SMALL TALK

Ikoyi founders: "We want to change perceptions of west African cuisine"

Ikoyi London restaurant changing perceptions of west African cuisine

School friends Ire Hassan-Odukale and Jeremy Chan open a permanent home for their Jollof cuisine restaurant concept Ikoyi in London’s St James’ Market later this month.

We've heard of Jollof rice, but what exactly is Jollof cuisine?

JC: It’s our take on the food of west Africa. Ikoyi will not be a traditional west African restaurant. The food will be a combination of our tastes and backgrounds that uses west Africa for flavour, inspiration and context. The reason it works is because west Africa is a very multicultural place, particularly in terms of ingredients.

IH: Jollof rice is the iconic dish of the area. It’s claimed by all west African countries to be their own but research shows it doesn’t come from any one place. The rice came from Asia, the tomatoes from the New World by way of Portugal and the cooking method is influenced by paella and other Spanish rice dishes. As a dish, it sums up a nomadic cuisine with lots of different influences.

JC: At Ikoyi, we will be serving our take on the dish, which sees the addition of smoked bone marrow and a miso we make from groundnut.

Describe the transition from a pop-up to a permanent restaurant

IH: My experience in hospitality has been fairly limited. Setting up this restaurant has been a steep learning curve. I spent six months working front of house at a friend’s restaurant prior to launching the street food and pop-up business so I’m not a total novice.

How did you two meet?

IH: We are old school friends and we’ve known each other since we were 15. I moved to London for university and worked in the City after that.

JC: I also worked in the City. We moved to London at roughly the same time and lived together for a bit. About six years ago I quit and started cooking. I worked in various places, most notably Dinner By Heston Blumenthal.

Why west African cuisine?

IH: It’s my background and it’s an interesting food culture. Ikoyi, incidentally, is the name of a neighbourhood in the Nigerian capital Lagos.

JC: We wanted to open a restaurant that combined our cultures and our experiences.

IH: It’s Jeremy’s experiences as well as mine. He has transferred his knowledge to west African ingredients. All the flavours and ingredients are heavily influenced by west Africa. Some dishes stay faithful to that culture but use the best products in the UK, others will be original dishes made with west African ingredients.

Where will you get your ingredients from?

JC: We won’t be sourcing many of our proteins from Africa. It’s more the key seasonings and the spices, although we will be getting some of our root vegetables from there. The sourcing is quite straightforward because we can purchase from established companies that supply London’s African communities.

Tell us about the dishes..

IH: One of the snacks is confit chicken oyster served with a tart tamarind and chicken jus glaze. Starters include octopus pepper soup with coastal herbs. For mains we have beef suya – a famous Nigerian street snack of grilled skewered meat – served with traditional condiments as well as chicken with benne and okra.

How did you do your research?

JC: We travelled to west Africa together and we also did a lot of research in the British Library and talked to a lot of west African cooks.

IH: We’ve identified the key ingredients that we think are universally delicious. Traditional west African food is pungent and intense. It’s spicy and big on umami. It’s also quite filling. Our take on the cuisine will be a bit lighter.

What format will the menu be?

IH: It will be a concise à la carte. But a big part of the menu will be the snacks that come before the starters, small bites that explore a lot of different flavours and sensations. The intention is that you have snacks and then a three-course meal, it’s not designed to be a sharing plate concept.

What's the price point?

IH: Spend per head will be about £50, including drinks. There will also be a set lunch menu for £28 for three courses. It will be based on the à la carte menu with slightly smaller portions.

Would you describe what you're doing as fine dining?

JC: In terms of the thought processes, the ingredients and the techniques, it’s definitely high-end food. But we’re trying to make it as accessible to as wide an audience as possible.

IH: We want to change people’s perceptions of west African food. That’s a big challenge with African cuisine because people aren’t familiar with it and it’s not associated with attention to detail.

What has the feedback at your pop-ups been like?

IH: Most people think it’s awesome. But some Africans from older generations say: ‘Who do you think you are? This is not how it is supposed to be.’ When they taste the food at our supper clubs they are usually pleasantly surprised; hopefully we’ll be able to win them round at the restaurant too.

What will Ikoyi look like?

IH: The references to west Africa will be very subtle. A modern west African restaurant looks like a modern restaurant in Europe and the US.

JC: The link to Africa will be articulated mostly through texture, colour and materials. Like the food, everything will be implicit. We have some modern west African art and have also worked with a cartoonist based in LA. We described the concept to him and he has designed a huge print based on all of our ingredients and ideas.

https://ikoyilondon.com/

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