International Dining | Ikoyi: London

Have you ever dined West African? While Nigerian may not necessarily be the first cuisine that springs to mind when it comes to the fine-dining arena, a new spot in London’s West End is looking to showcase traditional dishes such as jollof rice to those unfamiliar with the cuisine,

The new St. Martin’s development in which Ikoyi sits offers little help, with the restaurant representing the only bright spark in an otherwise soulless precinct surrounded by semi-occupied office towers a stones throw from the tourist trap of Piccadilly Circus.

Despite being mere meters from the tube station, we doubt many tourists are likely to stumble into this particular dining venue. For Ikoyi is a small restaurant with the capacity for around 40 covers (plus an additional 6 seats at the compact bar) in a space that has a contemporary feel, yet the decor does little to reflect the West African roots of its niche cuisine. Unfortunately, the tables, which are mainly set up for parties of two are uncomfortably close together.

Service is also something we struggle with. Our waiter has the menu knowledge but trying to prise it out of him is particularly difficult! A real shame considering our unfamiliarity with many of the ingredients represented in Ikoyi’s exciting cuisine and the lack of descriptions within the menu itself.

Another stumbling block is the fact that during dinner service Ikoyi only serves a blind tasting menu priced at £60 per head. The ever-changing daily menu revolves around the seasonal ingredients available each day. Our seven course menu encapsulates some of Ikoyi’s signature dishes, but we’re disappointed that the likes of melon and beetroot and the intriguing cow skin sandwich have now been relegated to lunchtime service (where the a la carte menu is still offered). This in conjunction with sub-standard cocktails (at a pricey £12 each) sets our meal at Ikoyi off to a fairly unfortunate start.

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There seems to be one dish that has gotten London talking this summer. The visually striking buttermilk plantain with raspberry salt and scotch bonnet from @ikoyi_london. Easily the best thing we ate at this West African inspired eatery and one of my favourite dishes of the year so far 🍌🌶 . . . . #gastronogram #finedininglovers #chefstagram #artofplating #londonrestaurants #londoneats #foodstagram #foodcritic #restaurantreview #londonfood #wheretoeat #foodiepics #foodshots #foodspiration #restaurantstory #foodieheaven #foodtourism #chefsfeed #outandaboutlondon #menwithcuisines #f52grams #ikoyilondon #ikoyi #westafricancuisine #plantain #coffee #beautifulcuisines #wheretoeatlondon #dishoftheday

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The tasting menu on the day we dine (6th August 2018) begins with buttermilk plantain and we find Ikoyi’s signature dish to be quite the revelation and easily one the most interesting dishes we’ve sampled this year. Frying plantain in West African flours before coating in a raspberry salt and serving upon a circular stone with a punchy scotch bonnet puree. The plantain dish boasts an interesting textural interplay, succesfully blending together sweetness and unami into one visually (and instantly Instagrammable) dish.

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Ube and corn

While plantain may be a familiar ingredient, what followed was something altogether new – ube and corn. The deep purple ube which is also known as bush pear comes as a sweet jam spooned on top of a cassava and toasted grain cracker. It’s a bite sized morsel that creates little impact, though the same cannot be said for the accompanying spiced gazpacho of English corn, yellow peppers and lovage which presents an alarming freshness to the palate.

Seafood appears in the third course labelled simply in the menu as octopus and coffee. A small tendril of Galician octopus steamed in its own juices before being charred and caramelized resulting in a tender texture not often associated with the mollusk. The Ghanaian sauce however,  requires a little more depth and comes across as a touch too bitter.

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Pink fir and egusi

I can’t even pretend I knew what pink fir and egusi were prior to dining at Ikoyi, but this is exactly what makes the dining experience interesting. Presenting an introduction to a whole new culinary world, the egusi is a traditional West African soup made from the seeds of cucurbitaceous plants such as squash, pumpkin and gourd. The sauce is rich and full of bold flavour and comes topped with jostaberries (we had to Google it), a hybrid of black currant, North American coastal black gooseberry and the European gooseberry.

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Denver Beef

The Denver Beef  is a good cut that works well with the distinct flavour of efo, a West African spinach. The vegetable has a fiery kick which complements the tender beef and leaves us asking why this particular ingredient has not become a steakhouse staple. Served with a smoked crab jollof, the popular rice dish was probably the only dish on the menu that I’d heard of before.

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Smoked Jollof

Jollof is always going to be tricky, due to the regional differences in terms of flavour and ingredients and the reality that a home cooked recipe is always likely to surpass the inclination of going out to eat (and spending). Calling it ‘authentic’ would be unfair to the culinary team at Ikoyi but their version should be commended all the same. Presented amidst smoky theatrics, the initial aroma leads me to suspect the smoking process has gone a step too far. I couldn’t be more wrong and the resulting smoke adds an additional flavour profile to an already strong dish prepared with a delightful crab meat salad.

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White peach with cashew ice cream

While the main courses veer slightly on the heavy side, a simple dessert of white peach with cashew ice cream is fitting, if somewhat uninspired. The lack of adventure on the plate when compared to the preceding courses, means I could leave the peach altogether were it not for the astounding ice cream accompaniment. A creamy blend of nutty sweetness that I will certainly be attempting to replicate at home.

Labelling Ikoyi as a contemporary West African restaurant appears to be a slightly skewed interpretation of the concept from founders Iré Hassan-Odukale and Jeremy Chan. More accurately, Ikoyi is looking to bring West African ingredients and flavours into the fine dining arena, taking luxury produce and engulfing it in West African flavours.

The sense of the unfamiliar is certainly part of Ikoyi’s appeal and I honestly can’t remember a dining experience this exciting in recent memory. Even more impressive given the limitless dining options in a 24 hour city like London.

Ikoyi offers something original, nuanced and unexpected, and while not every dish is a hit, this is one culinary adventure worth embarking on.

Location: 1 St. James’s Market, London, United Kingdom, SW1Y 4AH
Social: Instagram / Facebook
Hours: 12pm – 3pm / 5:30pm – 11pm
Phone: +44 (0)20 3583 4660