular supper club that we went to (and we were ruddy lucky to be there, as all their latest dates have sold out pretty sharpish – though please keep your eye out for more), was a Sunday lunch at the ace Wilsons, on Chandos Road. Two long, communal tables stretched the length of the modest-sized, light-filled dining area (this really is a great spot for a daytime meal, with the windowed frontage filtering in buckets of sunlight, illuminating the white walls), and there were families, couples, and pairs of friends sat together at both. We took seats next to Jan and Mary – owners of the restaurant – and their curly haired, avo-loving toddler, Robin.


Everyone had kicked off this BYO affair as appropriate (i.e. with plenty of wine), and we were soon being served a pheasant consommé, spiked with vodka, burnt green chilli and a Grow Bristol coriander shoot – a fiery, hearty, really savoury shot that the ensuing cold weather has had me craving ever since.


The menu proper began, though, with this issue’s Hero Ingredient, chicory. The bitter leaves – like little crisp, pale saucers – were filled with small chunks of sweet chopped date and walnut, and crumbs of spiced, salty Somerset goats’ cheese. Crimson pomegranate seeds, which burst in the mouth to release their sweet-sour juice, were peppered over the top. This exciting assembly of tastes made sure all zones of the tongue were woken up and ready to go.


Mini sambusas – fried, stuffed pastries which are the Somali equivelant of samosas – came next. One was filled with roast squash and coconut, one with pickled ewes’ cheese and spinach, and the other contained Foz’s mum’s own spiced lamb recipe. Alongside them on the plate was a neat pile of fresh salsa, which we got all authentic with and ate with our fingers. There were two sauces on the table to go with this dish and, between you and me, I’ll go to great lengths to get recipes for ’em. One was a moreish, spicy tamarind sauce called shigni, and the other, bisbas, saw punchy green chilli and coriander balanced with cooling yogurt.


The main course was bush chicken choma – tender pheasant, marinated with mango and served with sweet potato and a sukuma wiki (Swahili-style greens, not a million miles away from kale).


Plates of warm mandazi rounded off the meal: these yeasted, fried doughnuts were served with a mega-refreshing coconut and lime ice cream, and a little pot of chai-spiced caramel sauce, for dipping. (Er, or drinking, if you’re us.)


Foz told us these are often served as a nibble to go with a cup of coffee or chai; the African equivalent of tea and biscuits, then. Speaking of coffee, we got cups of a really good Zanzibari brew; served black, it was rich and aromatic, lifted by notes of zingy cardamom. (

Get the recipe here!

)


With only two in the kitchen, and one smiley Foz managing front of house, this supper club had a real relaxed, authentic homeliness to it. The chilled-out, social atmosphere and friendly hosting made for a Sunday lunch that I’d pick above a roast

any

day of the week.