C & W’s African Experience in Gloucester is the county’s only African restaurant, situated on the outskirts of the city centre and serving hearty cuisine alongside a home-from-home atmosphere.
A diamond in the rough destination for foodies in the know, C and W's African Experience is not only Gloucester's most unique restaurant, but it left a lasting impression on our bellies and our souls.
Since opening its doors less than two years ago, C and W’s African Experience in Gloucester has quietly been garnering the respect – and return visits – of foodies from miles around.
Tucked away in the outskirts of the city centre, it could be easy to miss this destination restaurant were it not for the leopard-print sign, not to mention the potent aromas wafting out from the kitchen.
Met with the nostalgic feeling of warmth you could only compare to going for dinner at your Grandma’s house, we were welcomed in on our Wednesday evening visit with beaming smiles from Kenyan husband-and-wife owners, Charlie and Wanja Odhiambo (the eponymous C and W), before being seated for our own African experience.
We had been warned beforehand that C & W’s is unlicensed, and so while we began by uncorking a bottle of our cellar’s finest, the non-drinkers in the party opted for the refreshing flavours of a mango and guava juice offered by host Charlie.
He proudly explained what we could expect from the banquet we had ordered the day before – notice which is required for a handful of dishes here – in an exuberant manner as enticing as a Marks and Spencer food advert. After which, he asked us all our preferences on not only the spicing, but also the timing of our dishes – a rarity in many eateries.
While authentic, barbecued goat, lamb or beef ribs, and a whole leg of lamb are all on offer to kick start the African banquet, we were presented with a platter of succulently charred, corn-fed chicken accompanied by a delicately spiced potato dish, Bhajjia, and their famous Kachumbari – a simple but fragrant salad of tomatoes, onion, coriander and lemon.
The second platter quickly followed, boasting generous portions of barbecued beef brisket that could easily stand up to the most tender steak. The contrast of taste and texture between this, the crisp, sweet plantain and yet more Kachumbari served alongside, made for a satisfyingly moreish mouthful.
The restaurant is small, simple and inviting – and more than cosy enough for the handful of tables it holds. The combination of the uplifting African music, rustic carvings and art around the walls, and laid-back but bustling atmosphere all form part of the home-from-home dining experience C & W’s offers.
Our main course arrived and within a few mouthfuls, talk turned to ‘how have we never eaten African cuisine before?’ Presented with two medium spiced chicken curries – one described as African and one more specifically Ethiopian, in completely different but equally as complex sauces – and one rich, spicy African goat curry.
While you’d be forgiven for confusing the curries for their Indian counterparts, the blends of more than 15 herbs and spices in each dish, along with what seemed to be never-ending sides of fluffy rice, fresh chapatis, that refreshing tomato salad, and an unusual mash of peas, sweet corn and potato called Mukimo, resulted in what could only be described as distinctly African.
As we neared the finish line of the banquet, our attentive host and chef joined with our table like we were old friends, and the rest of the evening was spent sharing stories, jokes and cultures – with some ending the banquet on the sweet note with tropical desserts, but most not being able to squeeze in another spoonful.
While C & W’s offers an array of a la carte African delights that include fish on the bone, barbecued meats and the signature chips masala, the banquet menu is a force to be reckoned with at just £12.50 per head, and the ability to tailor meat, spicing and sides made it all the more special.
By pursuing their dream of pushing African food into the culinary mainstream, Charlie and Wanja are certainly filling a niche gap in the market in Gloucestershire – boasting the only African experience restaurant in the county.
Their evident care in using fresh locally sourced ingredients teamed with a vibrant home-from-home atmosphere, not to mention more than reasonable prices, has seen this hidden gem’s reputation grow – with competition for a table at Gloucester’s most unique restaurant set to get even stiffer.
By Shelly Elcock
Monday 21 May 2012