This cafe-lounge piques our interest in the myriad cultures that make up an African mosaic.

For those looking to satisfy their wanderlust in Africa, a visit to Kafe UTU on Jiak Chuan Road is a good place to start. Owner Kurt Wagner, a Canadian raised in West and East Africa, imbues every inch of his cafe with touches of an ancient yet emerging continent.

If the mountain will not come to Muhammad... - Kafe UTU – Afro Cafe and Lounge

Bringing a distant place a little closer

Take for instance the arresting portraits of African women you see as you enter the restaurant. These prints from German documentary photographer Mario Gerth’s African Nomads series highlight a traditional way of life that persists in parts of Africa. Head upstairs to UTU lounge, on the other hand, and the vibe turns a little more modern and upbeat. An eclectic mix of gaudy African wax-printed cushions, hand-carved furniture and accessories for sale showcase the talents of African craftsmen and artists. Further up in the attic, a cosy alcove speaks the universal language of hygge.

Liberian peanut chicken stew - Kafe UTU – Afro Cafe and Lounge

Liberian peanut chicken stew

A taste of Africa

Head chef Darren Chia, formerly from Bearded Bella, didn’t have prior knowledge of African fare when he started testing out possible dishes for the menu. Over time, he found that some of the flavours he was trying to recreate—based on feedback from Kurt and Kurt’s brother based in Nairobi, Kenya—were similar to those found in Indonesian, Malay and Indian cuisine. Further research and trials finally produced the current brunch, all-day dining, dinner and tapas menus peppered with African inspiration.

There are bites such as blistered padron peppers with citron sea salt ($16) and fried plantain with mango chili marmalade ($16) to tempt you with, but zoom in on the From Mama Africa section if you can’t wait to meet the stars of the show. Go for the Liberian peanut chicken stew, made with Sakura chicken thigh, natural peanut butter, smoked fish & habanero served with basmati white rice ($28). The dish references the peanut stew dish commonly found throughout West Africa; the chicken meat is tender and succulent, and the peanut sauce savoury and not too spicy.

Swahili fish curry - Kafe UTU – Afro Cafe and Lounge

Swahili fish curry

Another good pick is the Swahili fish curry, made up of red snapper, tamarind, coconut milk, house curry paste & habanero served with coconut rice ($29). This dish has its origins in East Africa, in countries such as Kenya and Tanzania. The rendition here is tart and not too spicy, with a kachumbari or East African salsa to cut through the richness of the curry.

Specialty coffee and snazzy cocktails

The cafe-lounge currently sources its coffee beans from Uganda, Mexico and Brazil and looks to have an African influence in the cafe’s coffee, cocktails and other drinks. For starters, it serves versions of well-loved African cocktails such as Dawa ($16), made with fresh ginger, calamari, pomegranate orange lemon, honey and white rum; and is bringing in Kenyan craft beers and Procera, a craft gin from Kenya.

Coffee-wise, there’s the house blend Ubuntu, using beans grown in Uganda, Mexico and Brazil, with notes of red wine and a chocolatey finish. The barista also has Hokkaido milk at his disposal to give the coffees a creamier mouth-feel.

Soft serve to go with your coffee - Kafe UTU – Afro Cafe and Lounge

Soft serve to go with your coffee

For something a little different, go for the Bidibado or UTU-style mocha ($6) which comes with peanut butter, pink peppercorn and roasted almonds rimmed on the cup; or the Malindi latte ($6), spiced up with cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, nutmeg, and black pepper. A twirl of coffee-flavoured Utu soft serve to go along makes it even better.

12 Jiak Chuan Road. Tel: 69963937

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