La Kinoise - Congolese in Forest Gate [London]
ShekhaV and I found this place last night while looking for Fredor Zambian Restaurant and we were so excited that we passed up Fredor till later in the week. The immediate vicinity includes a storefront titled East African Restaurant which appears to be local "place where guys from Zimbabwe and Zambia sit around drinking beer while playing cards" joint while a Somali "cafe" serves a similar non-food oriented purpose on the corner. In terms of La Kinoise, I'm guessing the name is a reference to Kinhasa.
The actual interior of La Kinoise is somewhat upmarket. It's not fancy by any means, but it looks like the owners made more of an effort than a place like Thattukada. The menu is ad hoc with a number of off menu dishes appearing to be on offer. We ordered largely by talking to one of the women there who then dipped into the kitchen to cook most of our food.
We settled on a Pepper Pot-like soup, a dish of dried salted fish in a relish of chilies, onions and sweet peppers, grilled goat, a portion of fried plantains, and a portion of cassava.
The "utensils" so to speak came in the form of the plantains which were used mostly as a snack and the cassava which resembled mini-balls of Nigerian pounded yam. The plantains were as good as any portion you'd get at a Colombian place in London or a Dominican place in NYC.
The food came in two waves with the goat and the dried fish arriving first. This seemed somewhat odd as the soup was probably the only one of these dishes to not be made to order, but kitchens will be kitchens. The goat was a mass of small on the bone chunks of extremely flavorful meat which had clearly been marinated beforehand. It was grilled perfectly and topped with a liberal pile of raw onions for contrast. It worked really well with the chili relish provided (but it should be noted that the chili relish provided is nearly as hot as the jerk sauce at Tasty Jerk.)
Dried fish with a sauteed relish of onions, peppers and chili was similarly good, though somewhat difficult to debone as we weren't hand-eating. The other tables ate this dish with the semolina mash and we would do this in the future. A nice contrast between a light taste more akin to fresh fish, but with a texture like baccala. The relish and its thin gravy offered a contrast between the spiciness of thinly diced habaneros and the sweetness of sauteed peppers and onions. I'd order this again, but the rest of their seafood menu looks incredibly good (a whole grilled catfish for 12 quid and other similar things. Their seafood menu is surprisingly large.)
The final dish to come was a mixed soup of cow's foot, skin on chunks of beef and tripe. If you like cow's feet than this dish is amazing, but it's probably too gelatinous for most. Saying that, the hooves add a delicious thickness to a well flavored and extremely spicy broth.
All of this came to 25 quid and I'd definitely give this place another shot. Interesting environment with a huge local Congolese customer base (the place was nearly empty when we arrived at about 8pm, but it was packed by the time we left.) I don't know much about Congolese food, but many of the dishes, the spicing and the atmosphere all give this place a "home cooking" sort of feel.
We recently made a second visit to La Kinoise as Fredor was shut when we walked over for dinner. Anyone know if Fredor is definitely still in business?
We were set on fish, but the staff steered us towards chicken as a second dish. Apparently chicken and fish are some sort of standard Congolese combination.
We settled on a black catfish which was grilled and then lightly braised in a similar vegetable based sauce to the dried fish dish above. Basically a relish of slightly translucent onions, peppers, and chilies with a thin flavorful "gravy." The fish itself was perfectly cooked with its slippery skin giving way to firm oily flesh. The grilling imparted a deep smokiness to the entire dish which went a long way in canceling out the "muddiness" of the cat fish. Excellent and eaten with cassava by hand.
The chicken was alright. It was a bit overcooked, though its accompanying plantains were pretty awesome again. The dish was a pile of roasted chicken topped with a chili based sauce which surprisingly contained mayonnaise. The flavor was fine, but if you overcook an already tough West African chicken (the chicken favored by these places is pretty legit; serious chewing may ensue) then it's going to be a nightmare to chew through.
Really good overall experience and I'm definitely keen on exploring more of the seafood. They will also cook virtually anything Congolese for you if you can ask for it. The chicken dish wasn't on the menu and it was proposed by the woman taking my order (who also cooked my entire meal.) Note that the waiting times can be a bit long as this is largely a one woman operation.
A great find! Some of the dishes you've described sound quite Ghanaian/Nigerian. Plantain is pretty standard across West and some Central parts of Africa.
If you like plantains you need to try the Ghanaian plantain snack called 'Kelle welley'
It's plantain spiced witth cloves, nutmeg, ginger, pepper and onion and then deep fried. Delish!
Thanks! I've just checked out some Congolese food resources and it seems that the preparation of cassava we were given is chikwanga. Otherwise I don't really have names for most of the items just yet, but I'll give this place another shot soon. I'm looking to hit up Fredor, a couple other African places I've found in the immediate vicinity and this place again over the coming weeks.