We’ve all come across restaurants offering no-frills dining, but Akanchawa’s Honey Pot in Phibsborough is the epitome of this term.
Above the restaurant’s door, there’s a temporary sign with its name. Inside, each table is laid with a chequered tablecloth, an old-fashioned pepper shaker, toothpicks and some Tesco tissues and soap. The leather chairs are slightly frayed at the edges.
Unexpectedly located among the residential homes of Mountjoy Street, this African restaurant is all about the food.
Though owner Austin Daniels would like to give the place a makeover, this will be the decor until business gets going. “We have to make do with what we have . . . but customers understand and they are supportive,” he says.
The restaurant first opened back in February, and Daniels has already built up some regular customers. But business hasn’t begun to boom yet.
This is his second foray into the restaurant business. His first was a success for four years, but eventually was forced to close during the financial downturn, he says. The problem was the restaurant got quieter, but the rent remained high.
Daniels grew up in the south-east of Nigeria and worked as a policeman before migrating to Germany. In 2001, he made his way to Ireland. “Most of the time I’ve been working, trying to make ends meet,” he says.
His daughter lives in Nigeria and his son goes to secondary school in Dublin. His wife Eva – also known as Akanchawa – is head chef here. We can hear her clattering around the kitchen.
From moi moi – a kind of bean pudding – to fried rice and stew, the dishes are all inspired by the proprietors’ Nigerian heritage. Although Nigeria is a huge country with a population of almost 200 million and more than 500 languages, as Daniels sees it, the cuisine is universal.
“Every region has their specialities,” he says. “But everybody, they eat this food. They just have different names for them.”
Daniels’s customer base is diverse. Most are from Africa – Nigeria, Congo, Ivory Coast and South Africa. Some are from India and Pakistan.
The restaurant also serves a lot of people from Poland. “Sometimes they don’t even ask for a fork or a knife . . . They wash their hands and eat it just the way we eat it in Africa,” says Daniels.
In Nigeria, most people eat their meals with their fingers. In the restaurant, Daniels accommodates this by bringing them a basin of water to wash their hands. (That explains the bottle of Tesco soap on each table.)
This tradition has inspired Daniels’s catchphrase for the restaurant: “It’s finger lickin’”. “But not everyone licks their fingers these days,” he muses.
Not many Irish people have visited Akanchawa’s Honey Pot yet. “One [Irish] woman asked us about fish and chips with gravy, which we don’t do,” laughs Daniels.
As part of its no-frills dining style, the restaurant doesn’t have any menus yet, but the staff are more than happy to guide you through what’s available.
Daniels’s wife makes up five types of soup each day and prepares different styles of rice. But the most popular dish is jollof rice and plantain. “Everybody likes it,” says Daniels.
The jollof rice blushes red from the added tomatoes and spices. On top are a chicken drumstick and yellow pieces of chopped-up plantain.
Plantain is a member of the banana family and it would be hard to tell the difference between the two if it wasn’t for the savoury flavour of plantain. For this dish, it has been fried and tastes similar to potato, with a slightly sweet underlying aroma.
It works well with the lightly spiced rice and the large plateful was soon bulldozed by myself and our photographer Caroline. Without the chicken, it’s the ideal meal for vegetarians.
We also had a taste of the egusi – a soup of pureed melon seeds, spinach, bitter leaf and meat – as well as okra, a soup made from green okra beans. We found these packed a more powerful, spicy punch; they would suit anyone with more adventurous taste buds or a love for strong spices.
Many people order pounded yam with their egusi soup. An alternative to rice, this also helps to balance the punchy flavours. It is made by boiling yams and pounding them until they form a large doughy ball. Bits of this are then pulled off and dipped in the soup.
To go with the dishes, Akanchawa’s Honey Pot serves Guinness or wine, as well as Maltina, a non-alcoholic Nigerian malt drink.
A plate of food costs €7. A fizzy drink or water is an extra €1. A bottle of Maltina is an extra €2. The restaurant is deceptively large, with a separate room to the back.
In the new year, Daniels hopes to fill the place up by hosting events and playing African music at the weekends.
But as it is now, a visit will give you an introduction to African cuisine. And if you’re lucky, Daniels will have an African soap opera on the television. With more screaming, yelling and gun-wielding than Fair City, it’s a sight to behold.
“They’re fighting over me,” jokes Daniels as the two women on screen begin to brawl.
Akanchawa’s Honey Pot at 40 Mountjoy Street serves food from Monday to Thursday 12pm-11pm, and Friday and Saturday, 12pm-1am.