Jikoni in Marylebone: Vibrant dishes that pay homage to mixed-heritage cooking
The name Jikoni translates to “kitchen” in Swahili, but while Ravinder Bhogal’s counters are rooted in Marylebone, the room she refers to is not site-specific. Like the chef’s own journey, this concept crosses borders, paying playful homage to mixed-heritage cooking which moves freely between culinary traditions. Her style of cooking is instinctive and maternal, powered by the same sense of community that fired the kitchens throughout her upbringing in both Kenya and Britain. Describing her food as “proudly inauthentic”, Bhogal rejects the restrictive labels hemming chefs into categories of cuisine – and the result is more liberating than removing a belt midway through a meal.
The interior design in the restaurant functions in a similar way: the patterns are varied yet complementary, fitting together like a patchwork quilt of fine fabrics. If we weren’t already aware that Bhogal is also a stylist (and previously a fashion journalist), it becomes evident from the vibrant tablecloths and napkins, embroidered cushions and clouds of delicate multi-coloured decorations. This isn’t the minimalist décor or pretentious placement you find in lots of fine-dining establishments; this is haute couture meets home comfort. It’s attractive in a wonderfully welcoming way, like that impossible dress that’s both comfortable and elegant – you know, the one that expands at the waist.
Speaking as someone who, upon hearing the words “mango season”, bought two boxes of alphonsos and spent a week eating them for breakfast, lunch and dinner, it’s safe to say I have a taste for the fruit. So it was a welcome sight to see them popping up all over the menu – beginning with my very first sip of a Mango and Curry Leaf Margarita. This has to be one of the best iterations of the cocktail I have ever had – the serve remains characteristically sour in spite of the sweet fruit, which brings a lustrous texture, lifted with a salt and tajin rim. The second glass we try, the Pomegranate and Bay Negroni, is equally ingenious – Hayman’s gin is made rich with notes of bitter Campari, sweet ruby port and a tangy Maury AC, yet slips down smoothly.
It’s a relief to see that the chef’s artistic eye is not just reserved for the room but for the aperitifs, and this attention to detail carries over to the plates. From the nibbles, we opt first for Roasted Carrot and Goat’s Curd Dip, which is silky, sweet and warm with spices, served up with shards of crunchy spelt toast. This is followed by the particularly memorable Prawn Toast Scotch Eggs. This is a fusion you never knew you needed, which swaps the traditional sausage meat shell with an equally delicious Chinese takeaway favourite. The genius touch here is a dollop of sweet banana ketchup – this Filipino invention was popularised during the war due to a shortage of tomatoes, but like the dish itself, it’s doesn’t feel in any way inferior to the original.
Bhogal brings her personal ties to India, Kenya and Britain to the table throughout the menu, but she also borrows from other cultures across the globe, mirroring migration in diasporic dishes that transcend time and place. With the small plates, regional delicacies evolve into new hybrid species. The courgette flower, a Keralan classic, encases a vibrant yellow mix of Brixham crab, coconut mustard seed and turmeric within a crispy, deep-fried shell, accompanied by a tart sorrel chutney. This is followed by one of the night’s exceptional offerings: seductive orange slices of tart grilled peach are lying on a satin bed of pureed tofu and drizzled with lime leaf gremolata (think of the taste of Thailand contained within a fresh Italian sauce) and crunchy peanuts. Never has the bean curd tasted so creamy and indulgent – offset with the zingy fruit, it’s a wonderful discovery.
Only the best mains are so large that they must be presented on a fold-out serving tray to make room on the table. Our first pick, the Alphonso Mango and Golden Coin Thali is one of these dishes. If you haven’t come across this traditional platter of Indian delights, it’s a must-try. The main ingredients are a fragrant curry, which Bhogal adapts seasonally; “golden coins” (tiny poppadoms); dhokia, a sweet cake make from fermented rice and lentil batter; thoran, a side of green beans, onions and coconut; and puri (a deep-fried bread), to mop up every drop. When it comes to the summer edition, there’s something indescribably joyous about pulling the ripe mango from the seed. This is mirrored nicely by the accompanying meaty offering, a tender pressed Cornish lamb shoulder which falls straight off the bone. Spicy pickle and juicy pomegranate bring freshness to the smoky barbecue undertones of the burnt aubergine and charred za’atar flatbread.
On a warm day, we also opt for two chilled, dairy-based desserts. The first is a stunning take on a parfait, made with earthy tahini ice cream sandwiched between sheets of baclava (which themselves contain a hidden layer of intense roasted pistachios). The waiter recommends eating with our hands and we oblige all too willingly. The final dish requires a spoon: coffee rasgulla (spongey, syrupy dumplings made from a chena and semolina dough, reminiscent of gulab jamun) with mascarpone ice cream and an espresso caramel which is drizzled in front of our eyes. We’ve had our coffee fix, so a lighter cup of steaming Kenyan Chai is the perfect end to a glorious evening.
On our way out, we also pick up a copy of the new book – where we are delighted to find some of the dishes from the menu, both tried and yet-to-be-tasted. This is a testament to the whole philosophy of the place. It’s a space free from borders or secrets, where anyone could feel welcome. It’s affordable, shareable, global food and all you need to bring is an open mind (and mouth).
Photos: Azhul Mohamed