‘I always recommend this fried chicken and everyone loves it!’ says my server, in this, perhaps the least ‘City Road’ venue on City Road.
You know what comes next, don’t you? A full-blooded, studs-first dismantling of the menu and the place. It’s a chain after all, and a rapidly-expanding one. That’s not the sort of thing I do often, and I like to think Im reserve it for those who deserve it. Perhaps a chorus of sheer disgust (Coyote Ugly) or a world weary shrug at the disappointing lack of ambition and attention to detail from The Coconut Tree– including the single worst dish I’ve eaten in your service.
Afrikana might not fit here among the jumble of cheap pizzas, barbers and convenience stores of this stretch. Tinted glass and uniformed staff aren’t City Road staples: it’s an expensive fit out grafted onto the hulking City Heights, the latest student accommodation palace to blight Roath. It might seem ambitious at best to try to sum up culinary experience of an entire continent, and the puns will make you groan (the Vegan/ vegetarian section is called ‘We are rooting for you’). You may have to Shazam every song playing, though you’re probably cooler than me, but the staff are all fresh faced and attentive- Dalia and Shahlaa are charming- and there are good things obvious from the off.
Hummus is pleasingly garlicky, with a touch of warmth and scattered with a handful of olives: most encouragingly though, it has clearly been made with a distinctively grassy-peppery olive oil. Stuff with character.
You can pick holes- the Afrikana fries would be better tossed with their seasoning in a bowl rather than portioning then sprinkling, to ensure a better spread’. There’s no alcohol, even in happier times. Some of the pricing is enthusiastic, with fish and chips coming in at £18.95. But there are also encouraging signs.
I can’t recall the last time I was asked how how I want my lamb chops (£9.95). Not round here, anyway. They arrive medium rare as requested, and they’re lovely: sweet and delicate with a hint of heat and cut thick enough to stay pink while picking up smoke and colour from the flames, with enough char on the bone to make it worthwhile worrying at with your teeth.
That chicken? It’s exactly what I want and expect from fried chicken (£11.95) in a city still meagre of strong options. It’s a huge portion which I take home to finish, served with rice and peas and plantain. It’s crisp, it’s ramped up with hot jerk sauce and it’s all rather well done. Both dishes easy to ruin, both very pleasantly delivered.
A fluke? My second visit brings a flatbread loaded with onions, peppers and chicken, all doused in their peri peri dressing. The flavours are as much about smoke as lingering heat, all on top of a soft rich bread.
‘Prawn to be wild’ (no, really) does simple things well, with a citrussy, creamy dressing on fat, meaty shellfish and leaves.
So there you have it. Afrikana probably won’t change your life. But it deserves better than to be dismissed just because it’s a chain outpost in the creeping chainisation of Roath in this quintessentially independent area.
199-203 City Road
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This blog is a very simple thing.
I won’t try to sell you any hand lotion, exercise programmes, coffee syrups or Patagonian nose flutes. You won’t find tips on dating, ‘wellness’ or yoga mats.
I write because I love it (and food, as indicated by my increasing girth). Greed happens to be my Deadly Sin of choice, but at least it is never shy of providing me with subject matter.
A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.