A lot of interesting new restaurant concepts have come to London over the past few years. Trendy Sri Lankan. A hybrid hot dog/champagne bar. Hip Taiwanese small plates. Hip Taiwanese big plates. A restaurant in an old car park. A restaurant in a bus. And now, with Ikoyi, London has its first West African fine dining restaurant.
Or maybe ‘West African-European fusion’ would be a better way to describe what’s going on here. Either way, what you need to know is that a meal at Ikoyi essentially involves mixing European fine dining cooking techniques with the heavy spices of Nigerian cooking. We say Nigerian because like the words ‘Pan Asian’, ‘Northern’, or ‘quite good’, ‘West African’ is a pretty broad descriptor for a region made up of 18 countries, and one of the owners grew up in Nigeria. Also, Ikoyi is a wealthy neighbourhood in Lagos, if you want to sound like you know what you’re talking about when you eat dinner here.
And by the way, you should eat dinner here. If you know a thing or two about West African food (and having grown up on it, I do), there are certain things here that may cause you to do a double take. For example, you may ask yourself ‘Is that Iberico pork really served pink?’, as West Africans tend to cook their meat well done. But the result is something delicious nonetheless, and still cooked with traditional West African spices. If you don’t know a thing or two about West African food, Ikoyi is a pretty damn good excuse to change that.
Most importantly, they don’t mess up when it comes to the most controversial dish on the menu, and in all of West Africa: jollof rice. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a rice dish cooked in a base of tomato, onions, spices (the magic ingredient is a bay leaf), and pretty much everyone who makes it has both a slightly different recipe and a strong opinion on it. To give you some context, Jamie Oliver once published his ‘take’ on the dish and frankly, still has not recovered from the backlash. So the stakes are high. Ikoyi’s, fortunately, is very good, and even if the bone marrow on the side isn’t authentic, the magic of jollof is that it pretty much goes with any meat product. Though if I ever requested that mum should add bone marrow to my jollof, it would be over the phone and preferably from another country so as to not experience ‘the glare’ and teeth sucking first hand.
As for the restaurant itself, it’s relaxed and comfortable. It’s part of the posh new St James’ complex just off Piccadilly, and and the decor sits firmly on the European end of the spectrum.
Ikoyi may not be a restaurant you come back to weekly or monthly, but it’s a place that’s absolutely worth trying once or twice, and we’re excited to have it in London. And if you’ll now excuse us, we’re off to try out a new Portuguese sushi breakfast pop-up in Dalston.
This is a strong introduction to the cuisine - the sweetness of the plantain fried in buttermilk is hit hard head-on with the smoked red scotch bonnet powder.
West African pepper soup is usually heavy and tomato-based. This is a light, clear and more delicate soup, with a piece of octopus in the middle. Although it’s delicate in appearance, it packs a big pepper kick.
This chicken looks like the plainest piece of meat when it arrives, but don’t judge on appearances - it’s been slow cooked in scotch bonnets. The benne sauce (which is a sesame sauce and a lighter version of peanut soup) is a nice addition.
This is pork chop gets marinated in a spice mix and then grilled to perfection. This is the best dish on the menu, and it’s closer to the authentic heavy-handed spices of West African cuisine. This is a must order, even if you’re not a massive fan of pork.
Jollof rice is made all over West Africa and all you need to know, no matter what anyone says, is that Ghanaians make it best. Now that this is cleared up, know that jollof rice is basically rice cooked in a rich tomato sauce with onions and spices, so the result is a glorious tomato-infused rice. The Ikoyi version is good. I now need to go into hiding, as everyone’s African mum is sucking their teeth at me.