First time I heard about Ikoyi was three weeks ago in conversation with a really good friend originally from Nigeria, who was talking about going with his girlfriend, but he wasn’t really intrigued by the menu. I’d never heard of Ikoyi, but I, on the other hand, was really intrigued – an upmarket Nigerian Restaurant on St James Street, right off Piccadilly. That’s definitely in my wheelhouse, especially because I am Nigerian, I love food, I miss good Nigerian food, and I was always hoping for a restaurant just like Ikoyi.
Soon as I was home, Shiima and I looked through the menu, and then it instantly became apparent why my friend wasn’t intrigued by the menu. Shiima wasn’t keen, not because she dislikes Nigerian food – she likes it – but because there wasn’t anything on the menu that she’d ordinarily order – the dishes in the menu seemed a tad excessive to her. Still, I was intrigued, so I added Ikoyi to my growing list of restaurants to go on a Solo Excursion. But all of a sudden, I started to get a ton of messages asking if I’d been to Ikoyi. Then at a wedding last weekend, more friends asked, and most of them had already been and highly recommended it. Luckily, an old friend, Wale, wanted to meet up, and he suggested a meal at Ikoyi. I was in.
Ikoyi is in St James Market, about 5 minutes away from Piccadilly Circus station – a superb location. But I almost walked past it because from the outside it looked nothing like a Nigerian restaurant, or a restaurant with Nigerian or even African influences. Inside, the theme continues. Contemporary décor with really good lighting, but the tables are too close together, might as well have been a long table with communal seating. This could’ve been a problem if you were expecting even a modicum of privacy, but my friend and I were sat on a table next to a very affable lady and gentleman (more from them to come).
What I ordered
The menu was somewhat different from its online version; it is the same dishes, just with the names changed in parts. Wale and I ordered Chicken Oysters, and Buttermilk Plantain for snacks; Octopus Pepper Soup for our first course, and Chicken, Benne & Okra, Beef Short Rib, and Jollof Rice with Smoked Bone Marrow for the main course.
Review of the food
The buttermilk plantain arrived covered in what tasted like Paprika. It also had a unique consistency to what I’m used to with plantain, so much that I’m not entirely sure how it was cooked. I’m all for unique though, so I enjoyed the plantain and so did Wale. The uniqueness of the dishes continued with the presentation and especially the taste of the Chicken Oysters. Although it tasted good, it was odd as well. The portion sizes were really small, but then these dishes ought to be snacks. The octopus pepper soup is beautiful. The dish arrives plated without the soup and then your waiter delicately pours the soup into the dish. The octopus was delicious and very well cooked, although I’m not sure Wale enjoyed it, but the pepper soup was not “peppery” at all.
The Chicken, Benne & Okra was nice. The chicken was succulent and the taste of the okra was evocative of my childhood. It was plated with a good portion of what tasted like satay sauce, which I like. The Beef Short Rib was two perfectly sliced pieces of medium beef short rib, plated with a small mound of what ought to have been suya spice (a beautiful native Nigerian BBQ seasoning chuck full of spice and heat), pieces of tomato and onion slices. This dish ought to be upmarket beef suya. It isn’t. It’s a good slick steak dish.
As you might know if you’ve read any of my previous posts, I avoid rice at all costs. But then, I can’t come to a Nigerian restaurant and not try the Jollof rice. So err, firstly, I must add that I haven’t had Jollof Rice in a while, but this didn’t taste like Jollof rice … just a really tasty rice dish, akin to pilau rice, but resembling Jollof rice. We enjoyed the bone marrow as well, although I found out after the fact that we should’ve mixed it in with the Jollof rice.
We decided to have to share a dessert, and we picked the Zobo Papaya, Paradise Meringue & Buttermilk ice cream. The meringue was really delicious, creamy and full of vanilla, and the ice cream was good, as ice cream usually is. We didn’t like the papaya … we both had a tiny piece and abandoned it. It looked and tasted like a contemporary English dessert, which is expected, as Nigerians really don’t do desserts. Well, there is Puff Puff.
Opinion of friends
At this point in the meal, we had become fast friends with the lady and the gentleman beside us. Succinctly, I’d say they were disappointed with their experience. They were expecting authentic Nigerian food, especially as the lady, who isn’t Nigerian, had just returned from Nigeria. She very eloquently expressed her dissatisfaction with the dishes, and even the Chapman cocktail she ordered. The gentleman wasn’t far off in his assessment either, especially about the décor, which as I said did nothing to set the mood for a Nigerian or Nigerian fusion restaurant, and he wasn’t a fan of the tight layout of the restaurant and the vagueness of the menu in regards to dietary requirements.
For me, Ikoyi is a very fine restaurant, if you aren’t expecting any spices or flavour that is reminiscent of authentic Nigerian cuisine. Ikoyi isn’t for the people wanting that authenticity. Ikoyi is a start, a soft landing – introduce the general dining public to Nigerian cuisine little by little. For instance, most of the dining public understand Indian cuisine and know what to expect when they order a Korma or a vindaloo, but that took years. Ikoyi isn’t a Nigerian restaurant; I even struggle to call it a Nigerian fusion restaurant. What it is, in my honest opinion, is a good restaurant that serves well cooked and beautifully presented dishes that are inspired by Nigerian cuisine.
I’d recommend for anyone even intrigued by the idea of the restaurant. Go to Ikoyi and come to your own conclusion, but please don’t go while craving authentic Nigerian cuisine. It is also relatively expensive, but that ought to be expected when you consider the location of the restaurant.
Cuisine: Nigerian inspired Contemporary.
Dress Code: Casual/Smart casual.
Star Dish: Octopus Pepper Soup
Price: £40+ each (excluding alcohol)
Rating: 3 out of 5