Restaurants: Hot stuff

Bites: From Egyptian stews to ostrich carpaccio, London's African restaurants have it all
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Ali Baba, 32 Ivor Place, London W2 (0171-723 7474). Daily noon- midnight. For 17 years this intimate restaurant has been the frontrunner for Egyptian refreshments because, as far as we know, for much of the time it's been the only one. Molokhia, a soupy meat stew with a base of green molokhia leaves is typically Egyptian, the Ali Baba special is a tender lamb shank served with rice covered with minced lamb, pine nuts, almonds and tomato sauce, and there is koshari, made of lentils and macaroni in tomato sauce. Otherwise, the couscous and grills are familiar from elsewhere in the Middle East, and this glitz-free cafe is as much a take- away as a destination for a night out. Around pounds 10 to 12 per person.

Mandola,139-141 Westbourne Grove, London W11 (0171-229 4734). Daily lunch and dinner. The Sudanese food which Mandola specialises in has more in common with Middle Eastern food than you might expect. This makes it less of a challenge than some sub-Saharan cuisines, and the food here is so well appreciated by the Notting Hill overspill trustafarians that Mandola has grown over the years from a one-room cafe to a larger restaurant. It's still unlicensed, though. Drink delicious hibiscus juice or bring your own booze. Try salads such as salata aswad (aubergine), salata daqua, a cabbage and peanut slaw, or rocket and tomato. Vegetarian main courses include fu'l, stewed brown broad beans with oil and lemon juice, and fifilia, a vegetable curry, or powerfully sauced, slightly slippery meat stews. All for less than pounds 15 a head.

Momo, 25 Heddon Street, London W1 (0171-434 4040). Mon-Sat lunch and dinner. Now the fashionable furore has slightly died down, Momo can be revealed for what it really is: a marvellously evocative Moroccan restaurant with pretty good food, hypnotic music, irritatingly cool staff and a maddeningly fashionable clientele. So no change there. Piping hot tagines (aromatic stews cooked in an earthenware bowl with a funnelled lid) such as lamb and prunes or duck with pears, carrots and cinnamon, and couscous main courses are almost twice the price (pounds 10 to pounds 16) than at other North African restaurants, but this place exudes atmosphere. The Mo antiques shop and tearoom next door opens any minute now, for pastries, Arabic teas and viscous coffee. Light lunches will also be available.

Selam, 12 Fortess Road, London NW5 (0171-284 3947). Daily dinner. An estimable husband and wife-run Eritrean outfit that's a focus for the community as well as a source of spicy food for economy conscious Kentish Townies. The format's just like Ethiopian, although spellings may differ slightly: injera forms the basis of the meal, with derho wat, (chicken and hard-boiled egg), alecha for those who prefer lighter saucing, though chilli is pretty prevalent here, with an even-handed balance between meat and vegetable dishes. The lighting is dim, the appearance of the restaurant unreconstructed bistro, perhaps inherited from a previous occupant. A meal here will not come to much more than pounds 10 a head.

Springbok Cafe, 42 Devonshire Road, London W4 (0181-742 3149). Mon-Sat dinner. Take a mouthful on the wild side in suburban Chiswick. Europe's only South African restaurant offers ostrich carpaccio with toasted butternut bread, smoked snoek and asparagus soup with snoek dumplings, zebra samosas with rocket and herb salad. It sounds as if it's stretching credulity, but wildebeest, kudu, or springbok are cooked with flair and the likes of chargrilled ostrich liver with pinotage sauce reveal serious cooking skills. Fresh fish comes from South Africa and there are vegetarian options. Good service, and a list of South African beers and wines also distinguish it. Around pounds 20 a head.

Wazobia, 257 Royal College Street, London NW1 (0171-284 1059). Mon-Sat 2pm-midnight, Sun 4.30-10.30pm. Small, charming and uncompromisingly Nigerian. Starters tend to repeat themselves: moin moin and puff puff are two examples, both of a doughy nature. Main courses are largely stews offering strange tastes to the uninitiated. Efo is made with spinach, onions, chillies and tomatoes with meat or fish; egusi is a meaty gravy thickened, and made a little bitter, with melon seeds. Goat meat is one version of egusi. Pounded yam or semolina paste make perfect finger-food accompaniments. About pounds 8 per head without Nigerian beers.