For my last review of 2018, and continuing my circumgyration of world foods (without leaving my home city …), I visited Corarima, a new Abyssinian-style restaurant in Cross Street, Wakefield which offers an exclusively vegetarian and vegan menu.
We’re all being encouraged to heat a healthy diet these days. ‘Diet and exercise’ is the mantra of the moment as well as being put forward as the cure-all for all ills. As a vegetarian of over 30 years who likes to keep fit, it’s sometimes hard to resist the ‘told you so’ refrain….
One advantage of this focus on healthy eating is that it has become easier than ever to follow a vegetarian, or even a vegan, diet and still eat out enjoying good food. Gone are the days (mostly) when you’d be lucky to find even one ‘choice’ of vegetarian dish on the menu of your local restaurant. Today, you should find most restaurants worthy of your consideration will offer a choice of dish. And there’s also much more awareness now of the needs of people who have to follow special diets for medical reasons, such as the gluten-free diet, and chefs worthy of their salt will rise to any challenge. Meanwhile, vegetarian and vegan diets are seen as being good for the planet as they help people to reduce their carbon footprint.
This emphasis on healthy (or healthier) eating has also seen the rise of the ‘flexitarian’, someone who chooses to eat less meat and to experiment with the vegetarian and/or vegan diet on at least a part-time basis.
Imagine then my deep joy then when I saw that Wakefield was to get its first ‘vegetarian restaurant’! Yes, Wakefield can now boast it has a restaurant that is dedicated to serving healthy vegetarian, vegan and gluten free food. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Corarima – not only Wakefield’s first exclusively vegetarian and vegan restaurant but also our first-ever Abyssinian eatery.
Corarima is a brand new venture set up by husband and wife team Asamnew Asres and Rahel Bein together with their friend Bizunesh Kebede. Their mission is to offer customers the opportunity to taste “the sensational flavours of Abyssinian cuisine – lovingly prepared by Ethiopian and Eritrean chefs who know how to conjure up the authentic taste of Abyssinia”. Having now had the chance to sample some of their dishes myself, I can report mission accomplished.
Transforming what had been an empty shop unit in a 1970s office block, the trio have created a little oasis of calm and tranquillity where you are assured of both a very friendly welcome and delicious food. My partner and I were greeted by Asamnew who showed us to our table – it didn’t take much finding: with a capacity for just 24 or 25 customers at any one time, you also get very personal service at Corarima.
The restaurant doesn’t serve alcohol (but, if you book in advance, you can take your own bottle of wine which they will serve to you for a very modest corkage fee of just £1.50), so we chose our drinks from a list of smoothies and juices. Asamnew recommended we try the Telba and the Beso, so we ordered one of each. (Sometimes, you just have to go with the flow and be daringly experimental!) Telba, it turned out, was a creamy and refreshing drink made of toasted and ground flax seeds while the Beso was another creamy drink but this time made of barley and honey. Both, we were assured, were very healthy and good for us!
Now, I don’t profess to have any prior knowledge of Abyssinian cuisine so I had a steep learning curve to follow but Asamnew proved to be a worthy and expert coach as he explained the menu and helped us to choose our food. We opted for the milder dishes – if you don’t want hot and spicy, do say so, as recipes can be adjusted to taste.
Having ordered our food, more of which shortly, Asamnew brought us something to nibble on – crudités with homemade hummus – while we listened to his story.
Back in Eritrea, he was a structural engineer, running his own company which employed 15 staff. However, in 2007, he and Rahel and their three children found themselves fleeing their country and in the UK as asylum seekers. They were ‘allocated’ to Wakefield where, Asamnew said, they were made to feel welcome and helped to settle in. Over the years, they have come to regard Wakefield as their home. Asamnew found work in his profession in Leeds and Wakefield but meanwhile, Rahel’s passion to open a restaurant burned deep inside. Earlier this year, Asamnew gave up his job to work on the restaurant project full-time and the result is Corarima. As Asamnew explained, they wanted to open their business in Wakefield, the city that had taken them in; they wanted to give something back.
Corarima takes its name from the Ethiopian spice korarima (corarima), also known as Ethiopian cardamom, or false cardamom, one of the ginger family.
We were now ready for our main courses, delivered to us with a flourish by Asamnew and Rahel. I had opted for the Aubergine Stew (fresh aubergine cooked with onion, tomato and rich flavoured spicy herbs) while my partner had ordered the Mushroom Stew (mushroom cooked with garlic and seasoned with assorted spice). We also ordered side salads. Both dishes came with injera, a flatbread made from teff flour (teff, we discovered was high in fibre, iron, protein and calcium and being a very small grain, is easy to cook). The bread had a slightly spongy texture but was an ideal accompaniment to the stews which were spicy but not too hot (I speak as someone who has never acquired the taste for hot and spicy dishes!).
Lurking at the back of the table we saw a couple of stuffed chilli peppers. I regarded these somewhat suspiciously – I’ve been caught out before! But after some prompting from Asamnew, I took a small forkful – and moved a little further along the learning curve: it was deliciously sweet!
We finished the meal with coffee and small chickpea biscuits topped with sesame seeds and honey – they don’t do puddings – but it was the perfect end to a really enjoyable evening. All that was left was to take some photos and to gather up my notes as we said our farewells. I have a feeling that we’ll be going back. We still have lots to learn!
Finally, if you’re in Wakefield at lunchtime, you can eat in or you can try the Corarima Lunchbox. For just £3, you can pick up a lunch box between 12:00 noon and 2:00pm each day containing the chef’s selection of vegetable and pulse stews served with rice or injera bread.
Open Monday to Saturday from 12 noon to 9 pm
Kevin and his partner dined as guests of the restaurant.
Corarima – 10 Cross Street, Wakefield, WF1 3BW
Tel: 01924 695713