Shaka Zulu, Stables Market, London NW1

Any restaurant whose launch party can bring together, under one frenetically decorated roof, the King of the Zulu Nation and Amy Winehouse, has surely got to be worth a look. Shaka Zulu is an 800-seat mega-venue that styles itself a "theatre of food and drink". It's in London's Camden Market and it has a South African theme. Talk about a triple threat.

Summoning my own warrior spirit, I called to book, and was asked whether I had a voucher – surely one of the more troubling phrases in the restaurant lexicon. Second only to, "I really recommend the ostrich". But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Shaka Zulu apparently cost £5.5m, and was meant to open in time for the World Cup, when everyone would be mad for all things South African. But the launch date inevitably slipped to mid-August, and when you see the place, you can understand why.

Not since Mad King Ludwig got the builders in have so many craftsmen, upholsterers and sculptors laboured to such exuberant effect. From street level, an escalator descends past walls encrusted with shells, into a colossal, crepuscular lounge, a crazy riot of carvings, marblings and colourful fabrics. Wooden friezes of Zulu warriors, their shields and six packs glistening, line every wall. If a Las Vegas hotel were to theme itself after Liberace's big-game hunting lodge, it might look something like this, only much smaller. A further escalator leads to the fathomless restaurant below, each area so vast it may well have its own microclimate.

Perched on a circular banquette in the bar, like guests on an African version of GMTV, we fruitlessly tried to catch the eye of a waitress. In a distant corner, a group of African musicians drummed gamely along to the sound system, unheeded. Burly, besuited men with curly earpieces barrelled around, muttering into lapel mics; that touch, at least, felt authentic.

The cocktail menu is subdivided into categories like "Zulu classics" and "Zulu innovations" – who knew Zulu warriors were so fond of cocktails? – and offers themed gems like Prosecutor's Passion and, at £25 for two to share, Mandela's Guests, a concoction of raspberry vodka, rhubarb jam and lychee puree. We tried the Zealaway (£9.50), a peach-flavoured vodka martini which tasted slightly camphorated.

After repeated failed attempts to locate our booking, a manager led us down to our table, through a seething room filled with groups of six, eight and 12, mostly young and dressed for a big night out. The menu swam before our eyes in the gloom. Phrases like "springbok fillet", "pan-fried kingklip" and "seared ostrich carpaccio" loomed out alarmingly. Grilled meats, cooked over charcoal on the traditional braai grill, are the main attraction here, along with Cape-influenced fish and seafood and imported South African game.

Ignoring our waitress's recommendation of the grilled ostrich rump, we chose a couple of Cape Malay-influenced dishes, the legacy of South Africa's Indonesian settlers. Cape Malay pickled sea bass tasted mainly of curry powder, as did a main course of bobotie – curried mince and sultanas baked with a creamy egg topping – which supplied the missing link between Coronation chicken and lasagne.

From the braai grill, fillet of Red Poll beef, from the Sandringham estate, was tender but tasteless, showing no sign of having been cooked over charcoal, and cost a mighty £32 (though the menu listed it at £28). My friend described the accompanying monkey gland sauce as "Branston with balls" (though it's apparently gland-free).

For the echt bushtucker trial experience, we applied ourselves to shaved biltong, jaw-achingly chewy strips of dried meat evoking the contents of a chiropodist's Hoover bag. Truly a dish only an expat could love. As was a dessert called Koeksisters, plaited doughnuts, shellacked in sugar syrup, which should have been served with their own power tool.

Just why the food should be so hit and miss, when so much money and craftsmanship have been lavished on the place, is puzzling; though with 370 covers in the restaurant and several sittings a night, maybe it's inevitable. It's expensive, too. We paid £45 a head for food alone, which more than doubled with the inclusion of cocktails, a £42 bottle of Southern Right Pinotage 2007 from the heavily marked-up list, and service.

Still, the thin white line of restaurant critics bleating about the food probably won't hold back the hordes of fun-lovers who will descend on Shaka Zulu. Like near-neighbour Gilgamesh, another massive temple of bling, it is effectively critic-proof; a glamorous, escapist experience, where girls can dress skimpily, big parties can celebrate birthdays, and couples can come to smooch in the gloom. It may not be the way of the Zulu, but it's the way of the Winehouse.

Shaka Zulu, Stables Market, London NW1 (020-3376 9911)

Food 2 stars
Ambience 3 stars
Service 3 stars

Around £45 a head before wine and service

Tipping policy: "Service charge is 12.5 per cent discretionary, of which 100 per cent goes to the staff; all tips go to the staff"

Side Orders: Out of Africa

Jabula

South Pier Rd, Manchester (0151-355 1163)

The traditional and affordable food on offer here includes bobotie (£8.95) and grassland game springbok (£14.95).

Chakalaka

136 Upper Richmond Road, London SW15 (020-8789-5696)

This south-west London eaterie serves dishes including chargrilled ostrich on a potato rosti with chilli jam (£17.95).

Golden Hunter

Northend, Halstead (01787 238331)

The reasonably-priced dishes at this family-run bistro include Peri Peri chicken livers (£4.50) and Namaqua red wine lasagne (£9.95).

Sport
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
sport Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
Sport
Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring in Liverpool's 3-2 win over Norwich
Football Vine shows Suarez writhing in pain before launching counter attack
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents The ad shows Prince Charles attired for his coronation in a crown and fur mantle with his mouth covered by a criss-cross of white duct tape
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sport LIVEFollow the latest news and scores from today's Premier League as Liverpool make a blistering start against Norwich
VIDEO
News
People White House officials refuse to make comment on 275,000 signatures that want Justin Bieber's US visa revoked
News
Sir Cliff Richard is to release his hundredth album at age 72
PEOPLESir Cliff Richard has used a candid appearance on an Australian talk show to address long-running speculation about his sexuality

Sport
Lukas Podolski celebrates one of his two goals in Arsenal's win over Hull

Arsenal strengthened their grip on a top-four finish with a straightforward 3-0 win over Hull City.

Arts & Entertainment
Quentin Tarantino, director
arts + ents Samuel L Jackson and Michael Madsen have taken part in a reading of Quentin Tarantino’s axed follow-up to Django Unchained.
News
The speeding train nearly hit this US politican during a lecture on rail safety
news As the saying goes, you have to practice what you preach
Sport
Mercedes Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain (front) drives ahead of Red Bull Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia during the Chinese F1 Grand Prix at the Shanghai International circuit
sport Hamilton captured his third straight Formula One race with ease on Sunday, leading from start to finish to win the Chinese Grand Prix

Arts & Entertainment
Billie Jean King, who won the women’s Wimbledon title in 1967, when the first colour pictures were broadcast
tv
News
Snow has no plans to step back or reduce his workload
mediaIt's 25 years since Jon Snow first presented Channel 4 News, and his drive shows no sign of diminishing
Life & Style
food + drinkWhat’s not to like?
Voices
Clock off: France has had a 35‑hour working week since 1999
voicesThere's no truth to a law banning work emails after 6pm, but that didn’t stop media hysteria
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
architecture
Life & Style
Lana Del Rey, Alexa Chung and Cara Delevingne each carry their signature bag
fashionMulberry's decision to go for the super-rich backfired dramatically
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    NGO and Community Development in Cambodia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: There are many small development projects in ...

    Sports coaching volunteer jobs

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Kaya Responsible Travel offer a variety of sp...

    Turtle Nesting and Coral Reef Conservation in Borneo

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Volunteer with Kaya in Borneo and work on a p...

    Elephant research project in Namibia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: If you have a passion for elephants and want ...

    Day In a Page

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit