I didn’t fall in love with Arike at first sight. The humble West End Vancouver walk-down located on a shabby stretch of Davie Street leaves much to be desired.
But my first bites? Wow. Tender pulled goat piled onto golden spoons hummed with musky drizzles of smoothly puréed ata din din pepper sauce. Suya skewers of striploin, thinly sliced, lightly charred and rubbed with peanuts, were tingly and toasty. Airy pof pof doughnuts elevated by choux pastry were glazed in ginger.
Ever since Kwame Onwuachi won the 2019 James Beard Rising Star Chef award for his work at Kith/Kin in Washington, D.C., I’d been trying to understand the buzz about modern Nigerian cuisine. Now I do. At Arike, Sam Olayinka’s blissful cooking and artful plating transcend the modest venue. I named it one of my Top 10 New Restaurants in The Globe and Mail. And now Arike is my favourite takeout.
Olayinka, an alumnus of Bacchus at the Wedgewood Hotel, has not reopened his dining room after the first lockdown. Instead, he took his time developing a casual menu that would travel better and tweaked each flavoursome dish to perfection.
The flaky pastry for his ambrosial West African pies is made with an obscene amount of Euro-style butter. The beef-cheek filling is braised with a bit of tamarind juice to cut the richness and warmed (then baked) to order with a painstakingly doctored berbere spice mix. Cloves and cumin, for instance, are replaced with floral “grains of paradise” (melegueta pepper) and earthy grains of selim, the latter toasted separately, so it doesn’t overpower the rest of the blend.
The tamarind-and-scotch-bonnet curry is voluptuous, the vegetable dumplings are wrapped in leek leaves, the mango salad is fresh and minty, and the coconut-rice pilaf is folded with a squeeze of lime. Right down to the garnish — pickled red peppers and blanched green onions for colour and crunch in every box — this is comfort food that hits high.
Photo Credit: Jesse Gilmour