Arike Gets to the Heart and Soul of Good Nigerian Food

Tuesday 07th, May 2019 / 09:00
By Dayna Mahannah

Nostalgia runs deep through the intrepid flavours of Arike, the new Nigerian eatery in Vancouver’s West End.

“It stems from memories and the tastiest food you ate when you were a kid,” co-owner Sam Olayinka says, reminiscing on how his Nigerian roots became the essence of his new restaurant. “I haven’t tasted, still to this day, anything as good as my dad’s bronco stew.”

Nestled just below street level on Davie Street, Arike serves up a delicious blend of traditional Nigerian and Canadian West Coast food, with a dash of classical French cuisine.

Born in Ottawa, Olayinka lived all over Canada before meeting his business partner, Mike Hayman, at Vancouver’s Art Institute. They refined their cuisine chops in French fine dining and corporate sous programs.

But Olayinka claims the Michelin-star chefs he’s trained with have nothing on his dad’s traditional Nigerian stew.

Salad, cassava fries, goat, chicken wings, flatbreads, and dessert — all with that unique Nigerian-Canadian essence — populate Arike’s menu. It’s the famed jollof rice, however, that reigns.

Arguably the most good-natured battle in existence, the jollof rice war between West African countries is a one-upmanship of who-does-it-better. The rice is traditionally made with seasoned tomato stew, using the same palm oil for every batch (like a “mother oil”), creating a depth and complexity otherwise impossible.
Olayinka presents it with a grilled suya — a spicy beef striploin skewer. Stakes are high; this food critic has experienced Ghana’s jollof. Olayinka’s version? Complex spice rolls over the tongue, leaving a halcyon tingling foundation for the suya — thin and boldly flavourful — to melt in the mouth. The dewy rice teems with boisterous spirit; a new contender in the global jollof rice battle steps forward.

Arike’s flatbread — a mainstay — uses a traditional agege bread recipe for the base. The oxtail and pork belly option is rich, juxtaposed with a mild, house-made goat cheese and roasted tomatoes. Agege goes where no pizza dough dares, to the crispy, bubbled side of delicious.

An espresso martini is an oddly appropriate pairing, setting a precedent for dessert. Unfortunately for the martini, Milo ice cream is up to plate. Milo, a chocolate malt product from Nestle popular outside of North America, is transformed. “I’m not gonna tell you the exact recipe,” Olayinka says with a half-smile. Milo, vanilla, tonka bean, whipping cream: an exotic scoop of heaven.

Different and undeniably delicious, the menu will change with the seasons. After all, Arike was sparked by an unrelinquished taste for Olayinka dad’s stew. “And I’m still trying to chase that.”