In a country almost swamped with coffee bars, booze bars, bistros, Wetherspoons, Indian, Asian, French, Tex Mex, Italian and yes, British fine dining, there just occasionally appears a change.
Hello Corarima, subtitled ‘spice of Abyssinian cuisine’. It opened, quietly, a year or so ago in Wakefield’s Civic quarter, streets of grand or once-grand chiselled edifices built on the riches of the West Riding textile trade.
Asamnew Asres and his wife Rahel Bein moved from Eritrea to Wakefield 12 years ago and say they immediately fell in love with the city, its people and its culture – The Hepworth, the Sculpture Park, the countryside.
For most of that time Asamnew worked as a structural engineer – he’d had his own company in Eritrea. Rahel’s love was cooking and so Asamnew quit his 9-5 job and they opened Corarima.
The name is a spice used in Ethiopia and Eritrea – or Abyssinia – in North Africa. Their lovely restaurant is vegetarian, largely vegan and gluten-free so is suitable for those with Coeliac disease .
If you want alcohol you may take your own – but let them know first. Asamnew, a teetotaller, feels that ‘drink’ conflicts with a healthy lifestyle. Both he and Rahel have glowing skin and eyes which perhaps support a case for the low fat, meat-free, zero alcohol regime.
The single room has a handful of tables under a ceiling hung with lights in basket weave conical shades. Simple tables, light background music, displays of dried pulses, herbs, fresh vegetables and Eritrean arts and crafts are a perfect setting for the perfect food.
I may as well mention that the washroom, so often a weak area in even classy joints and certainly many curry houses, is clean and fragrant and tip top. It deserves an award of its own.
Asamnew is charming, quiet but ready to talk about Corarima, food, even Brexit if you must. The food is, presumably, as authentic as it could be. Who has been to Eritrea recently?
You’ll recognise elements from tourist haunts such as Morocco and Turkey.
You’ll meet injera, which is a flexible flat sourdough bread made with teff. This has been grown for more than 6,000 years. Injera has one smooth side, one textured side.
It is pliable and ideal for scooping up your food – as you may do with a chapati.
You will also meet a sort of stiff pitta bread made with chickpea flour.
The menu is an exemplar of clarity, design, with further inserts of information. It is sectioned into main dishes of pulses and vegetables, then a smaller selection of combination dishes for two, four or eight people. All are served with rice or injera. There is another section of smaller side orders.
Puddings, the terror of the western waistline and arteries, are not offered. You may be offered a few small bites of chickpea bread spread with a scrumptious paste of sesame seed and cinnamon. The drinks menu includes telba, made from flax seed and like drinking liquidised shredded wheat: they do indeed have it at breakfast.
Abyssinian coffee celebrates the origins of the drink 21 centuries ago in Kefa, what Is now Ethiopia.
Several hundred years later it was being drunk in Arabia – hence the bean’s name of arabica. At Corarima it is poured from an authentic clay jug into small beakers and drunk black. The taste is no doubt unique. It is partnered with a plate of popped corn.
First-timers could try a combination plate (from £25.95) for two people to £111.95 for eight (with coffee).
You’ll be eating stews of things like tomato and flax, chickpeas, lentils, cabbage, aubergine, okra. There will be injera, of course. It has a sharp, bitter taste, a bit like buckwheat but the grain is golden and much smaller.
This and everything you eat and drink is made in the kitchen. They even roast the coffee. It is a dedication to taste and provenance. Individual main courses cost from £8.95 for a split pea stew, average around £12 and reach £15.45 for tofu stew. Each is served in lidded pots, a selection of the breads and a smaller pot of pulses or vegetables. Side dishes are around £4 or £5.
Try the okra stew or the aubergine stew. The spicing is subtle, the flavouring rich. The aubergines are diced and cooked with onions and tomato and spicy herbs. A spice mixture may contain things we know, like basil, and things we don’t know, like radhuni. The mix is called berbere and is a key element in the kitchen.
The bottom line is there is likely to be nothing you dislike. The place radiates well-being and relaxation. It is almost a world away from the typical raucous city centre joints. Corarima may be your door into a new perception.
Address: 10 Cross St, Wakefield, WF1 3BW
Telephone: 01924 695713
Opening times: Tuesday-Friday: noon-2pm then 5-9pm; Saturday noon-9pm; closed Sunday-Monday