New York Times West Africa bureau chief Dionne Searcey has called Nok by Alara in Lagos a “Rare Gem”. In her NYT article, she pointed out that the celebratory feel at Nok by Alara is in part due to its hip ambience and its new take on regional staples. Nok by Alara is owned by Reni Folawiyo who brought Pierre Thiam onboard in 2015 to showcase that African food can be elevated and presented in a contemporary setting without losing its identity. The NYT article comes barely a week after CNN’s Bourdain featured Lagos’s famous buka dining scene.
Searcey writes “Too often, restaurants in West Africa cater to an upscale clientele by recreating American or European favorites — and offering the same single dish or two that hints at their own region’s specialties. Sometimes the local fare is neglected altogether.”
But, Searcey continues “A rare cool and cloudy evening lured my friends and I outside to a garden area where we sat under the glow of funky, colored lamps in handmade thatched chairs and ordered from a tapas-style menu. First came cocktails, which at Nok involve baobab juice and beets — both Senegalese drink staples. The palm wine served in a hollowed-out gourd has an unusually delicious hint of fermentation, one of Mr. Thiam’s flavoring specialties.”
On the outdoor menu, Searcey comments that “portions were small but ample enough for sharing: wara cheese, a local specialty made with curd milk and served with hibiscus jam; scrumptious goat sliders with smashed avocado; lamb braai pie that looked like little meaty Pop-Tarts; spicy pepper dips and sauces with a subtle fishy flavor, ready for smearing across puffy mini-mounds of naan.”
Searcey definitely liked the grilled plantains coated in crunchy nuts but the ribs were a bit too fatty for her. For dessert Searcey tried the “puff puff” drizzled in a chocolate and baobab sauce which she called “pof pof”.
Searcey concludes “With its background music, soft lighting and loud chatter, the cramped indoor dining area was transformed into what could have been mistaken for a New York restaurant on a raucous weekend night.”