Akwasi Brenya-Mensa’s popular supper club, Tatale, will become a fully fledged restaurant when it opens at The Africa Centre in January 2022. Hosted by the charity at its new base, Gunpowder House, Tatale will be open to visitors during the day, standing alone as a restaurant and bar in homage to the chop bars of Ghana in the evenings.
Brenya-Mensa says the new restaurant reflects a shift in his mindset when running the supper clubs, redirecting their culinary energy from a broad spectrum of travel (formerly running under the name “Mensa, Plates and Friends”) towards food from his heritage. The restaurant’s name is derived from the plantain pancake of the same name, because plantain is, for Brenya-Mensa, “synonymous with the Black experience” anywhere in the world. With 50 covers, additional bar seating, and an outside terrace, all set over two floors, the menu is in places distinctly Ghanaian and in others more pan-African, and accordingly designed to be versatile for diners who wish to share and those who don’t.
Stand-out dishes include nkatenkwan served with omo tuo, the groundnut soup served with a Hausa side dish of glutinous rice cooked until baby soft and pounded, serving a similar function to fufu. Tatale will also serve a chicken burger spiced with yaji and shito, honed as part of James Cochran’s “around the cluck” delivery menu out of 12:51 restaurant in Islington, and the wittily named “cassavas bravas,” playing on the classic Spanish potato dish. This playfulness runs throughout the menu, with explainers from Brenya-Mensa contextualising every dish, whether relaying tales of making a hit mixtape in Mexico with an assist from hibiscus iced tea and tequila, or breaking a childhood toaster when preparing hard dough, which at the restaurant will be served with malt butter and onion ash.
The restaurant has had a long prelude, with a quartet of online events in collaboration with the Africa Centre platforming chefs, thinkers, and influential figures from the African culinary scene in the U.K. back in May / June 2021. “They were exploratory. I am Ghanaian in origin, familiar with West African food, but even in Ghana — all the different dialects, tribes, vocabularies — it’s very much an exploration of African food more broadly, and that’s kind of what Tatale is. My heritage is Ghanaian, it is certainly a West African offering, but it’s also a vessel to explore how other people do their things in other parts of Africa. Whether on the menus, or in these kinds of conversations and events, it would be really great to continue to be a conduit for open conversation across the continent, community-building and learning from each other.”
When recollecting his childhood and adolescent experiences of Ghanaian diaspora food in London, he says that the “older school establishments” that marked his youth are beginning to engage more in dialogue with more recent, contemporary openings. “I think it’s really the start of something. I remember seeing headlines and rolling my eyes — this is not a trend. This is our heritage and culture of over hundreds and thousands of years. So many of these conversations have already been happening around tables, when people were eating, are eating — where in my experience of British culture, the hub has always been alcohol, the pub. That’s where the chop bar reference comes from: a hub of conversation set literally around food.”
This self-conscious focus on pan-African conversations and connections, not just those of Ghana, is at the heart of what Brenya-Mensa wants Tatale to be, resisting the tendency towards culinary hyper-specificity that has taken root in London restaurant openings over the last five-to-ten years. “There’s a duality to the person that I am, and that need to label and be specific is something I have battled against when developing this restaurant. We are a reflection of my lived experience, someone who considers themselves a Ghanaian person, but has been raised in Britain ... I’m not fusing them, so much as I am replicating experiences I’ve had on a plate.”
And while it’s tempting to see the move from supper club to restaurant as a straightforward “upgrade” or graduation, Brenya-Mensa tells Eater that despite the notable shift in scale, it is the supper clubs that more often prove “a logistical nightmare ... Once you have a set-up in a fixed unit [at a restaurant] It’s just a case of diligently maintaining it, you know? With the supper club, it’s a secret location, and my thinking behind it has always been: if the same person came every single time, I would want them to have a completely different experience. You have to learn how each venue works. I am very keenly looking forward to being stationed, to having a base.”
He also has extensive experience in institutions, but in spaces not his own — and is relieved to be escaping the feeling of walking on eggshells and codeswitching that is often part of that work. “I’m going in to help them appeal to a new audience, a new crowd, and this has been a common thread — there’s always a degree of tiptoeing, a need to do things in a certain way. I think that operating in an institution that already has an understanding of my expertise, without me having to always explain it first, without having to — that really simplifies my life.”
Ultimately, he wants to continue to “explore what it means to be a restaurateur of African or Caribbean descent in London. Something really important to me is in when talking about those barriers, to be talking about when those barriers have been overcome. Collaboration is so key, and I’m not really here for ‘this is bad, this is bad, this is bad.’ I want to do what I can to make the industry address its flaws, but I also want to acknowledge the people out there doing amazing work. I want to have a balanced conversation, and to remember that I’m not here without them.”