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St James’s Market
Ikoyi’s West African cuisine stole the column inches when the restaurant opened in summer 2017. But let’s be clear: you don’t need to know your banga from your igbin to have a great meal at this smart restaurant. A glass-fronted, minimalist cube set in the St James’s Market development, Ikoyi’s interior is clad in blond-wood panels for a Scandi-cum-sushi vibe. Hanging clay lamps add a touch of African artisanship, low-ceilings create a real buzz and a bijou open-plan kitchen kicks out perfumed, smoky aromas.
Chef-patron Jeremy Chan has done his time in some A-list kitchens (Noma, Dinner by Heston) and his cooking delivers elegant small plates that draw on the heat and boldness of West African cuisine – witness a snack of crunchy plantain dusted in Scotch bonnet powder. Standouts on the short menu include a chargrilled octopus leg with spicy ndolé (a bitterleaf and spinach mix); pink slabs of Wagyu beef atop an unami-laden paste of mushroom, fermented chilli, walnut and olives, all sitting in a silky smoked eel sauce; and an absolutely stunning dessert of mouth-coating groundnut foam with zobo jam and meringue.
To drink, we loved the roasted plantain Old Fashioned, while wines are picked to withstand the spice (our robust, ever-so-slightly sour Riesling was a case in point). Prices aren’t cheap, so a good-value lunch menu (£35 for three courses) is definitely worth a punt for a restaurant that adds a real differential to the London scene.
Best in St James's
Square Meal Silver Awards
St James’s Market
Piccadilly Circus Tube Station 114m
Leicester Square Tube Station 340m
Criterion Theatre 55m
Mon-Sat 12N-3pm 6-11pm
Food & Drink:
Rate & Review
Food + drink: 4
Meal was absolutely delicious, looking forward to going again!
Food + drink: 3
Part of the beauty of the London dining scene is that there is a plethora of choice. Like the citizens of this city, there is huge diversity. However, the darker side of the city’s culinary dynamism is that it is relentlessly Darwinian: if you don’t get it right, you will fail. The statistics bear this out: some 50% of central London restaurants shut within a year of opening. I fear Ikoyi may be one of them. Our cheery server informed us that the place is ‘packed’ in the evening, but any restaurant that only manages four covers (us and one other table) at a mid-week lunchtime, must surely begin to question its raison d’etre. The concept behind Ikoyi is an interesting one, namely ‘high-end West African’ dining. I couldn’t help but noticing several ironies: the restaurant looked and felt distinctly international rather than explicitly African, while the menu included caviar (from North Devon) and wagyu beef – natural staples, of course, for the average Nigerian. The food we consumed was well-intentioned, but even for someone who likes spice in one’s dishes, the emphasis on ‘heat’ seemed to crowd everything else out. A cow foot, dark beer and panja pepper snack was, I sense, more about ‘shock value’ than anything else: who has ever tried cow’s foot? Frankly, the croquette in which said foot was served could have contained any meat. The wagyu was highly impressive at least, and the meat undoubtedly enhanced by the nut and spice powder into which one could dip the meat. The chefs (who, incidentally, all appeared to be European) clearly seemed to know what they are doing with this dish, even if this could not be said about all of the ones we sampled (the plantain was instantly forgettable). If you’re curious, best go soon to check Ikoyi out; it may not be around for too long.
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