A few friends mentioned a Nigerian fusion restaurant that opened up last month at a spot on St James market street, a stones throw from Piccadilly circus station called Ikoyi London. A vibrant foodie neighbourhood in Lagos ( Ikoyi) with tons of good restaurants seems to have lent its name to this new west african fine dining restaurant in the heart of London. The brain child of Ire Hassan Odukale and Head Chef Jeremy Chan formely of Nobu , the whole idea behind the menu seems to revolve around
showcasing West African dishes with a twist to a wider audience. Nigerian restaurants inevitably mostly attract Nigerians and have often wondered why some of the most flavourful dishes I have ever tasted ( Spinach melon seed stew, Jollof rice, banga soup : check out my Lagos blog posts ) arent in top restaurants on the high streets. On speaking to friends, it seems the lack of popularity of the Nigerian / west african dishes are due to multiple factors,
People get to visit Chinese restaurants because they,ve been exposed to Japanese and Chinese food via the media. Years of watching anime and martial arts movies with tons of buns, rice dishes, ramens and sake definitely makes us more open to these dishes. The only exposure people
have to Nigerians in general in the media are stories about crude oil and corruption. Exposure to Nigerian dishes are mostly via weddings and aromas coming out of microwaves during lunch breaks at work. The latter normally involves a Nigerian colleague nuking a fish dish. More needs to be done to get Nigerian dishes into the forefront of peoples minds and media exposure plays a big part in this.
The location also plays a part in all of this. Nigerian restaurant owners tend to think only in terms of very low cost, huge revenue, so they pick the cheapest location in a spot soo hidden that only Nigerians know of it because they are missing home food. Other owners pick locations based on the number of Nigerians living in the area , with little or no regard for anyone else.
Finally the presentation of the restaurant itself and the appearance of the dishes are normally not very inviting. My English driving instructor once asked me why West African restaurants have blacked out windows. I couldnt respond at the time and just shrugged. Thinking about it now I think its to allow people to dip their faces in bowls of delicious food in privacy, without anyone gawking in.
Ikoyi London seems to have all these factors. Piccadilly Circus… check..A chef that used to work in good restaurants..check…See through windows ,wooden decors with some african lighting theme and appealing looking dishes in lovely looking plates..check. Media exposure…check. I can imagine the conversations taking place in the halls of various newspaper establishments.. Have you heard of Unami… YES…well have you heard of adding Unami to various west african dishes? NO.. have you had a west african dish ? NO?. Well theres a new exoctic place in town that marries west and east. Lets give our readers something to remember and then they jot off and write the glowing article I saw in the Evening standard on Wednesday. I dare say an article that doesnt really describe some of the flaws in this new concept. The failing to describe the flaws probably rooted in the fact that the writers had a limited understanding of West african dishes or an appreciation of the soul of those dishes. So lets start
We had a buttermilk plantain and smoked scotch Bonnet : I actually liked this, albeit a bit different from the sweet plantain ( think bananas ) I was used to. The smoked spicy scotch bonnet pepper really added a kick to the plantain, however it needs just a touch of sweetness I reckon. (Cost was £5.50)
|Buttermilk plantain and smoked scotch bonnet : Really has a kick to it|
The other dish was a so so cassava and sorghum tahini. It tasted ok, but wouldnt say it was memorable . There was no extra dimension to the flavours in the cassava or the tahini. It needed some lemon, ginger…anything.
|Cassava and Sorghum Tahini|
:Manx loughton rib and asun relish really reminded me of Lagos actually. I think they got the taste of the Nigerian roadside meats nailed down and the relish was a good accompaniment. The lamb with its smoky flavour and the slightly tangy relish worked quite well together. That said for £9.50, perharps a slightly bigger portion wouldnt go amiss. I would order this dish again without hesitation.
|Manx Loughton rib and asun relish : Lagos on a plate|
The scallops peppersoup and coastal herbs was okay. Peppersoups probably more of an acquired taste. The dish manages to almost convey the essense of the normal Nigerian soup. The soup had bold flavours and the scallops were fresh and tasty.This came up to £13.50.
|Octopus pepper soup and costal herbs|
:Beef blade and traditional condiments ( Groundnut pepper spice and sliced confit tomatoes ) was basically 2 slabs of medium done beef. The other table had the pepper spice, however they seemed to forget mine so the beef only came with the tomatoes. The beef was made just how I liked it, however it needed just a tad more flavour. I normally love eating out at steak houses such as Goodmans, Hawksmoor, etc and not that I was expecting the beef to be on that level (£22), however I just felt more could be done with that dish.
|Beef blade and traditional condiments|
Rice and vegetables
Jollof rice and Bone marrow: This dish is a borderline misrepresentation of a much loved west african dish in the heart of central London. The dish had the look of jollof rice , spiciness and the smokiness, however thats where the comparison ends. The rice wasnt cooked within any tomato stew base and seemed more like brown rice fried in spices. There is just no need to fusionise some dishes in the words of Diana ( I still have doubts on fusionise being a word Diana ). This dish stands well on its own and it can be elevated if required without literally reaping the soul and heart out. They really failed to convey a taste that captures the minds of hundreds of millions of West africans. I love bone marrow personally, however there wasnt enough marrow in the bone to add an extra dimension to the dish. The two Nigerians in the table next to us moaned quite a bit about the rice and that cursed name , Jamie Oliver was mentioned in whispers. His take on Jollof rice was nothing short of heresy. I think this Jollof rice is a bit better than that, if not far off. This dish set us back £10.50.
|Jollof rice and bone marrow : Almost evokes memories of Jamie Oliver|
Garden egg and wild spinach efo
:If the Jollof rice was a misrepresentation of West african dishes, the garden egg and spinach efo was a triumph. The spinach stew in egg plant was the most loved dish on the table. The flavours of spinach stew and textures and taste of the masive egg plant was delightful. Perhaps some fish dish next to this wouldnt be a bad idea. This is the sort of thing Ikoyi London should aim for. You see I have no issues with fusion food and I understand that they are trying to achieve something new here. However this can be achieved without sacrificing the main Nigerian elements of the dish. It can be done without killing the flavours. The Garden eggs and wild spinach efo gives me much expectation.
|Garden egg and wild spinach efo : future of Nigerian fusion|
There goes my time at Ikoyi London. Hope you enjoyed the read and let me know what you think if you do get to visit. Enjoy the rest if your weekend readers and see you soon.