Monday, October 16, 2023

Ikoyi (London, United Kingdom)

Ikoyi Restaurant
180 Strand, Temple, London WC2R 1EA, United Kingdom
+44 20 3583 4660
Mon 10/16/2023, 06:45p-09:30p

Ikoyi Exterior

My third dinner in London took place at Ikoyi, the restaurant that I was the most intrigued about, given that it serves West African-inspired cuisine at the Michelin two-star level. I kept thinking to myself: what does that even look like? Well, I was certainly curious to find out. The place comes to us from Chef Jeremy Chan and his childhood friend Iré Hassan-Odukale, who hails from Ikoyi, Lagos, Nigeria, hence the restaurant's name. What they've done is created a cuisine centered on West African spices as well as seasonal British ingredients, a combination that I'd never even considered prior to my meal here.

About the Chef: Chan was born in April 1987 in the UK to a Chinese father (a lawyer) and a Canadian mother (a ballet dancer), but actually spent much of his childhood in Hong Kong, as well as Canada. He was interested in food from an early age, and started getting serious about cooking around the time he turned 15, often preparing meals for the family on the rare occasions that they were all together. It was also during his teenage years when he would meet Hassan-Odukale, who'd moved to London when he was 16; the two soon became friends, and even flatmates later on. Hassan-Odukale would go on to attend the London School of Economics (c/o 2008), while Chan went to Princeton (where he studied comparative literature) after completing his private school education at Wellington College.

After graduating magna cum laude in 2010, he moved to Madrid to work in private equity (in the renewable energy space), but only lasted two years in the field. He decided to throw himself into the culinary world, experimenting in the kitchen and reading through hundreds of cookbooks. After returning to London and quitting his job, he was able to secure a weeks-long stage at Claude Bosi's Hibiscus. This was followed by three months at Noma, and then a position at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, which proved quite difficult for the young chef. In 2016, Chan departed Dinner after eight months and joined forces with Hassan-Odukale, who'd just left a career in the insurance field and was looking to open a fast casual Nigerian eatery. That initial idea never panned out, as the Chef began a deep dive into West African cookery and came to the conclusion that those flavors and ingredients would be the perfect jumping-off point for a proper gastronomic restaurant.

Ikoyi thus debuted in July 2017 in St James's Market to mixed reviews, as Chan's brand of Nigerian-ish cuisine wasn't necessarily well understood. The business was close to folding early on, but after the team decided to up the level of their cooking, Ikoyi began garnering more and more acclaim, and in October 2018, it received its first Michelin star. Like many others, Ikoyi was dealt a setback due to the pandemic, but its temporary closure allowed Chan to rejigger the menu and the restaurant as a whole. The place reopened in December 2020, and in September the following year, it made its first appearance in The World's 50 Best Restaurants ranking, coming in at #87 while also winning the "One to Watch" award. Two Michelin stars arrived in February 2022, and in July that year, Ikoyi rose to the #49 spot in the 50 Best list. In October 2022, the restaurant closed at its original location, but reopened on the ground floor of a Brutalist building on the Strand that December. Chan's first cookbook was released in April this year, and in June, the restaurant's 50 Best ranking improved to #35.

Ikoyi Interior
Pictured above is the view from my seat into Ikoyi's unusually open, unusually serene kitchen. The restaurant was penned by Studio David Thulstrup, a Danish design firm that gave the dining room a copper-hued, modernist aesthetic appropriate for the tone of the food. Capacity is reportedly a mere 28, with six in a separate private dining room.

Ikoyi Menu Ikoyi Cocktail & Beer List Ikoyi Spirits, Digestifs & Dessert Wine List Ikoyi Coffee & Tea List
Ikoyi Wines by the Glass List Ikoyi Wine List: Champagne / Sparkling Ikoyi Wine List: White Ikoyi Wine List: White Ikoyi Wine List: White
Ikoyi Wine List: Orange / Rosé Ikoyi Wine List: Red Ikoyi Wine List: Red Ikoyi Wine List: Red Ikoyi Wine List: Red Ikoyi Wine List: Sake / Beer, Perry and Cider / Sweet
Ikoyi's tasting menu is priced at £300 ($366.66) per person, plus 12.5% service, though there's also a shorter lunch menu at £180 ($220.00), served Wednesdays and Thursdays. Beverage choices include a small selection of cocktails, a smattering of beer, a few sakes, and a decidedly Old World-leaning wine list. Click for larger versions.

Timur & Tea Gimlet
Timur & Tea Gimlet [£15.00 ($18.33)] | Tequila - Timur - Koseret Tea
I kicked things off with a cocktail, specifically a gimlet that was quite unlike any other I've had before. Aromas were primarily citrusy and herbal, but with a lot more behind that, while taste-wise, I found deep, aromatic, multifaceted spices that seamlessly offset the tequila.

