If, like for most of us, the past couple months have gone by in a blur, you might have missed the news that Sydney’s Nigerian pop-up Little Lagos has found a permanent home in the former Wish Bone site in Enmore.
Ade Adeniyi has been an advocate for Nigerian food in Sydney for a while, operating pop-ups – most notably at Earl’s Juke Joint. Aside from Adeniyi, there are only a couple of others making Nigerian food – mainly home chefs operating backyard takeaway businesses. Nigerian food such as jollof rice does occasionally crop up on the menu in African restaurants, but apart from these little cameos, Little Lagos is the only place to eat authentic Nigerian cuisine in this city.
Adeniyi tells Broadsheet the rush of people during their residency at Earl’s Juke Joint made him realise they needed their own space. “The long lines happened all the time,” he says. “It was amazing and frustrating because people would call us and say, ‘I’m on my way. You better not sell out.’ And just as they arrived, we’d sell out. That was why we wanted our own space. Having our own kitchen is a big part of it, so we can expand the menu and cook all the different foods that we want to.”
He had signed the lease before the pandemic shut down the city, but decided to go ahead with the eatery and did takeaway and delivery (which is still available). Now the 58-seat diner is bustling with people and many of the dishes he served during the pop-up, such as jollof rice cooked in a base of tomato, onion and capsicum; goat stew; and Nigerian meat pie, are available. There’s also ofada stew, a traditional, spicy west Nigerian dish featuring habanero (a hot variety of chilli pepper), locust beans, egg, fish and meat.
The space is warmly hued, painted an earthy shade of red with colourful, patterned curtains and an eggplant-coloured banquette seating. There are a couple stools at the front around a tiny bar, and Little Lagos is working on a drinks list featuring a mix of local Australian wines and brews from Africa to accompany the traditional West African dishes. Adeniyi says he wants his restaurant to capture that feeling of West Africa, to be vibrant and noisy and to create a sense of community.
Adeniyi left Nigeria for Romania at the age of 16 to study – that’s where he taught himself to cook by replicating the dishes from a local Nigerian restaurant. He came to Sydney in 2016 when he was 35 via Dubai and was sad to find the city lacking in Nigerian food. “It was painful,” he told us last year. “In Dubai we had a ritual: every Friday to Sunday we’d go to the Nigerian restaurant and eat. It was very authentic. You go in, wash your hands, eat with your hands. I looked forward to it every week. We were busy, working hard, but we’d hang out and spend quality time together,” he says.
He has plans to transform the front of the restaurant into what he hopes will be a space that can host pop-ups – much like what Earl’s Juke Joint provided them. He says one of the first scheduled take overs is by an African photographer.
“We’ve been really blessed – people have been so good to us, like Earl’s Juke Joint for almost a year. So if we [come across] any brands or businesses that want to do a pop-up that align with our ethos, then we’ll let them use that space,” he says.