Perusing the list of restaurants based in Lewisham, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the African community is almost non-existent – but you’d be wrong.
Despite the small number of restaurants serving African cuisine, Lewisham is home to more Nigerian-born migrants than any other ELL boroughs. So why aren’t there more restaurants?
Since 1991 Lewisham has seen a steep rise in Nigerians moving to the area, with the figure increasing from 1.05 per cent of the population to 3.46 per cent. This is compared to the 1.10 per cent rise in Croydon, the 0.54 in Hackney and the 0.03 in Tower Hamlets. Only 0.5 per cent of the population in Tower Hamlets were born in Nigeria.
And yet despite almost 10,000 Nigerian-born migrants living in Lewisham, the borough is home to only 3 Nigerian restaurants – a disproportionate figure when compared with the 30 Indian restaurants and 2,600 Indian-born migrants.
Experts in local cuisine have yet to find a definitive reason as to why there are so few Nigerian restaurants. They have suggested that the difficulty of making authentic African food commercial, and of interest to a British public, could be a potential cause.
Yousif Mukhayer, the owner of a Sundanese restaurant in north London, speculated that the presentation of certain dishes could be putting potential customers off visiting African restaurants. He added that some African delicacies are difficult to eat with western cutlery.
However, Olushola Medupin, co-founder of one of Lewisham’s most popular Nigerian restaurants, Enish, is convinced that there is a demand for more restaurants of this kind.
“I first had the vision in 2005, came back to Lewisham in 2013 and there were still barely any Nigerian eateries,” he said. “Maybe God reserved it for me or gave only me the vision! If it wasn’t that, I don’t see any other reason.”
However, he speculated that the lack of African eateries might be a London-wide problem, saying: “There aren’t really many Nigerian restaurants in Central London either, but that may be down to the cost of property.”
Despite the 2011 census data showing the rising number of Nigerian-born migrants, there are signs that this number could now be waning.
Research undertaken by Oxford University’s Centre on Migration Policy and Studies found that the number of Nigerians applying for a national insurance number is down, following new governmental measures to kerb immigration. In 2011 13,700 Nigerians applied, but in 2012 this number dropped to 10,500. This could be another reason why the African restaurant scene isn’t flourishing.
Yet, in the face of these changes, Enish proves that flavour and passion can bring in the customers, with the business thriving. And who wouldn’t want to taste the sweet and savoury dishes that co-owner Eniola Medupin describes as simply “awesome”?