Jikoni, Swahili for kitchen, is chef Ravinder Bhogal’s first permanent establishment after a series of successful residencies, television appearances and a cookbook. And what a debut it is!
I’m fascinated by restaurants that tell the story of the chef’s personal journey. Jikoni’s eclectic menu, which spans multiple geographies, is a reflection of Ravinder’s cross-cultural Indian and Kenyan heritage, as well as her culinary influences from living in the UK and travelling in the Middle East.
The thoughtfully curated décor evokes a sense of home – as a physical place of living, but also as the locus of memory, nostalgia, and longing even. The vibrant cushions, the meadow of block printed floral tablecloths, the antique art deco dresser, are all irresistible in their inviting friendliness. It’s a decidedly feminine aesthetic – one that aims (according to Jikoni’s website) to celebrate “the many maternal figures who shared their kitchen wisdom with us”. A meal at Jikoni is indeed like stepping into your mum’s best friend’s living room – a place of warmth, elegance, and familiarity.
Having had three dinners and a brunch at Jikoni, I’ve had a chance to get fairly up close and personal with the menu – which is divided into kazuri (starters), small plates, large plates and tamu tamu (desserts). So here’s what to do.
Start off with the kazuri to share. I loved the flavours of the carom seed mathis (Gujarati deep fried flatbreads) with apple achaar. The Pondicherry prawn puffs are also morsels of sheer delight.
Then move on to the small plates. The highlights for me were the beetroot and shanklish croquetas, the cauliflower popcorn and the sweet potato bhel. I’ll eat croquetas no matter how they’re filled, but these are really exceptional as the shanklish – a feta-like cheese eaten in the Levant – complements the earthiness of the beetroot beautifully. The cauliflower popcorn (more like cauliflower tempura) is like a party in your mouth, bursting with flavours and textures. *This* is the kind of popcorn I want tantalizing my tastebuds when watching a Bollywood flick. The sweet potato bhel feels less naughty (for those of us watching the carbs) and is wonderfully accentuated with raw mango and pomegranate.
Amongst the large plates, the mutton qeema sloppy joe steals the show. Served in a moreish buttery brioche with batter fried padron peppers on the side, the qeema hits all the headiest notes of cardamom and cloves, and packs in just the right heat.
Finally, end on a sweet note with the banana cake with miso butterscotch and… wait for it…. Ovaltine kulfi. Incredibly delightful, not least for the schoolday memories, and without being too sweet or overly decadent.
Jikoni’s recently-added brunch menu is a welcome departure from the usual brunch suspects. Think fenugreek waffles, piña colada pancakes, and mooli parathas which went down particularly well with my friends (and are totally worth the £6 price tag). Our experience was somewhat marred by the profound disappointment at finding that the rose, cardamom and orange doughnuts (discovered during pre-brunch research and much salivated for) had been temporarily taken off the menu for ‘tweaking’. Hopefully they’re suitably perfected now – if you happen to have them, tell us about it!
For me, like most people, a key question when choosing a restaurant is who else would I like to bring with me here? Often a place will strike you as romantic for a date, elegant and reliable for the parents, or whimsical for an afternoon with girlfriends. Jikoni is one of those rare places which checks all those boxes. And the food’s not half bad either!
19-21 Blandford Street
London W1U 3DH
By Rida Bilgrami.
Rida’s day job focuses on the geopolitics of food, water and land security. With an academic background in anthropology, she is also drawn to exploring how cultures, rituals and relationships are shaped by food. This curiosity regularly lands her in the thick of London’s vibrant food scene. Rida grew up in Karachi and New York, and has been fortunate to call Colombo, Bangkok, and Boston ‘home’ at various points in her life.
Posted on 6 December 2016
Cover photo courtesy Rahil Ahmad