On St James’s Market, there is a restaurant where cultures, worlds and cookery collide. Ikoyi, founded by old school friends Jeremy Chan and Iré Hassan-Odukale, Ikoyi is named for the bustling, cosmopolitan neighbourhood of Lagos where Hassan-Odukale was raised – and serves snacks and meals that put a fresh spin on traditional flavours and ingredients of West Africa.
After opening this summer – alongside St James’s stalwarts Anzu, Veneta and Aquavit – the restaurant has achieved critical acclaim, and word of its culinary innovation is spreading like wildfire through the capital. But how did Ikoyi become the number one spot in town?
Chan, who worked in the kitchens of everywhere from Claude Bosi’s Hibiscus and Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner, to René Redzepi’s Noma, used his expertise from each to create a whole new direction of cooking – and Hassan-Odukale – who took time out from his business studies to work front-of-house at Clutch Kitchen – spent two years and a considerable amount of money in creating the best restaurant he could.
And it shows. The interior has been designed by Studio Ashby, the trendy designers lending alabaster plaster, sheets of plywood and simple leafy plants to an interior that will never overshadow the plates. Even the sound system has been cleverly-engineered so as not to disrupt dinner conversation. Even down to the graphics and fonts on the menu, everything is considered and crafted meticulously – and that goes double for the food.
“We found all kinds of ways to express ourselves and experiment,” said Chan in an interview with Placed. “Because it’s really just such a vast universe of products and smells and tastes and sensations that people haven’t really experienced before on the one hand, but also on the other hand; flavours and ingredients that have never been taken into an experimental context before. Not in London at least!”
The menu, which includes dishes from Buttermilk Plantain and Chicken Oyster to Manx Loaghton and Octopus Pepper Soup, exemplifies the vibes of West Africa. Chan’s favourite dish, and one he hopes to become the restaurant’s signature, is the Wild Black Nigerian Tiger Prawn. Totally signifying what Ikoyi is aiming to do, it comes from Nigeria – which isn’t known for luxury seafood – but that’s exactly what it is. More meat than a lobster and a deep ocean flavour, the chef also uses it to create the restaurant’s signature bisque.
“Ultimately we simply don’t want to sacrifice on quality and deliciousness,” continues Chan, “that’s the baseline of all our dishes. We have this idea of universal deliciousness and try think of things within that context. We cook it so long as it fits within that realm of flavour.”
The drinks menu has been approached with similar innovation. Designed by brothers Max and Noel Venning, the cocktail that caught our eye was the Guinness Stone Fence, a cacao nib-infused rum served with lime flower and lengthened with Nigerian Guinness. And, if that doesn’t sound like your cup of Guinness, there’s a wine list, compiled by Sunaina Sethi, as long as your arm. And it is this variation, seen in the menu, decor and history of the restaurant, that typifies Ikoyi – and makes it well worth a visit.