Whether we like to admit it or not, we all step through the frontier of a restaurant with a set of culinary prejudices. Much like the baggage we pull from one relationship to the next, our dining tastes are woven into a tapestry of experiences and moments we look back on through misty eyes. As such, we can be difficult to please, easily disengaged, and a little bit set in our ways.
This all goes some way to explain why Ikoyi – in my mind, one of the stand-out restaurant openings of the last five years – hasn’t become the love of your life… yet.
A West African-influenced Michelin-starred restaurant? It’s exciting, sure, but definitely a step out of the comfort zone. It’s the foodie equivalent of that beguiling person you swapped numbers with one time but never bothered to call. Let me tell you, it’s time to pick up the phone.
Iré Hassan-Odukale and Jeremy Chan’s Ikoyi is best described as a composite of the food the former grew up on in Ikoyi (a wealthy borough in Lagos, Nigeria) moulded into the framework of fine-dining.
Head chef Chan honed his craft under Heston Blumenthal, Rene Redzepi and Claude Bosi but here has hoarded the treasures of West African food culture and distilled them into a tasting menu where guests are spun around the continent at breakneck speed. It’s not intended as an ‘authentic’ representation of African cuisine, rather something altogether different.
A restaurant like this needs an assertive punch to let you know you’re in good hands, and Ikoyi opens up with a haymaker: plantain, raspberry and smoked scotch bonnet. Boom. Fried plantain strips are dusted in a hot-pink raspberry salt ready to be swiped through a smoky egg-yolk emulsion fired by scotch bonnet chilli. Paired with a roast plantain old fashioned, it’s a raucous opener.
It’s not intended as an ‘authentic’ representation of African cuisine, rather something altogether different.
Chan talks about West African food as being part of the fabric of London – plantains and yams, chilli and spice are all common market stall fodder – and the interplay of these familiar-but-not ingredients is the pivot for Ikoyi’s dishes.
There’s hake served in a fish bone and white peppercorn velouté, and a dessert of miso meringue and potato ice cream, but the knockout main courses steal the show.First, aged beef served with a carrot maafe (a traditional West African peanut stew, here using carrot) and carrot purée. The funk of bovine flesh, combined with a slap of spice and sweetness, is one of the best meat courses I’ve had during a tasting menu.
The piece de resistance, however, is the crab jollof. As many as 17 West African countries claim their version of jollof is truly authentic – an exercise in the Chinese whispers-like variation that comes from recipes passed through generations – but Ikoyi proudly showcases its own version.
Its rice mixture is simmered in a stock involving shiitake mushrooms, katsuobushi (dried, fermented tuna), kombu (kelp) and niboshi (dried sardines) for the ultimate mouth-watering umami experience, before the dish is finished with a custard made from brown crab meat and a fresh white crab meat salad with apples and coriander. This is the embodiment of Ikoyi: a confluence of bold flavours, the arrogance of young exciting culinary techniques, and a new interpretation of underappreciated cuisine.
Ikoyi might not be what you were looking for, but they do say you find love in the most unlikely of places...
For more information, see ikoyilondon.com