Following our first birthday celebrations, Emeka took some time out to reflect on his most memorable moments over the last year.
A rabbit in the headlights
It was January and our Nigerian tapas lounge was back - new year, new menu, new venue. For the first time, we decided not to sell tickets in advance and see if London was as excited for our lounge as we were.
We were nervous. It was mid-winter, it was cold, it was likely to rain. Our venue’s sizeable outdoors space seemed pointless now. Not that we’d need it though. There were enough tables inside. I mean how many people are actually going to come? It’s just after Christmas, so everyone is broke – or so we were told.
Fully aware of the chilly downside, we pushed on with our marketing encouraged by the growing buzz on social media. People were sharing, liking and commenting. People we didn’t know! Two days before our pop-up we looked at our Facebook event page and for the first time we thought, "What happens if too many people come?". Before quickly dismissing it, "Nah! Don’t believe your hype guys."
Two days later and we were swamped. Inside was full, outside was full and guests had been streaming in since we opened at 12.30pm. A steady queue was now forming at the entrance to the venue and unknown to me starting to snake around the corner outside.
Dutifully, I tried my utmost to manage guest’s expectations. "It will be about...30 minutes for a seat...erm...actually 45 minutes." "Yes, going and coming back might be a good idea." "It’s actually now at least an hour." Oof! I didn’t know. We didn’t know. We’d never been in this situation. And we weren’t expecting all of you to turn up! By 4pm, we just had to start turning guests away.
IFEYINWA: We wanted everyone to chop-chat-chill with us and we were disappointed we couldn’t cater for all our guests that day. But what we did learn: London was hungry for the chop, chat, chill.
If you want to go far, go together
This time last year we were in the kitchen preparing for our second pop-up. The cooking for the first one had been manic, so we’d only got an hour’s sleep between us. This time it was going to be much more organised. We had better equipment and had given ourselves more time. For sure, we would get a cushty 5 hours at least. But as it approached 8pm the night before we were well behind schedule. And we still had to pay our respects at a friend’s family funeral that evening.
As we showered up and got ready to head out, we quickly realised how tired we were. Ifey hadn’t eaten all day and I had been beset by a stinging headache. I was in no fit state to drive, so we grabbed an Uber; the driver of which clearly thought he was in Grand Theft Auto and threw us around in the back with our stomachs lurching with every corner he took.
At the funeral we stayed no longer than an hour – just about enough time to greet every single Aunty and Uncle which, like typical African families, was plenty. As we made a beeline for home, we assured our friends that if they wanted to chop, chat, chill the next day, then they better let us get home and cook.
By the time we got back my head was ready to explode. I had to lie down. Ifey needed to eat something. So we planned to reconvene in 15 minutes. I rested my head on my pillow and conked out.
An hour and a half later I woke up in a state of panic. It was 12.30am. I had overslept. Ifey had surely gone to sleep. We’re not even halfway through our prep. We’re screwed. I rushed downstairs. The light was still on. Hallelujah! There she was, flour covering hands and face, consummately making pies. “Ifs, give me two secs.” I rushed upstairs, tidied myself up and then I was back into the mix dicing plantain and frying plantain pancakes until 7am the next day.
IFEYINWA: This is the day I developed an aversion to making pies, as great as they taste. This night was a nightmare. We had zero sleep this time but we still made it!
What a difference a year makes
May Bank Holiday 2015. It was a couple of weeks’ before my 25th birthday and Ifey was back from her travels. Sun was out. Life was good! We were out in London on a day trip to Africa at Spitalfields – a market of African-inspired crafts, fashion and good eats. The new found confidence in London’s African diaspora community was clear for all to see as ladies turned heads with their brightly coloured cultural headwraps and men dressed down in their dashikis. This was a bustling African market with a modern British twist.
I had visited the previous year, but this time was different. The idea of a Nigerian tapas lounge was whizzing around my head. Ifey was on-board but we didn’t yet know how we were going to make this happen. We spent a couple of hours walking around the various stalls, soaking up the Africa-inspired atmosphere and sampling some of the goodies on offer. My favourite was Love Chin Chin. I had bought some of their sweet-tasting, crunchy snacks the year before and I loved it. My mum did too. This time the packaging was even better. And I loved the fact that the founder worked alongside his sister. It’s family business! We had missed this festival trader summer season, but we said to each other, "how cool would it be if we could be here next year?"
Fast forward 12 months. It was 11am, the morning clouds were beginning to clear and we had just finished tying up our banner, as guests started to arrive. We were back at Africa at Spitalfields, this time as one of nine caterers in their hot streetfood market.
IFEYINWA: This year we didn’t see Love Chin Chin, as our tapas dishes were busy selling out. Everything was gone by 4pm - moi moi, jollof quinoa and plantain. We did manage to catch the brother-sister duo at Africa Utopia though and we finally got our snap.