It was a combination of upheavals and unrest in the region that led to a sizeable east African migration to the UK. They have put down roots all over the country, but London is where communities are most established. As border countries, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia share many pre-colonial connections — ethnic groups, language, culture, and of course food. Menus across the board feature a wealth of wot stews, and marinated meat tibs, all served with the cornerstone injera sourdough bread. Gluten free and a ballast to food that negates any need for meat, these regional cuisine have long been a favourite of adventuring vegans and vegetarians, though as more people move into the areas that these restaurants serve, popularity goes from strength to strength.Read More
The Ultimate Guide to East African Cuisine in London
Where to find the city’s best Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Somali restaurants
1. Banaadiri Restaurant
London N4 3NG, UK
The menu, or literal lack thereof at this Seven Sisters restaurant is similar to other Somali dining experiences in the city, with the meals of the day reeled off to punters. Expect some combination of fragrant rice and tough red meat such as beef; for anyone hoping to date in private, a draping of curtains with the ability to conceal a group makes for a hilarious occasion.
2. Zamzam Somali Restaurant
London N4 3GG, UK
On a road full of east African cafes and hangout spots, Somali restaurant ZamZam’s double floor layout and energetic name sticks out. While some Somali chefs showcase their own version of injera, the breadwinners here are bariis isku karis or isku dhez karis, featuring a flavour-packed one pot concoction of vegetable rice and goat meat. The Italian presence in the region is also shown here, with baasto, a spaghetti pasta also accompanying meats like digaag, a spiced and diced chicken. Don’t be surprised by the banana — it’s a customary accompaniment.
3. Lalibela Ethiopian Restaurant
It’s fitting that the Ethiopian town this Tufnell Park restaurant is named for is a UNESCO world heritage site: Lalibela is as much a restaurant as it is a museum of relics, sculptures and art. Numerous plates include assa, — fish — beg, — lamb — bere, — beef — and doro — chicken — variations seasoned and sautéed with a plethora of vegetables and spices. Injera bread should be added here, and if there’s room for afters the Ye Mar ena Ye Wetet Dabo milk and honey cake sweet, soft and of course gluten free is a mindful treat.
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4. Blue Nile Restaurant
Green Lanes battles probably only Seven Sisters for the title of the north London version of Old Kent Road. One of the longest roads in the capital, the thoroughfare features another host of global food offerings most dominated by those of Cypriot, Greek and Turkish descent, but Blue Nile marks out its place of proclaimed mixed Ethiopian and Eritrean heritage. The special reservations here are on the breakfast menu, not seen at many other east African restaurants. Foul (or Fuul) medames is a favourite morning starter across north and east Africa as well the middle east, a mash of fava beans, greens, and herbs. Kitcha fitfit shredded flatbread in berbere spice and tesmi clarified butter alongside the self-described “super-juicy eggs” with onions and tomatoes will get anyone’s stomach prepped for the rest of the day.
5. Abyssinia Restaurant
The name Abyssinia was that of the ancient Ethiopian empire that preceded today’s nation state. Fitting then that it should be the name of London’s self-proclaimed first and oldest Ethiopian restaurant in London. In addition to the regular regional fare of meats and vegetable combos beside injera, expect golden roasted red meat tibs and tilapia fish. As the night drifts on, a cup of tej — Abyssinian honey wine — to is highly recommended.
6. The Queen of Sheba Restaurant
Gorgeously wood-carved furniture, willowy plants and a straw-thatched bar awaits a vast menu that should accommodate any diet or preference. The word “appetiser” on the menu should be taken with caution. The ketegna — toasted injera — coated in mild chilli, the sheba salad and filled pastry sambossa alone could make a meal. The focus here is on injera sharing dishes. While some places serve the injera bread, rolled into smaller pieces served in a separate bowl, here the separate stews are served atop a behemoth round injera the same size as the tray.
7. Kaffa Coffee
Kaffa’s Dalston spot serves up assortment of snacks and homemade baked goods during the week, but on Fridays, space is cleared out, seating is prepped and injera is shipped in to be served up with the classics of kik alicha split peas, miser kik split red lentils in red hot pepper sauce and shiro, ground broad bean and chickpea stew. For the coffee aficionados, owner Markos serves his own coffee, flown in from his family’s farm in Ethiopia.
8. Andu Café
Andu Cafe started life as an Internet café with coffee and the occasional snacks for browsers. A few snacks, injera bread and coffee turned into a dining menu and with the rapid change of Dalston’s population its popularity grew so much so that it expanded into the dormant space next door. Andu is a strictly vegan outing and as such the menu is relatively stripped down. Injera is paired with spiced cabbage and potato tikil gomen, a spinach gomen, and an assortment of split peas and lentils. Don’t be swayed by the pared down menu: the refinement means each topping gets the attention it deserves.
