My husband, Rob, and I haven’t gone out to dinner much over the last 18 months. Although we used to dine out frequently, we became accustomed to cooking at home during the COVID-19 lockdown. When we have eaten out, it’s almost always been at a place we’ve enjoyed in the past. So, when I was asked to review Sahel Restaurant & Lounge, an Afro Caribbean establishment in Lowell that opened in September, I was a bit nervous, especially because I was unfamiliar with the cuisine. I didn’t know what to expect, and was concerned that I wouldn’t like it.
I’m happy to report that this didn’t happen. Sahel, located on Central Street in a space formerly occupied by a Latin nightclub, was a breath of
The first thing you notice about Sahel is its attractive design. The large, open dining area’s clean lines complement a neat arrangement of cloth-covered tables. The bright colors of the hand-painted murals in the foyer and above the bar pop against the restaurant’s light walls, infusing the space with an upbeat, inviting vibe.
Sahel’s staff was welcoming and friendly. The host and our waiter were enthusiastic about providing information about dishes on the menu that were unfamiliar to us, which was more or less all of them.
The restaurant has a liquor license, but hadn’t yet received it when we were there, so we decided to try their homemade, nonalcoholic ginger beer. It was delicious, packing a pleasant punch of fresh ginger without being overly sweet. We each enjoyed two glasses of it.
Our meal started with complimentary salads, small plates of fresh field greens accented with dried cranberries and tossed in Sahel’s house vinaigrette. This was a tasty and pleasant surprise, but I thought it would have been helpful for Sahel to let diners know ahead of time that this salad was included, in case you were considering one of the four entree salads on the menu.
We ordered the suya chicken for an appetizer. These traditional West African kebabs are coated in a piquant spice mix and served with fresh cucumbers and tomatoes to help mitigate the heat. These were also quite good, and I liked that they weren’t too heavy.
For our main meal, Rob tried the ndole, a Cameroonian peanut stew made with spinach, bitter greens, shrimp and garlic. For sides, he ordered sweet plantains and jollof rice, a tomato-based dish that reminded me of Spanish rice. The flavor combinations were new to us, but everything was fresh and tasted great. The portions were large, so be prepared to take home leftovers if you order this item.
I opted for the red bean and butternut squash stew, a vegetarian offering popular in the Caribbean that also contained cauliflower in an herb-infused coconut sauce. The stew had a strong, fragrant coconut flavor, but was very different from Asian dishes I’ve tried that used coconut as a main ingredient. I appreciated that it was more savory than sweet, which can be a problem in some dishes that call for butternut squash. I also liked the fact that it was nutritious and healthy, as so many restaurant meals are not.
We were quite full after our entrees, but decided anyway to share an order of bread pudding for dessert. According to our waiter, this treat is one of the chef’s specialties. Served warm, the bread pudding wasn’t too sweet, and had subtle hints of warm spices. The dessert’s sweetness came from its homemade strawberry topping and the pool of warm chocolate sauce on the bottom of the plate. The portion size was reasonable, providing a pleasant few bites for each of us.
Sahel seemed to still be working out some lingering kinks in its operation. Our appetizer, for example, came to the table at the same time as our entrees. And the boxes we were given for our leftovers had incorrectly sized lids, an issue that was quickly remedied after we flagged down our waiter.
All in all, we had a good experience at Sahel. The food is fresh, healthy and made with a lot of attention to detail. I’d love to go back and try some of the other dishes on the menu.
Sahel Restaurant & Lounge