In the buzzing Keong Saik precinct, a culinary treasure has been drawing in a curious crowd behind its savannah red facade. Touted to be the first of its kind in Singapore, Kafe UTU (a Kiswahili word meaning “humanity”) is an African-themed cafe and lounge that pays tribute to the rich cultures of the continent. Owner Kurt Wagner was inspired by his childhood spent living in different African countries, and had hoped to bring the same warm African hospitality to our sunny shores.
The space between
As you step into the intricately designed two-storey joint, you’re immediately greeted by a series of bold and evocative portraits of tribespeople. Elsewhere, the earth tones of the furnishings evoke the warmth of the sun, sand, and safaris. Upstairs, a cosy space reflects the continent’s colourful cultures with strikingly bold hues woven into the design. Think throw pillows and cushions in brightly coloured African wax prints that perfectly complement the plush sofas.
The doors, panels and mirrors are carved by a master craftsman from Malindi, a town in Kenya, and are inscribed with the ancient Lamu and Zanzibari motifs. The 8m-long banquette, on the other hand, was hewn out of a single African mahogany tree grown in Singapore. The authentic touches and impeccable attention to detail extend to the tableware too. Ceramic coffee crockery was hand-thrown and wood-fired in a smoky kiln, while the drinking glasses were hand blown by craftsmen at Kitengela Hot Glass, a studio located just outside Nairobi.
Recipe for success
As for cuisine, Kafe UTU plays up Africa’s bold and diverse flavours. Although representing the continent’s epicurean diversity is a massive undertaking, Kafe UTU does so with finesse. The food draws inspiration from the culinary traditions, influences and local produce of various countries and cities, including Monrovia, Liberia’s capital; Lamu, a small town in Kenya; and the Moroccan city of Marrakesh.
The West African Charred Aubergine Stew with Angus Beef Cheek is a must-try. The smoky, soft flesh of the aubergines offer the perfect balance to the tender, well-seasoned beef. Feeling adventurous? The Lamb Heart with Chimichurri is zingy, tangy, and full of flavour.
Curries — a hearty African staple — are creamy and comforting. In particular, the Swahili Fish Curry is not to be missed. This delightful offering is cooked with red snapper in a blend of tamarind, coconut milk, and habanero with the cafe’s signature curry paste. It is a fragrant dish that would appeal to the local palate, particularly when served with a side of rice. Also on the menu are Smoky Cassava Leaf with Marinated Chicken Thigh, and Macanese African chicken accompanied with a sweet and tangy mango salsa.
Colourful, fresh, and bursting with flavour, this approach to African cuisine extends to its brunch menu. For the health-conscious, the Utu Bowl is nutrient-packed with goodness from roasted pumpkin, fresh kale and avocado, pickled vegetables, marinated goat’s cheese and quinoa. Other brunch favourites take on an African twist, such as the Curried Avocado with Raw Garlic and Toast. If you’re feeling particularly ravenous, go for the Pulled Pork Breakfast, which is a flavour bomb thanks to house smoked barbecue sauce, a spice mix, curried avocado, and salsa.
And what’s brunch without a heady cup of joe? Kafe UTU’s signature blend is the Ubuntu, which comprises beans grown in Uganda, Mexico and Brazil. It makes the perfect roast — rich, buttery, with notes of cashew nuts and brown sugar, subtle nuances of red wine, a caramelised apricot acidity and a concentrated dark chocolate finish. It’s brewed with Hokkaido milk for a satisfyingly creamy finish.
If you’re looking for a spot to hang out and unwind at after a long day at work, head to the Utu Lounge, a cosy cocktail bar. Tipples here are made with rare and bespoke spirits such as Procera gin. Distilled by hand in small batches in Kenya, it is infused with African Juniper berries and a blend of botanicals sourced from across Africa.
Gin-based cocktails here include the Amore, which combines fresh lime juice with blackberry, egg white, dry vermouth; the Mzungu, which is made using fresh lemon and orange juice, triple sec, and egg white; and the Grapefruit Negroni, which uses the citrus juice in an oversized ice cube to add a refreshing twist to the classic cocktail.
For a tropical option, try the Dawa, which incorporates rum with fresh ginger, calamansi and a handful of mint leaves.
Kafe UTU, 12 Jiak Chuan Road, +65 6996 3937, www.kafeutu.com