It’s a mistake to say that Kafe Utu is the first African restaurant in Singapore; Nando’s actually originates from South Africa. But Kafe Utu is an African cuisine restaurant that offers flavours from all round the continent. It is certainly a rare find in this culinary city that focusses on mainstream cuisines. The food made at Kafe Utu does not fail to satisfy the palate.
For appetisers, we ordered something exciting and something safe – Lamb Heart with Chimichuri Sauce ($20++) and Fried Plantain with Mango Chilli Marmalade ($16++). As potentially grotesque as it might sound to Singaporeans unfamiliar with non-piggy innards, this lamb heart is a pretty sterling dish. It is slightly undercooked so it’s rare in the middle but that gives it a meaty-cartilagey texture. It tastes like pig liver but without the metallic iron flavor. It also isn’t gamey or smelly or any of the worrying descriptors you might associate with innards. The earthiness of the beet puree, herbalness of the chimichurri and the sharpness of the pink peppercorns round the dish well. This is really tasty. The plantain on the other hand is just a spicy goreng pisang with a little bit of tang from the slight unripeness of the fruit. It is well fried.
For the mains, we had the West African Charred Aubergine Stew with Angus Beef Cheek ($30++), Caribbean Goat Curry ($28++) and Smokey Cassava Leaf with Marinated Chicken Thigh ($28++). Firstly, the coconut rice that came with it is supremely delicious – light, fluffy and fragrant, and it pairs amazingly with all the gravy-esque, stewy mains we ordered. Easily one of the best versions of nasi lemak I’ve ever had. The beef cheeks are equally tender – almost melt-in-your-mouth texture; the kind where the meat yields with just the push of the tongue, the smokiness of the charred aubergine elevates this stew and the pickled onions balance everything out. The chicken thigh, also cooked perfectly, bursts with smokiness too. This though is a heavier, herbier dish. The goat curry is spicy, nutty and moreish too.
Rather than bring the night to an ecstatic end, the desserts were quite anticlimactic. The inner dough of the Mahamri ($8++) is dense and for some reason the frying fails to crisp a crackly crust. The fried skin of the bread is thick and chewy. This coupled with desiccated coconut makes this an extremely dry dish. It is a super-fail hum jing png. The Malindi Halwa ($10++) isn’t that much of a save. It is sweet and chewy with the dragonfruit mochi, crispy with the filo pastry, nutty with its cashews and hazelnuts, fruity and tangy with the coconut yoghurt. Individually, the components make sense. Together, it is incomprehensible. This could just be a failure of my appreciation of the cuisine. But this didn’t work for me.
The savoury items in Kafe Utu are definitely pleasers. They are well-cooked and delicious. I’d have said the experience, barring the desserts, was amazing if not for the really unfortunate fact of menu choices and pricing. For a restaurant that touts itself as one that celebrates the diversity of Africa, the options are not very exciting or diverse. In fact, most of the dishes are more reminiscent of North African cuisine. There was no foufou, for instance. I expected to have been drawn into some kind of exotic gastronomic phantasmagoria. But I just had safe, delicious food. In the mains, it is 90% stews. Not very exciting. And the pricing is very high for these foods. The food is good and so it makes me sad to admit that I wouldn’t come here even if it is just to try African cuisine because this place has made it safe – maybe just for the lamb heart.
12 Jiak Chuan Rd, Singapore 089265
tel: +65 6996 3937
W, Th, Sun 8am-5pm, 6pm-11pm
F & Sat 8am-5pm, 6pm-1am
You may be interested in…
–Lime House, Jiak Chuan Road: Bask In the Caribbean Limelight
–Man Man Japanese Unagi Restaurant by Teppei @ Keong Siak
–Drink Culture, Keong Siak Rd
–Meta Restaurant, Keong Saik: Restaurant of the Year
Written by Paul Ng. Deathrow meal: steamed uonuma koshihikari rice, sunny side up eggs drizzled with slow-rendered pork lard, kicap cair dark soya sauce with a side of gribenes. And a bowl of uni. Aspiring taitai. Also co-owner of Provisions Food – local maker of baked goods, snacks, condiments and sauces inspired by the flavours of Asia.