Restaurant Akwaba – it took me an eternity to visit Akwaba as I am always sceptic when a restaurant cooks two different kind of cuisines (African and Greek, in this instance). But then, recently, a foodie friend told me that I should give Akwaba a try, especially for its “poulet braise alloko”. Braised chicken served with alloko (fried plantain). Plantains are of the family of the bananas, but they are generally bigger and starchier.
Akwaba is situated at 10 mins drive from the Olympic stadium in a sleepy area that seems to have never seen better days since the closing ceremony of the 1976 summer olympics in Montreal. That is actually accurate. The Chef is African but spent years in Greece. He actually had his restaurant Akwaba in Greece and decided to move it to Montreal. It is interesting to observe that Akwaba left such scenic destinations such as Rhodes/Santorini/Mykonos to land here.
The interior of Akwaba is not the second thought that Hot Africa‘s decor is, but it is a world away from the elegance of Le Nil Bleu and Le Virunga, with an omnipresence of tired-looking burgundy and green tones, and nothing to write home about. I doubt hipsters will flock here anytime soon if Akwaba does not refresh this decor. While there, I was desperately on the look out for anything that could appeal to an eye, I tried hard to think about Mykonos and Santorini, and it did not work. I then imagined myself wandering the eye-candy landscapes of my beautiful continent, Africa, which is the feeling I got while dining at Le Virunga or le Nil Bleu, but it was just not going to happen, here.
The Alloko was, as commonly found in Sub-saharan Africa, of the sweet sort. In the part of Africa where I was born, we prefer green bananas (smaller than plantains), seasoned with salt and fried. But I have to say, eventhough I am not a fan of sweet plantains, Akwaba’s were really well executed. 7/10
The chicken was not bad, it was moist, with enough flavor to call it ‘pleasant’, but it had the taste of ‘compromise’, meaning ….it was trying to please non African palates as the marinade had a mix of greek and african spices in it, with the African flavor profile muted. If you do that, if you are going to tone down the African flavor profile of a dish, then it has to dazzle in mouth, which was not the case here. 5.5/10
Bottom line: On their web site, the Chef, from Ivory Coast, says that he can be great at both African and Greek cooking. In a city like Montreal, I doubt that cooking both cuisines under the same roof is a good idea. This is unnecessary distraction for him and it affected his food: a really nice alloko with enticing African flavors on one hand, a braised chicken that lacked identity (it was neither African, neither Greek, it was from nowhere) on the other one. Next time, I will drop by for a take out. First, I will call and tell them that I have just arrived from Africa and that I am hoping they could connect me to the genuine bold flavors I was just enjoying days before. I think that will force this Chef to focus as, of course he can cook. If you understand flavors, the fundamentals of cooking, have cooked and have a decent palate, you do not need to test tons of food to know if someone can cook or not. Simple details such as how a Chef has simply fried a plantain…yes, even something as simple as that …. can reveal enough intel about his skills. This chef’s alloko is all I needed to know. He can deliver good African food if he wants…all he needs is to understand that he can’t try to please everyone. Akwaba Addr: 4541 Rue Bélanger, Montréal, QC Phone: (514) 507-1186 URL: http://www.restaurantakwaba.ca