Zolene Straddles the Fine Line Between Experimental and Safe
NOSA: Restaurants in Lagos have very similar approaches to pre-opening marketing. A lot of the time, they pay some agency to invite influencers for a tasting and basically run blitzkrieg social media campaign. The agencies that really want to waste money will get some print mentions. More often than not, this is always a waste of money. The more successful restaurant openings in Lagos have skipped the marketing agency and done it themselves. Post a couple cryptic Instagram posts here and there. Basically build on that “if you know, you know” vibe. The exclusivity of the opening is the big draw.
FOLLY: I have no idea where Nosa is going with this.
NOSA: Before I lose track of why I went on this wild tangent, let me bring it back home. I found out about Zolene from a series of guest posts the owner had been putting out on Bella Naija. She talks about the challenges of starting up and managing restaurant in Nigeria. It’s a pretty interesting perspective, but more importantly, it’s endearing. She’s shared so much that you feel her restaurant is yours too.
FOLLY: I bet you Nosa feels like he is a part owner in Zolene now cause of a couple blog posts. On this particular day, we landed in Zolene cause Nosa was trying to take me to some 2 x 4 restaurant in VI and your girl wasn't having it. I had seen pictures of Zolene on Instagram and they looked pretty solid so I wanted us to go somewhere that wasn't too much off a toss up.
NOSA: Zolene isn’t the easiest spot to find in Ikoyi. In fact, it feels like you’re not expected to find it from the way it’s tucked in the middle of residential Ikoyi.
FOLLY: Well, actually It was pretty easy for me to find.
I put Zolene and Google Maps led me right the front gate and even wished me Bon Appetit when I tapped done. The security man was struggling so getting into the compound took a minute but bless his heart. The only waiter too, seemed to be easing into his job and was playing both waiter and bartender. Again, bless his heart because he struggled so confidently.
NOSA: Zolene is typical Nigerian fare. Think Yellow Chili or Jevenik.
FOLLY: I disagree. It's not typical Nigerian food. It's modern Nigerian food with the classics intermixed.
NOSA: It really isn't that modern. A lot of it actually reminded me of Ethnique and with Nigerian fare, the menu is accessible
FOLLY: Now, that's a fair comparison.
NOSA: Beyond the croquettes, nothing feels too out there. A little part of me expected more ambition with the menu, but I guess the chef was playing it safe.
To start, we ordered the Yam Croquettes, Plantain Croquettes, and the Bruschetta with Zolene Salsa.
FOLLY: The execution of the croquettes and presentation was solid. Preparation technique wise this was a solid A+.
NOSA: I wasn’t the biggest fan of the yam croquettes. Felt a bit “too much”. I understand yam doesn’t really have a dominant flavor so there are lots of you can do with it, but I think Zolene missed the mark here.
Fish? Nah, mate.
FOLLY: Now, the menu just said the yam croquettes were yam croquettes. It didn't mention the fish, onions and a couple other fillings which we found inside the yam. In my opinion, pure unadulterated pounded yam would have worked much better in this.
NOSA: Pounded yam or yam mash? Pounded yam is way too fine.
FOLLY: This was confusing because it's pounded yam but with the distractions usually associated with moin-moin.
NOSA: The plantain was my favorite of the pair. A breaded plantain mash - simple and straight to the point. This might be the only time in recorded history that you'll ever find me preferring plantain to yam. I've disappointed my Bini brethren, but I'm sure they'll understand.
FOLLY: Ripe plantain mash >>> The sweetness contrasted with the spicy sauce that this was served with was just pure magic.
NOSA: The bruschetta, I expected to be some hot garbage. It took eons to get served so I completely expected some rubbish to come out of that kitchen.
Turns out, they have the hands with the bruschetta. QUELLE SURPRISE!
FOLLY: When it eventually came, it looked underwhelmed so I was thinking of passing on it. Then I tasted one and as Nosa said, quelle surprise! Sure, the bread was a bit stale but the salsa was the one. It was a bit heavy on the onions but I am not complaining.
NOSA: The Zolene salsa would work so well with tortilla chips on a chips n' dip ting.
FOLLY: My main which was a Farmer's Pottage arrived at least 15 minutes before Nosa's did. I wasn't expecting the big dried fish on the side I expected it to be broken and cooked into the pottage.
NOSA: The serving size is YUGEE!
FOLLY: It has much more oil than I would have liked. Additionally, since I'm not Nosa I would have appreciated more boiled plantain in my farmer's pottage than yam.
NOSA: I got the African Pesto as my main. When I heard about Zolene, this is really the stuff I was expecting, you know? A lot more Afro-fusion like Ozoz and Imoteda are doing. The African pesto is a very interesting take on pesto. According to the menu,
NOSA: The pesto tasted very "green". Like an African soup or something. Before you get confused, this is actually a good thing and I'm chalking it up to the "African basil". I really really liked this. Not those weird tomato things on the side though.
NOSA: Simple and straight to the point. Can be a bit boring, but a "yes" from me.
FOLLY: A solid dinner option within Ikoyi.
Chapman - N1500
African Pesto - N4000
Yam Croquette - N2500
Farmer's Pottage - N3500
Plantain Croquette - N2000
Bruschetta & Zolene Salsa - N2000
Limited indoor parking but street parking is available.