Nok By Alara

LAGOS, NIGERIA

The Nigerian food scene has really surprised me so far I must say. Growing up, I never really explored what it offered because well, I was not really ever let out for an abundance of reasons but I shall not go into that in this write up. I am questioning if I will ever share that with you all at any point in time but I have not decided yet… stay tuned. When I was looking for restaurants to visit on my trip to Lagos, I was not sure what to pick but I found Nok by my standard search for a fine dining restaurant. I have to say that at the end of the meal, they certainly did not disappoint. There was something so sleek about the entire experience starting all the way from the entrance with the bold signage. The arrow beneath this signage pointing to the right just set a mood in my brain that registered, “Yes Fisayo… you are going to have a good time tonight”. 

I followed the arrow sign down the long path and around the corner to the outdoor garden area. The outdoor space was nice but would have greatly benefited from better lighting as what was hung, was not turned on. I was met at the door to the main dining room by a gentleman who asked if I had a reservation to which I confirmed that I did so we proceeded into the restaurant. Entering the dining room, a statement is made as it is absolutely beautiful within. I found that with this and the restaurants across Lagos, many have accomplished exceptional interiors and ambience well. I really feel that the world could take lessons from them and I do not say this because I am Nigerian but instead it is the truth. You all come to me for the truth, why would I start to lie now? Walking into the space, my eyes were drawn to the wood paneling and eclectic art on the walls, the green tiled bar and the black and white pattern above the bar. The chandelier in the space was also magnificent. I really do not feel that I can describe the space enough but question, “Have I set the mood yet?”. Now let us get into the food which is what you all come to me for…

First I had the braised duck pastels with mango chutney. I was a bit apprehensive about the mango chutney because of the sweet which you all know by now is not exactly my favorite thing to put in my mouth… but I just could not resist some duck. Upon this dish coming out, they looked like mini empanadas / meat pies. On taste on my palate, it was just about the same conclusion but with a crust that was not overly rich and buttery. The “blended” duck filling had a rich savory flavor that really tasted like an amazing starter dish for the night. I cannot quite place what it felt like on flavors, all I can say is my brain registered a loud and clear, “come back here” when I put this in my mouth. It was not even so much the duck as it was just how it was flavored. This was really quite nice.

As I had my starter, I looked around the empty dining room. I did not understand why this restaurant was mostly empty. This was a trend that I had seen at other restaurants since being in the city. My memories from growing up here bring forth thoughts of people preferring to cook and eat at home versus come out to restaurants so I just chocked it up to that. I hope that maybe with this writing, it will trigger others to come out to experience this. I was not done with my starter when my next course came out, a little too promptly. It was blazing hot but I was not done yet with my pastels so I asked that they take it back to the kitchen while I finished up my dish. What they had brought out at this point was the lamb mafe which I wanted to have last since it was naan so I also asked that they also switch the order of dishes by bringing out the lobster that I had ordered first. They obliged and I thoroughly loved and appreciated how accommodating they were to my requests. While finishing up my starter, the couple next to me was celebrating a birthday and they brought out the sparklers with the staff singing happy birthday. This was the first time that I had witnessed this in Lagos and like other small things that this restaurant had done, it warmed my heart. 

So finally I got around to eating my lobster. You all know that I really do not write anything bad about restaurants or dishes that I do not like. I will either skip writing about that dish or about the restaurant as a whole. I have to say something in this case though. The flavors on this dish were magnificent BUT the lobster was overcooked. Like seriously overcooked, I gave the feedback to the kitchen on this. I had to write about this dish because in my opinion it is one that is not to be missed provided the kitchen does not overcook the lobster so do remind them on preparation time to not dry out the lobster. On flavors, it was savory with a slight spicy kick to it. Add in the slight sweetness of the black eyed peas on the plate and there you have a home run. The amazing part of the dish was that all flavors were natural and blended perfectly as opposed to a disjointed flavoring of a multitude of seasoning. In any case, that is my take on this one. 

Finally, I had the lamb mafe and house special naan. This is a peanut soup with lamb and naan and I was oh so excited to see it on the menu as I could not remember the last time I had peanut soup. All attempts to make peanut soup at home failed with a soup that was far too thick from using the wrong peanut butter… no matter what I tried. The lamb in this dish was perfectly tender and had just the right amount of fat on it. I find it unappetizing when I have cuts of meat with too much fat on it (save for some steaks) as most times it is not properly rendered and just not a great flavor in my mouth. That was not the case here though thankfully. The naan was not a traditional naan which I was a bit disappointed by because the mafe was so good and would greatly have benefited from that. Instead this was a house special which did not have the soft stretch to tear texture of regular naan. It was also seasoned with a savory blend of spices which while quite delicious on its own, I felt interfered with the flavors of the mafe. Very nice components in the dish in the end.

So that was it for my visit. Point to note on Nok is that everyone I mentioned to that I had visited there asked if I got the amala. This is a traditional Yoruba (my tribe) dish that they apparently make exceptionally well. While I do not eat amala because it bloats me and I would not be able to eat anything else, I think I might just give it a try next time on a non-tasting trip. There were quite a few rave reviews so do give it a taste for me.

Till next time 🙂