Gola Pepper Broth
1: Gola Pepper Broth
My meal commenced with a simple-looking bowl containing a hot broth incorporating caramelized chicken wings and gola peppercorn oil. Nosing it, I got a bevy of dark spices and herbs, backed by a potent pepperiness. Taking a sip, I was wowed by the soup's intensity and complexity, its sweet spices, and its long-lasting finish that was redolent of pepper, yet effortlessly subtle at the same time. An invigorating liquid that really enlivened the palate, this was a powerful start, one that really set the tone for the rest of the meal.

Smoked Sirloin & Shishito Pepper
2: Smoked Sirloin & Shishito Pepper
The first of three canapés was a poppyseed tart with smoked venison, sweet potato purée, wild sea bass, and shishito. I was surprised at how effective the back-and-forth between the venison and the bass was, with the fish really stand up surprisingly well to the meat. I think the key was the intricacy of all the spices involved here, which really evened the playing field for the two proteins. Lovely lingering heat and brine on this one, too.

Malt & Apricot Sour
Malt & Apricot Sour [£15.00 ($18.33)] | Pedro's - Barley - Apricot
My second cocktail was also enticing, with its almost yogurt-like funkiness joined by fruity, citrusy nuances and a malty sort of nuttiness from the barley.

Kabu, Aged Scallop & Vadouvan
3: Kabu, Aged Scallop & Vadouvan
Another tartlet brought a plethora of warm, nutty spices right up front, which then led to the cool, sweet brine of scallop, juxtaposed against even nuttier, much more familiar spices, with the turnip providing a modicum of moderation. This all made for a superb interplay of flavors, and served as another demonstration of the Chef's facility with West African seasoning.

Drunken Chicken Toast
4: Drunken Chicken Toast
The final hors d'oeuvre was arguably my favorite of the bunch. A riff on the classic Chinese dish, I found this very familiar, with loads of dark-toned chicken-y notes pairing beautifully with the zing of spring onion and the nutty crunch of puffed quinoa.

Mussels, Saffron, Beetroot & Line-Caught Squid
5: Mussels, Saffron, Beetroot & Line-Caught Squid
What I believe was a custard of saffron and mussels was presented with daikon, squid marinated in its own ink, a tartare of dry-aged John Dory, and kaluga caviar, then finished with a reduction of beet. I found this an utterly multifaceted, contemplative presentation of salinity and umami, but brightened up by the tanginess of beetroot.

Cantillon x Cantina Giardino, Drogone Lambic, Brussels - Belgium
Next to imbibe was the 2022 release of the Cantillon x Cantina Giardino, Drogone Lambic, Brussels - Belgium [£80 ($97.78)], which, given the beer's rarity in the US, I absolutely had to order once I saw it on the menu. A blend of three-year-old lambic and Aglianico grape pomace macerated in chestnut barrels, this showed off a nose brimming with tart red fruit and funk. On the palate, the ale drank tannic and acidic, with more red fruits and earth joined by a bit of a peppery bent. Just lovely.

Pigeon Suya
6: Pigeon Suya
Hay-smoked squab demonstrated a wonderfully silky, supple consistency along with deep, yet refined flavors, while portions of sweetbread and prawn were even more delicate. At the same time, there was this subtle, yet building spice that really worked here. I was also a fan of that delightfully bitter-woodsy greens-mushroom combo, as well as the brightness of that broccoli(?) sauce.

Moin Moin, Lobster & Pine Nut
7: Moin Moin, Lobster & Pine Nut
The moin-moin presented itself as a sort legume cake loaded with dark, heady notes that made a lot of sense with the much lighter flavors of a lobster salad. We also see a cut of octopus, with its satisfying, "snappy" chew and complex, creeping, sweet spices, as well as a fatty shard of pork jowl, which had this almost coffee-like character. In the center of the plate was pine nut milk dotted with kombu oil, which contributed further allure to the dish.

Turbot & Egusi Miso
8: Turbot & Egusi Miso
Cooked rare, line-caught Cornish turbot had a wonderfully gratifying consistency along with an elegant sort of taste that was enriched by an egusi butter. The fish also married well with the sweet, spicy, nearly BBQ-esque components in the dish, while the veggies and carrot pudding offered up some contrast.

Brioche (Cross Section)
I was then provided the most perfectly cylindrical brioche I'd ever seen, a particularly sugary example stuffed with mushroom and finished with smoked honey butter.

