There’s a rather welcoming air about Jikoni.
Opened just this week by celebrated chef and TV personality Ravinder Bhogal, the new restaurant effortlessly stands out on Marylebone’s Blandford Street with its pretty-in-pink awning and the wicker chairs and potted plants outside.
Fashioned as an extension of Ravinder’s home, Jikoni means ‘kitchen’ in Swahili. It’s a warm and inviting space, one in which you can easily make yourself at home – whether seated at the bar, propped up against comfy cushions by the curtained windows, or in our case, tucked away in a cosy and softly illuminated corner.
That a lot of thought and care has gone into its making, is evident in the smallest of details. It seem as though each aspect of the restaurant has a compelling story to tell… Such as what appeared at first glance as a stain on the wall, but turned out to be a stamp mirroring the vivid prints on the tablecloths (all of which have been handmade in India)!
There are plenty of unusual and offbeat artworks too (including a fascinating avian-inspired installation involving book art), interspaced with vintage finds – from an Art Deco dresser to an antique table dating back over 100 years.
As you can imagine we were more than a little sidetracked upon arriving, especially as one of our group, Daisy, is an artist herself!
Having finally turned our attention to the menu, we started off with a round of cocktails and Kazuri – roughly translating to small and beautiful in Swahili, this essentially represented Jikoni’s take on nibbles and bar-bites.
Lemma went for a chilli-infused Martini (also featuring orange and ginger marmalade!), while I was enticed by Gulabo’s Martini, infused with rose syrup and Maraschino (with an egg white for a smooth finish). As heady as it was elegant, it was a drink which pleasantly enough had just the right hint of sweetness.
A bowl of jaggery, chilli & fennel seed popcorn was as scrummy as its name would suggest – the kick of chilli yielding a sharp foil to the natural sweetness of the jaggery. We also relished the carom seed mathis (a savoury Indian cracker of sorts), paired with a sweet and sour apple achaar (pickle).
Divided across (comfortably-shareable) small and big plates, Jikoni’s menu imbibes inspirations from all over – Britain, East Africa and India (Ravinder was born in Kenya to parents of Indian origin, but brought up in London), as well as the Middle East.
Under her buoyant direction, the result is an eclectic offering of dishes which mix up culinary traditions and comfort-food classics without abandon…
Think mutton keema sloppy joe (Jay Rayner describes it as a truly beautiful thing); and lobster khichdee – a dish which sounds several notches more decadent than the traditional rice and lentil-based khichdee that all Indian kids are prescribed whenever unwell or feeling the effects of a bad tummy!
As for this vegetarian and part-Mumbaikar, I was incredibly excited to see one of my favourite Bombay street eats, bhel, on the menu.
What made this wildly-colourful assembly different to what I’m usually used to, was the host of versatile ingredients featured (chunks of sweet potato, beetroot strands, raw mango and fresh pomegranate to name a few) alongside the more traditional trimmings such as puffed rice… It all came together in a vibrant burst of well-balanced flavours and textures!
A dish apt for autumn, the pumpkin scotch egg also impressed, arriving on a creamy bed of tahini with pickled chillies on top.
The vegetable of the year wasn’t amiss on the menu either, making an appearance in the form of a generously-portioned “cauliflower popcorn.”
Speckled with spring onions and chillies, the batter-fried bites of cauliflower had all promise of becoming an instant classic, but were let down but a slightly-soggy exterior and a case of over-salting.
Disappointingly, our veggie main course – beluga lentils with spiced roots, shankleesh (a soft sheep milk cheese) and dukkah (an Egyptian blend of herbs and spices) – was also missing a spark and could have conversely done with a lot more seasoning and spicing-up.
Meanwhile a simple side – mujadarra (the Lebanese-style lentil dish) with yoghurt and crispy shallots – turned out to be a major highlight for me. A bit like the mung bean khichdee of my childhood, it evoked comfort and nostalgia in equal measure.
Afters were an unapologetically-decadent and pleasurable affair featuring a banana cake, miso-butterscotch sauce, peanut brittle and Ovaltine-flavoured kulfi.
Closer to a sticky toffee pud in texture (without the excessive cloyingness), this is a dessert which is not to be missed if you visit Jikoni.
And visit you should.
Admittedly our dinner wasn’t flawless, but to be fair it was only the second night since the restaurant’s opening. Teething problems in some shape or form were bound to be inevitable and didn’t seem to be anything that a bit of fine-tuning shouldn’t fix.
More so, the evening was as much about the experience as the food… And no, not in the gimmicky way that I’m sometimes guilty of falling prey to, but rather due to the utterly endearing nature of the restaurant.
As you’ll find out, there’s just something irresistible about Jikoni’s charms.
Jikoni, 19-21 Blandford Street London W1U 3DH