Shaka Zulu in Camden
On entering the sprawling domain of Shaka Zulu – the most famous of all African kings and the namesake of one of Camden’s most lavish venues – one is ushered through a surreal gateway: an escalator nestled within walls of breathtaking mosaics, offering a clue to the grandeur still to come.
Downstairs is an extravagant, exaggerated Africa where opulence and brashness abound. The multi-million pound venue that is Shaka Zulu extends across two floors, housing a bar, restaurant and nightclub. Ornate wooden carvings line the walls, guarded by statues of spear-wielding warriors. Animal sculptures protect the stairways while a fire-eater dances seductively around tribal print furnishings. This is the unexpected home of London’s newest champagne and oyster bar. Shaka Zulu is better known for serving exotic South African game.
At the bar Fine de Claire Oysters, refined in the clay beds (”claires”) of Southwest France, lie majestically on ice-sculpted sea shells, close to jars of intriguing looking sauces. Of the Christian De Montaille champagne cocktails on offer, I opt for a Zwelithini made with lemon, sugar and melon puree. Named after the Zulu King who blessed the venue’s opening in 2010, it’s refreshingly delicate and can’t overpower the natural flavour of the oysters. Topped with a single squeeze of lime juice, it’s fresh, salty and sweet: exquisite!
The sauces are generally pleasing, although superfluous for oysters this good. Bright yellow Tobiko is dotted with fish roe marinated in cider ”vinnegar” and extra virgin olive oil. Mild and tangy without being too sharp, it redresses the saltiness of the oyster. Smoked Chilli Jelly made with chipotles and ”jelepenos” is the standout star: thick, with a ketchup-like appearance, it’s wonderfully earthy and smoky. The Elderflower and Wasabi Dressing, billed as slightly sweet yet ”hot and powerful” is disappointingly tame, with the merest hint of elderflower. The Inferno Hot Sauce, made with jolokia naga chillis, tomato juice and spices, burns as the ultimate, fired-up Bloody Mary, while the Red Wine and Shallot Dressing intensifies the sweetness of the oyster and provides a welcome crunch.
Don’t attempt to finish off with an Oyster Shot if you can’t take the heat. The spicy Oyster and reposado tequila slammer set the mouth alight – I had to douse the fire with The Aduna Body Doc, a creamy coconut cocktail incorporating superfruit, baobab.
With champagne and oyster bars springing up in the most accessible yet pedestrian of places, it’s satisfying to see Shaka Zulu reinstating the ”foods of the gods” in a fittingly extravagant home. You can always enjoy the champagne if oysters aren’t your thing, and the experience of descending through the portal into deepest, darkest Africa is definitely worth a trip to Camden. Perhaps take a pair of binoculars to really maximise the safari experience?
Photos: Bartek Odias
Shaka Zulu: 50/60
To book a table at Shaka Zulu, Stables Market, Chalk Farm Road, Camden, NW1 8AB, call 020 3376 9911 or visit here.