Native Breed Rib, Roasted Cep & Sauerkraut
9: Native Breed Rib, Roasted Cep & Sauerkraut
Lean cuts of Hereford rib showcased sweet spices along with a building pepperiness, and were accompanied by horseradish and roasted cep sauces, with the mushroom actually recalling cacao. I was a fan of the heat imparted by those roast chili peppers, while even better was the bright crunch of the sauerkraut, which reminded me a bit of baek kimchi.

Smoked Jollof Rice
10: Smoked Jollof Rice
Ikoyi's jollof is one of the restaurant's signature dishes, and I can see why. The rice's potent, mouthwatering aroma was apparent even as it was coming to the table. I loved its wonderfully smoky, inviting dry spice character and slow-burning, long-lasting heat, while the rice itself was spot-on texturally. This is something that you just want to eat a whole big bowl of.

Bird King Da Hong Pao
To go along with dessert, I opted for the Bird King Da Hong Pao (鸟王种大红袍) [£8 ($9.78)], a charcoal-fired oolong tea from Guiding, Guizhou that arrived with its own info card. I found the tea super fruity, with an amazingly tropical quality (think pineapple) countered by a bit of a nutty, grassy character.

Green Yuzu & Rye Amazake
11: Green Yuzu & Rye Amazake
My first dessert brought together yuzu sorbet with fermented rye, finger lime, and a pine cone syrup. This was a clever course to be sure, with its strong overarching citrus notes playing well with piquant, ferment-y flavors, a marked sweetness, and the "grain-y" nature of the rye.

Black-Eyed Pea & Caramelized White Chocolate
12: Black-Eyed Pea & Caramelized White Chocolate
An amalgamation of black-eyed bean ice cream, caramelized white chocolate, smoked apple compote, buckwheat oil, and kaluga hybrid caviar made for another super smart dessert that wowed me. I loved the earthy, grassy taste of the peas, and how that coalesced with the chocolate, while the apple and especially the caviar integrated with the ice cream beautifully.

Black Fig Tatin / Verbena Berry & Wasabi
13: Black Fig Tatin
14: Verbena Berry & Wasabi
The evening ended with a duo of petits fours. First was an untraditional tarte Tatin that united black figs and aniseed(?) caramel with a delightfully nutty, crumbly pastry crust. There was also a raspberry and verbena gel, which I found surprisingly minty and even a bit beguiling.

I came into Ikoyi expecting it to be more or less a modern Nigerian restaurant, but I'm not so sure that's the best description of this place. Chan is certainly drawing from the West African pantry, but he's incorporating those flavors in such a unique, ingenious manner. It's like he's using West African ingredients in a non-West African way, if that makes sense, and based on this meal, I can see that he's not afraid to pull in some Japanese influence as well. The end result is some genuinely original, difficult-to-label, boldly spice-driven, complex cooking like nothing I've tasted previously. I truly wonder if a restaurant like this has ever existed before. Ikoyi is indeed one to watch, and I'm very curious to see where Chan and his team take this.

Savoy Hotel
Prior to dinner, I made it a point to stop by the legendary Savoy Hotel, located just a quarter-mile away from Ikoyi. I was here to pay a visit to the property's American Bar, a pioneering, iconic cocktail bar dating all the way back to 1893.

American Bar
Here we see the view from the high table that I was seated at. Note the place's inviting Art Deco-inspired design.

American Bar Cocktail List American Bar Cocktail List American Bar Cocktail List American Bar Cocktail List American Bar Cocktail List American Bar Cocktail Background American Bar Cocktail Background
Entitled "The Savoy: American Bar Journal," this evening's cocktail list was the creation of Head Bartender Chelsie Bailey, and was meant to highlight modern reimaginations of classic drinks. Click for larger versions.

Last Call
Last Call (Poured)
Last Call [£40.00 ($48.91)] | Glenfiddich 21 Year Old Whisky, Walnut Wine, Chestnut Liqueur, Oloroso Sherry, Pedro Ximénez Sherry
I began with what may very well be the best cocktail I've had all year. It had an astounding bouquet rife with rich, luxurious, port-like notes that immediately drew me in. Taking a sip, I found the concoction uncommonly silken, with an instantly recognizable base of Scotch supported by loads of dark fruit, raisin, and nuts, all of which just made me want to keep drinking. Absolutely moreish.

Olives & Rice Crackers
Complimentary snacks include pitted olives and spicy, senbei-style rice crackers.

Cardamom Angel Face
Cardamom Angel Face [£23.00 ($28.12)] | Ki No Bi Gin, Avallen Calvados ecoSpirits, Apricot Wine, Cardamom Cream Soda
Given the potency of my previous cocktail, my next one was on the fun, fizzy, refreshing side, and showed off easy-going orchard fruit flavors overarched by the fragrant spice of cardamom.


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