An evening at the 805 Restaurant in Hendon, London.
“Ah 805 restaurant? My friend’s girl from Nigeria picked me up from the airport and on my first day, a Sunday, in London she took me there, I guess to make me know that London can be home away from home. I had this grilled catfish that was so amazing that years later I went back to the restaurant to ask for it. Unfortunately they told me it was no longer on the menu…. ”
This was the response my Nigerian accountant colleague gave me when I informed him that I was organising a handful of folks, well 15 in all, to go experience what the 805 restaurant had to offer. The child-like smile on his face as he continued to tell me more about this restaurant was enough to convince me if I had any doubts. I had, a week earlier, heard about 805 restaurant from a Ghanaian friend who frequented it on Sunday afternoons, after church service. It has, according to the restaurant manager, Thierry Kadisha Bart, been around for only a couple of years. Booking the table for 15 was straight forward but with a tiny hitch. There was a request for a deposit which I whipped out my card ready to pay over the phone only to be told there was no facility for collecting the payment. I of course made it clear I won’t be taking up the suggestion to trek over to Hendon just to pay a deposit in person. The requirement was dropped a second after my statement.
The evening of the dinner was no ordinary evening. It was one of celebration and reflection for our brother Rod. A. It was Rod A’s farewell dinner before he flying off to Accra to get married.
805 restaurant Hendon was easy to get to from Hendon tube station. A brisk walk from the station and I was there in less than 5 minutes. The interior looked clean and elegant: white walls, moca coloured clad chairs, a couple of huge mirrors adorning two of the walls and a couple of rather interesting works of paintings. Dimly lit with single tumblers aglow on each table it seemed 805 restaurant Hendon seemed to straddle the line between sophistication and simplicity beautifully. With the exception of a couple of suited diners most were in smart casuals and all seemed to be oblivious to others walking in; a good sign that the atmosphere was perfect in oiling the wheels of conversation or the food was that good that folks could not be distracted.
First impressions matter so I was pleased when I was welcomed by a beaming waitress who kindly ushered me to my table. Rod A of course was already seated and I was 10 minutes late! I blame the English in him and London Underground for not swapping those slow sorry excuses for trains for those Japanese types that seem to travel faster than time. As more folks sauntered in we ordered chicken suya for starters, one of my faourites. The flavours of the heavily suya spiced chicken was big. The meat was soft and the bones crunchy. Hints from me to add the platter of peppered snails were intentionally ignored, so the chicken suya it was then.
805 restaurant is quintessentially African and as a majority African group we knew the 101 tricks to getting to grips with an African restaurant, or so we thought. Rule number 1 revolves around ordering as early as possibly to cut down on the waiting time. We had anticipated a anything between a 30 to 60 minute wait. I even took the liberty in phoning folks yet to arrive to get their orders in. This was the mother of all strategies, deployed in a moment of inspiration until of course the last meal ordered ended up coming out of the kitchen first and the recipient, we realised was still 5 minutes away from the restaurant. This caused the mother of all chuckles and rendered rule 1 useless but to be replaced duly with: Be patient when dining in an African restaurant as the nature of our food means the preparation and cooking takes time. This of course does not apply to every dish.
The biggest laugh of the night, however, was reserved for Peter OA who along with everybody else was in absolute shock at the size of his grilled tilapia with fried yam served with hot pepper. This was the most humongous and yet most incredibly delicious grilled tilapia we’d ever seen as some of us helped him devour the entire fish.
Yam potage was what I ordered, a favourite that I have learned to make myself. The yam was soft and mushy just as I like it and the fish and stew were right on point.
As the evening got into full flow I began to think about what I made of 805 restaurant Hendon. It certainly was not a concept restaurant offering small plates or meals served on slates. Imagine pounded yam on a slate? Our meals were served by two warm and friendly staff without much fuss, theatre or fire spewing dramatics. This was food cooked by someone who knew what they were doing and more interested in making you super full than wining an award on the tricks of plating in some gastronomic hall of fame. This was food built for people eager to be fed, without being neurotic about nutritional information. It’s rich and serious in an African way. The list of egusi, ewedu, banga, ogbono or Okro stew served with chicken or beef; assorted meat or fried fish; fresh fish or stock fish to mention a few made up the traditional Nigerian dishes. There were lighter, non-traditional African meals too. Grilled tiger prawns, grilled croacker or tilapia and a mix grill of assorted meat seemed popular on the night. African cuisine has a reputation for being hot or “spicy”. Most of the dishes came with a choice of hot or mild.
805 restaurant Hendon in my view is the epitome of the bourgeois Nigerian and African restaurant that continually wants to make me quit my job to run one. The name 805 is not some hard-accented Naija name. It is actually in reference to the address of the flagship restaurant on Old Kent road.
After an evening spent dispatching the most sumptuous of Nigerian food, most of us had very little time or space for dessert. 805 restaurant describe themselves as purveyors of “very fine African contemporary cuisine.” Certainly not an exaggerated claim judging by the unanimously positive comments and the plethora of takeaway bags filled with more goodies for loved ones my friends wheeled out.
Address: 60 Vivian Avenue
Tel: +44 208 202 9449