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Review: Shaka Zulu – South African Restaurant in Camden

BY Boon Koh
Published 3 December 2010

Shaka Zulu was one of the exciting new restaurant openings that I had heard a lot of buzz about recently. When I was offered the chance by Qype to attend an evening there, complimentary of themselves and the Shaka Zulu management, I knew I couldn’t turn it down.

Located a short walk from Camden Tube Station, next to the opulent Gilgamesh restaurant, it has a small doorway to its cavernous basement location. Don’t let the modest entrance fool you; once inside, its like walking into a royal palace dining hall, with almost every single wall space covered with intricate Zulu designs and carving, with ceilings to match. Apparently, no expense was spared in the £6m+ it took to get the restaurant renovated, fitted, and ready for opening.

Shaka Zulu is a South African restaurant, but with a modern twist and strong influences from South Asia and South East Asia. This sort of reflects modern day South African culture – with immigrants over the decades bringing their own cuisines to the melting pot. The biggest example is Nandos – originated from South Africa, but based on a Portuguese recipe for grilled chicken.

Barry Vera, head chef of the restaurant, came round to our tables to talk about his food. Having traveled and worked around the world, one can see that Barry enjoys experimenting with combinations of flavours and combining cuisines, and it shows in the food we sampled.

The Cape Malay Pickled Fish (£8.95) was one of the highlights of the night, despite it being just a mere starter. The fresh sea bass is pickled in-house, and the blend of 12 spices complimented the sweet and tangy taste of the fish. We also had some house made biltong, a traditional South African “beef jerky”, which makes a really nice starter or even a bar snack, much tastier than dry salted nuts and a perfect compliment to wine. Sort of like the South African version of Jamón ibérico.

Carpaccio of Ostrich (£8.95) was our last starter, but was disappointing due to the heavy horseradish spread on top, which really masked the raw sweetness of the meat.

For mains, we had Bootie and Steamed Rice (£15.75), a traditional Cape Malay dish. The bootie looked like egg custard when it arrived, but was actually curried mince meat baked with a custard topping – an interesting mix of savoury and sweet. The real surprise in this dish was the chutney – with a very strong kick that threw me off guard!

Next up was a massive Shaka Zulu sample board (£70), the most expensive dish on the menu, featuring 900 grams of meat. We were told that while the board was meant to be shared by two, even three people, some customers have been ordering one per person, and even as a starter in one case! Needless to say, the quartet of springbok, ostrich, kudu, and boerewors was neatly presented on a wooden chopping board, with a saucer of monkey gland sauce (no monkey parts were in the sauce!).

A side of peri peri fries (£2.95) were an extremely welcome addition, and actually, some of the best fries I’ve ever had in London – showing the attention to detail at Shaka Zulu that even the sides are prepared to perfection. Out of the 3 meats and the boerewors, the springbok was the most tender, just melting in my mouth. The other meats were cooked to perfection, and afterwards I could see how regular customers were tempted to order one board each to polish off on their own!

Shaka Zulu is not all about food though, and this is evident by the big bar areas both upstairs and downstairs. One of their mixologists came over to give us a taster of several exciting concoctions available – I has having so much fun that trying to think back to my time there last week, I can’t seem to remember any of the names!

Shaka Zulu is quite the destination restaurant. London is famed for food, but often too much focus has been placed on just the food and not the environment it is served in. Shaka Zulu combines both; offering an exotic and extravagant night out, with top quality and tasty food to complement. The prices are actually quite affordable (compared to some restaurants in the City), but be sure you go with a full wallet as you will be tempted to try many of the exotic dishes and amazing cocktails!

Shaka Zulu Restaurant
Cuisine: South African restaurant & bar with international influences
Address: Stables Market, Camden, NW1 8AB (Next to Gilgamesh Restaurant)
Booking/Enquiry Tel: 020 3 376 9911
Official Website: www.shaka-zulu.com

  • criticyoutcantrust

    An absolutely gorgeous restaurant, with really really mediocre food. I was quite taken aback. Perhaps as a South African, I am being overly critical, but for the prices, (granted it was 50% off) I really hoped for outstanding food, which it really wasnt sadly. I was with a friend from Thailand and she was put off South African cuisine after that experience. The chefs need a bit more help with getting the south african flavour right, especially with the chakalaka which tasted of cabbage boiled in cayenne pepper. Am sorry guys but I wont be back again.

  • Pola Buzial

    Had a wonderful time at Shaka Zulu. The food was really delicious and unusual…I love trying new things. The staff were very helpful when explaining the menu and the atmosphere was great. Decor of the place is insane but we all love it I will definitely be going back and bringing my friends. Definitey would recommended this restaurant.