“Bra Fie” A Look at Accra’s Culinary Scene with Akwasi Brenya-Mensa
It wasn’t always like this. London-based restaurateur Akwasi Brenya-Mensa took an unconventional route to get to where he is today. The founder of culinary brands Juicy Kitchen and Mensa, Plates and Friends resume includes stints at both Waakye Joint in Seven Sisters and James Cochran’s restaurant 12:51.
On the surface, it would appear as though the alchemical art of cooking has been Brenya-Mensa's lifelong passion. However, the now accomplished culinary connoisseur spent much of his early adult life as a tour manager travelling from city to city with musicians. Food did however always serve as an access point to the various cultures he encountered on his journeys turning the act of eating into a quasi-sacred one for him.
Now a dilatant student of the craft Brenya-Mensa travelled to his parent's country of birth to learn about traditional cooking methods which he hopes to incorporate into the culinary repertoire of his latest restaurant Tatale, opening in London this spring. Photographer and all-around creative Almass Badat, who joined him on this journey to document the experience, recently sat down with Brenya-Mensa to discuss their trip to Accra and shine a light on its culinary scene.
When you get off the plane, where are you going for your first meal?
I usually arrive in Accra late in the evening, at which point a lot of the Waakye joints (aforementioned aside) are shut. So, I’d head to Cycy’s for whole grilled Tilapia with attieke, plantains and Banku, which is a ball made of cassava dough and cornflour.
There are a few “if you know, you know” spots in Accra - can you let us know yours?
In Ghana, you want to eat at a place with no website, social media or address. Tilapia Chop Bar, for example, is one of my favourite chop bars, which is behind Shop Right in Osu. I also love Cycy’s Lounge in Ambelkene, they make great Ivorian food.
I have to mention Anadwo Waakye by Jay Mukasechec because their Waakye really is life-changing. She’s just reopened a second stall in Osu after the success of the East Legon site, meaning you can have your Waakye needs met on both sides of town.
There’s also a really great contemporary supper club by a young up and coming chef called Taste Testimonials by Dela Kwame Acolatse.
Where is the best kelewele?
You’ll find the best kelewele at Labone Junction. Some say it’s down to the secret type of oil that they use but I suspect it’s also to do with their really well-seasoned pans. When you’ve been making kelewele over and over again using the same pans over the years, the flavour is always going to be unmatched.
If you want the best local alcohol, where are you going? Friday night - where are you headed?
On Friday nights, I’ll head out to Republic in Osu to get things started, then over to Drinks All Night at Purple Pub which stays open late.
Almost every foodie has a definitive restaurant city list that circles the group chat. Can you share a couple of the restaurants on your Accra list?
The thing to do in Accra is to seek out the casual roadside spots, as you’ll get much more of an experience. But for those looking for a sit-down restaurant experience, there are a few spots I’d recommend checking out. Ghastro, which is a fine-dining spot in East Legon by New York-trained Chef Maame, is really great. Then there’s Café Kwae in Airport Square by Yvette Nana Ama, which doubles as a coffee shop and coworking spot too. There’s a nice spot in Osu called Buka, which has a nice trellis-lined terrace and good music.
If you’re veggie/vegan, how can you enjoy local food?
It’s a misconception that Ghanaian food is entirely meat-focused, as there are plant-based alternatives. Palaver Sauce, which is a slow-simmered spinach-based sauce, is a really popular example, it can also be made with fish. There’s Ampesi, which you eat with Garden Egg Stew made from aubergines or Kontomire Stew made from cocoyam leaves. Then there’s Kofi Brokeman, a plantain and peanut dish. Red Red, black-eyed bean stew is also made with or without fish depending on where you are. Jollof rice is also another notable mention!
Who are the West African chefs that excite you?
I think Michael Elegbede, the head chef and owner of Itan, the restaurant in Lagos, is doing really cool stuff. He’s operating in the contemporary West African space and is doing quite innovative things with indigenous ingredients. His plates show great respect for African produce and often tell stories of local customs. Then there’s Pierre Thiam, who in addition to being an exemplary chef, has been really instrumental in shaping and building the reputation of West African cuisines in New York. He co-founded Teranga, a fine-casual restaurant in Manhattan and has written three cookbooks that have brought West African cuisines to wider audiences. He also does really important work in his home country of Senegal, advocating for smallholder farmers in the Sahel by opening new markets for crops grown in Africa.
Last but certainly not least, Jay Mukasechic. Not only is her own food excellent but her love for Ghanaian cuisine is truly infectious. She shares this love across various social platforms, mainly Instagram and Youtube, introducing people to her favourite local and lesser known food establishments.
Which London restaurants transport your taste buds to Ghana? (a chance to put some spots on the map)
When I’m home in London and want a true taste of Ghana I’ll head to Waakye Joint in Seven Sisters to pick up a box of Waakye. Or I’ll meet friends and go for a meal at 19FiftySeven on Old Kent Road.