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'I went to London's "best Somali" restaurant that people travel all the way from Cambridge to visit'

Sunday April 21, 2024

Francesca Ionescu had a meal to remember at Janna Café that has become a viral hit on TikTok (Image: Francesca Ionescu)

Comfily tucked away in a backstreet of Whitechapel, Janna Café is almost hidden. A green round sign is the only thing that catches your eye from the street, the big top to bottom windows hidden on the side road, decorated with cut outs of the meals that await inside.

If it was not for a TikTok of manager Musa lying underneath a car, tucking into a plate of lamb and rice, the café might have fallen off a lot of people’s radar. Janna Café is an East African restaurant, deemed by many regulars as serving the best Somali food in London.

It is proving to be such a success is now split into branches - one in Fieldgate Street, Whitechapel, and Janna Café 2 in Wentworth street, Aldgate. I went to the Whitechapel café to see where it all started and try Somali food for the first time.

I arrived eager and early and was the first customer of the day. Despite the staff still setting up they let me get comfortable, and were very attentive, even changing my table to a more comfortable one. As I enjoyed my meal the restaurant quickly filled up – from a table of young boys seemingly celebrating something, to two men that tell the waiter they travelled from “Cambridge way” to try the food, there is a palpable sense of excitement in the room.

Janna Café only offers a simple menu, of four mains and four platter options, including Mexican fusion Somali style taco. Following in the steps of many google reviews, I had to go for the lamb shoulder and rice, as the meat was described as “tender” and “fall-off-the-bone”.

After a short wait, the meal is served to me on a large metal platter, accompanied by shredded lettuce, yellowy rice and roasted soft red peppers. The food might have not looked Instagram ready, but it was some of the best cooked meat I have had, and the portions are refreshingly generous in a world of over-priced small plates.

The lamb was slow cooked to a beautiful deep colour, easy to shred away with a fork, to then melt in your mouth (Image: Francesca Ionescu)

'Opting for extra vegetables was a great decision'

The lamb was slow cooked to a beautiful deep colour, easy to shred away with a fork, to then melt in your mouth. Slightly sweet, it was paired with a fragrant rice that got redder the more I delved in. I opted for extra vegetables, which was a great decision, as the velvety red pepper had a perfectly pairing texture for the rice.

Even the lettuce, while not seasoned at all, was a good break between such rich food, and gave the plate a fresher taste. Looking back at the reviews, I can perfectly understand why one of the reviewers said: “I had to take my asthma pump out [because] I was left breathless.”

If your body can tolerate lactose better than mine, the “milkcakes” on display looked perfectly moist, and came in sweet tooth fulfilling flavours such as Oreo and Biscoff. The menu unfortunately has no vegetarian options, but they offer a pescatarian Salmon dish too.

Alongside the great food, the staff and general familiarity of the place makes it worth a visit. From accommodating for diners by offering them a privacy screen, to the speed of the service and the lack of rushing you out just to get the table back, Janna Café is a cultural hotspot, and a must-eat in East London.


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