Tuesday 6 November 2018

Ikoyi London - Bring a full wallet to an amazing experience

Decisions in flux
We had planned to meet on Monday evening without any clear plans as I decided to spend stay over in London. We have been friends on Twitter for years and she was coming to Europe for a number of necessary #MeToo events.
I was unsure of what we would do, but when she said we should meet to have more than a drink but to get to know each other, this, I thought, could only be done over a meal. As I do not live in London, I could not suggest a favourite place, but Pitanga was on my mind, however, they open at inconvenient hours closing at 5:00 PM every day except for Friday and Saturday when they are open until 11:00 PM. They are closed on Mondays.
I floated a few other alternatives whilst seeking ideas, Ikoyi London, by interest and by reputation came to the fore and we decided on that.
Impressing impressions
I was greeted at Ikoyi London by a waiter ready to take my coat and my hat, I was then given a check-in ticket, a card, the 8 of clubs. Any restaurant that without prompting defrocks you and knows what to do with your hat has had staff see the four walls of a finishing school.
Making my way to our table by the window where my friend was already seated, embraced with kisses on the cheeks before contemplating what was to come before us. Starting with drinks, we took the non-alcoholic cocktail of Ikoyi Chapman – a concoction of hibiscus, guava and sour passionfruit, it was a tasty shade of pink that lasted through the seating.
Ikoyi London only serves a fixed tasting menu of 7 courses for dinner, which made it difficult to decide on the wine, so, we took on the wine pairing that came in from the third course. Ikoyi London does not follow the good rule of the skirt that any seamstress has learnt from the very first day, that it should be long enough to cover the detail and short enough to keep the interest. The courses were small enough to keep the interest but hardly big enough to sate the hunger – that is for another conversation.
You don’t say
The first course arrived which in terms was a new look on plantain and stew, my two Nigerian grandmothers of blessed memory would have been spinning in their states of repose, but this is an exercise in open-mindedness, where familiarity is dispensed for the whimsical. Authenticity gives way to the uniquely original and surprise. It went down a treat.
[Plantain and a scotch bonnet dip]
Little did I know that I had entered a West African version of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, I was living the lines of Ikoyi London saying to me, “Come with me and you'll be in a world of pure imagination.” The course had more plate like a tree trying to be a forest, a burnt pepper and a sprinkling of dust with something related to cassava in the narrative. This was a long way from Eba and stew, the ship of our common reality had sailed.
Within 4 visits from crockery to buccal cavity, we were done.
[Burnt pepper and cassava]
Exciting the taste buds
Mackerel is not necessarily fish you will find on the plate of the bourgeoisie, but we were told the next serving was caught today, strips of seemingly poached mackerel on a bed of banga fish paste with vegetables. It was savoury and comfortingly feeling like home cooking. The paired wine only seemed to assume any character in taste after we had tasted the dish. Though I would be honest, all the pairings were lifeless at first taste and not entirely exciting afterwards.
[Mackerel and a banga sauce]
By the fourth course, we had pumpkin and that was a revelation. I had to ask, could you really do this to pumpkin? By now, we were sold on this visit, it was one to write home about.
Jollof the duck
The fifth course was, in fact, two courses, the duck arrived first and then a steaming bowl of smoked jollof rice, both of which were a titillation of a different kind, filling with excitement and a screaming desire for more. Oliver Twist would have died for the lust of the more that cried for.
[Duck and malt bread]
[Smoked Jollof Rice]
You can wish for death
By then, we have the table next to us occupied, in that group of four of probably Europeans or North Africans, the light or my eyes were dim was one Nigerian who was unaware he was being brought to Ikoyi London. The look of amazement, despair and incredulity at what was presented to him could easily have had someone of a different disposition toss the tables and walk out in disgust.
As soon as I ascertained he was Yoruba, I began in a language that would communicate the experience was to be cherished as the difference for which there would be stories to tell about a place called Ikoyi London. It was not about pretensions but innovation, the challenge to open one’s mind and consider that what we once knew does not have to be sacred and impervious to design, artistry and review. That is what Ikoyi London is about.
It’s a lot more wonderful
He asked if the restaurant was one to visit regularly, I could not say that would be wise, but for the whimsy and the occasion, a conversation and gastronomic banter, Ikoyi London would come ahead of many a restaurant. It is the deconstruction of the mundane and typical to create a new essence. This is bold and hardly experimental, it works.
The dessert was a rice ice cream with a biscuit I cannot remember the name of, paired with a cider. One sip had me reaching for my old cocktail. I do not have a palate for lager, beer, ale or cider. It was a miss for me.
[Rice Ice Cream]
It is easy to forget that dinner is a tasting menu and not a meal, which suggests the portions are for tasting as opposed to filling. We had a wonderful time before walking down Jermyn Street and taking a picture with the statue of Beau Brummell.
Ikoyi London is a variation, an exploration, an interpretation and an experience, you will lose more weight in your wallet than you’ll probably gain in ingested food, that is the nature of the location, the standard of service and daring proposition the proprietors have decided to unleash on its adventurous clientele.
There is a discretionary charge and I suppose we rarely exercise the discretion to refuse the charge. The service was top class, the waiters gorgeous and interesting. The restaurant was full by the time we left. Ikoyi London is what is possible if we decide that excellence matters above all else.

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