Qype: Shaka Zulu in London
Like its Babylonian cousin upstairs, Shaka Zulu aims to be the least-subtle of experiences, and it succeeds delightfully!
Upon entering (past the drumming chap standing in the doorway – what the hell was the interview process for that gig?) we were treated to an odd little dance of being seated in a waiting area before immediately being sent to the cloakroom, and then following what you could only describe as a table guide down the escalator and to our table. Any bewilderment at the complicated procedure though gets forced from your brain amid the rich visual tapestry in front of you – carved wood panelling on the walls, interspersed with tapestries, bronze scupltures of warriors and animals, and various other stuff to make you go “wow”.
We’d booked in with the Taste of Africa menu: a 4-course affair which served well to circumvent any indecision, whilst providing a nice wide-spectrum of the restaurant’s capabilites. Whilst nibbling on the supremely tasty Shraak bread & goreme, and quite a decent shaved biltong with Masai Mara style sauce, we pondered the authenticity of the place, and came quickly to the conclusion that it wasn’t striving for any sense of authenticity but rather going for the mediated experience. And with the Ladysmith Black Mambazo soundtrack, the phrase “Lion King Disneyland” seemed to apply quite nicely.
As the waitress brought out the Cape Malay pickled fish, we half expected her to be followed by a line of tapdancing warthogs singing Hakuna Matata, however the sarcasm soon gave way to lots of “Mmmm”ing – far more than anything with the words “pickle” and “fish” in the title have ever elicited from my lips. Fingers. Whatever.
We accompanied our very tasty 7 Hour Spitroast Dorper Lamb with a Very nice bottle of South African Bordeaux blend: the temptation was there to go with one of the many Graham Beck wines or the fairly stiffly priced but yummy Kanonkop Pinotage, but it turned out perfectly as it was. We’d ordered some Piri Piri Fries to go with the lamb in a small gesture of semi-smug ridiculance, but as it turned out it was a good idea. And they were bloody tasty. The music by now had inexplicably journeyed through clichee country, via some South African RnB nonsense, and come back to Ladysmith Black Mambazo again.
Finishing off, I had difficulty picking the subtle flavour change of the Rooibos Brulee, but that was possibly because I’d been drawn into the dessert cocktail option of the Rum Blazer: a visually impressive taste explosion, which featured blazing cinnamon and rum-infused berries. I know this place only opened in August, and I briefly wondered how many Rum Blazers had been served in the downstairs part of the restaurant as I saw the barman’s assistant nervously eyeing the flames from the cocktail licking towards the ceiling.
It seems unfair to downgrade the place for its “facadeyness”, when it makes no pretensions about being other than what it is. And it was very nice indeed. But I can’t give it full marks because it didn’t install itself in my brain as an “oh my god, I’ve GOT to come back here” place. And, I guess, just that Disneyland feel made it a bit discomforting (as if to ram that particular point home, a group of girls sitting near us had elected to walk around and have their photos taken with all of the statues, which prompted me to wonder what time the choreographed wildebeeste stampede might mercifully take place).
One final thing: Shaka Zulu is similar to Gilgamesh in many ways, and many of those ways are excellent, but inevitably one of those is that they’re similarly pricey. Definitely one to do your research on, rather than rocking up for a casual meal.