9. Merkato Ethiopian
London N1 0SH, UK
Merkato is as more of a café and chill spot than a restaurant on Caledonian Road. Food reflects a mixed Eritrean and Ethiopian heritage, and the recommended fifty-fifty option gives newbies a chance to sample bits of the whole menu, mixing meat and vegetarian options like the spicy lentil-based ades, fagioli — pasta, but not as you’ve had it in Italy — and hamli sautéed greens. With home comfort drinks on offer such as meta, castel, and St. Georges beer, it’s a great place to spend some time.
10. Addis Restaurant
Addis’ coarse golden walls, amharic language scriptures and engraved wooden chairs immediately transport you to the Ethiopian capital it is named for. While many restaurants outsource injera, the King’s Cross stalwart makes it own, the sharp citrusy undertone of the sourdough bread cutting through. Special kitfo, a lean minced beef readied with “special” spinach and the pivotal Ethiopian butter is a unique item, and for those new to the cuisine, lamb dishes such as the bitesize awaze tibs, lean dry-fried dereq, or goden spare ribs are a fine introduction. The offal-inclined may find solace in the dulet, a mishmash of lamb red meat, liver and lamb stomach; For those wishing to keep their stomach clear of meat, beyaynetu mild mixed vegetable platters or seneg spiced with green chillies will tingle any tastebud.
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11. Mosob Restaurant
Names after the beautifully woven straw bowls that accompany many Eritrean meals, Mosob restaurant flys the banner for region in west London. Open since 2004, Mosob starts of course with an injera base, accompanied by an assortment of niceties to go with it. Zigni, a spicy rich stew, bamia mis siga, an okra stew with beef, and quanta fitfit, a specially prepared dried meat are particular treats, as are the vivid assortment of plant-based non-meat toppings. After the food has settled, bunne, a traditional coffee, is served in a jebena — horsehair filtered copper pot — and finjal cups.
12. Enat Guada Restaurant
London SE1 5UB, UK
Old Kent Road is home to an array of international communities, representing all corners of sub-Saharan Africa, from Tunisian bakeries to Nigerian diners and a number of east African hot spots. The most popular of the latter is Enat Gauda. The menu is markedly simple compared to others on this list, with a simple choice of meat or veg, consisting of whatever selection of the cuisine has been prepped for that day.
13. Blue Nile
An outright Eritrean locale, this Woolwich restaurant takes heed of Italian colonial presence in the country and uses it to its advantage to provide an experience unlike any other. Lunch features a pasta of the day, and from start to finish the menu features a fusion of Italian and Eritrean classics. The Eritrean side showcases kemem tea, infused with cloves, cinnamon, star anise and ginger, warm ful meat stews infused with cardamom and cinnamon and cooked in tesmi, a warm and comforting spiced butter and a delicious homemade sweet cardamom flavoured bread called himbasha. For dinner vegetarian stews like the duba stebhi of pumpkin and beetroot, tumtumo lentils, and various meat stews scooped up with injera will leave no one wanting.
14. Adulis Restaurant
Adulis’ African palatial setting has to make it one of the finest east African and Eritrean restaurants in the capital. Platters for one double up all the way to the gargantuan Adulis kirchat for eight, served on a behemoth injera base with a selection of eight different vegetarian and meat based dishes. House specials on the meat side include the Adulis special of lamb cubes fried with a myriad of herbs and spices served on a charcoal heated clay pan, with a rarely seen linseed stew called intat’e is a strong choice for vegetarians.
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15. Asmara Restaurant
London SW9 8LF, UK
In a rapidly changing Brixton that represents food scenes from the entire world, Asmara has now become a local hub, a respite from the creep of gourmet burgers and sourdough pizzas. While natives and the more experienced may opt to individually pick and choose from the elaborate menu, a couple or small group will be floored by the Messob dinners, described by the restaurant as a “royal feast.” Presented in a messob — a large woven straw bowl — the platter comes in two options. The “traditional” features an array of spiced mixed meat and stew, and the vegetarian/vegan messob offers a rainbow-esque selection of greens and pulses.
16. Somali Town Restaurant
London SW16 6AB, UK
Deep in south London, Somali Town is another unassuming local spot that provides a social space and pick me up for local Somalians and East Africans. There is no set menu however it can be assumed there will be maraq, a famous Somali vegetable soup or stew depending on how much produce is added.Meat abstainers may find themselves more bereft of options than Eritrean or Ethiopian restaurants, with meals like the bariis isku karis centred on a hefty portion of chopped, charred meat.