Blandford Street is ideally located: a stone’s throw away from chaotic Oxford Street and the Wigmore Hall, and more discrete than the adjacent Marylebone High Street, it offers relief for shoppers and concert-goers alike. This relief comes in the form of both top notch bars (The Clarette is not one to miss, but more on that another time) and eateries. The case in point, or rather the subject of this review, is Jikoni. It had long been on My List, not only for its stellar reviews but also given the heritage of its founder, Ravindar Bhogal, which chimed a bell or two with my own.
Like both my parents, Bhogal was born in Nairobi and was educated in Britain. And like me, she’s the youngest of four sisters (or in my case, three – but you get the gist). With an East African, North Indian, and British background, Bhogal refers to her cooking as “global”. But describing her food is global doesn’t do her justice. Despite being dynamic and inventive, at its heart it feels honest and homely: it’s very much the food of her own culture and her own innovation. It just so happens that this culture crosses continents. And through her food, Bhogal aims to celebrate the contribution of mothers, sisters, and aunties (in the Indian sense of the word that encompasses practically every other adult female) to feeding. I read that she also has a plan to launch a scheme whereby women refugees can enlist to work in Jikoni’s kitchen – just as Darjeeling Express’ all-female kitchen is testament to.
On entering into Jikoni, we were welcomed by our host as guests not customers. He invited us to sit either at one of the tables, or the bar-counter – which my companion and I opted for. It would be hard not to feel utterly at home surrounded by mismatched, brightly patterned tablecloths and cushions, mix-and-match crockery, and souvenir-style knick knacks. Like her multi-dimensional food, the interiors are a homely riot of patterned fabrics (one of which my companion likened to a William Morris print), embroidered silk cushions, colourful lamps, and paisley napkins. I love the authenticity of this place – exuded by everything from our friendly host and the old-school Indian love songs playlist, to the safari-themed pendant lights and the geometric Indian linen tablecloths. It’s very jolly.
Jikoni’s bar-counter is a great setting to get-to-know people. Especially over a sharing starter or two. Our opening gambits were the Beetroot & Shanklish Croquettas (£5) and the Sweet potato bhel (£10), served with apple and pomegranate. Any take on beetroot in Indian food is a winner for me and these did not disappoint, especially given the unusual but successful creamy goat cheese counterpart. Though, I still have reservations about goat’s cheese in Indian foods; wouldn’t fresh ricotta-like paneer work better and be more in keeping with the tone of these dishes?
The bhel, however, was stellar. The warm and crispy puffs were seductive, as were the ruby red pomegranate jewels that brightened up the dish with a true spark (even though Marylebyone High St’s Christmas Lights hasn’t yet been turned on!). The white sweet potato was also a conversation starter: I couldn’t believe it was a sweet potato, and mistook it for cassava. But to prove his point, our waiter gave us a sweet potato to take home and cook ourselves – which I did later that week. It was definitely a sweet potato.
For mains, we took the Dahi Cauliflower (£15), with poha, peanuts, golden sultanas, and green coconut chutney, and the newly introduced Paneer gnudi served with kale and a green chutney. The idea of paneer gnudi is ingenious: how has this not been done before?! Whilst the Dahi Cauliflower was a little dry, it did make me rekindkle my love for poha – a puffed rice dish – though I’m still suspicious over currants in savoury dishes.
The icing on the cake for me, though, were our afters of Paan madeleines (albeit without any icing). With their aniseed-like flavour singing through, they’re an ideal palette cleaner. Not overly sweet, refreshing, and morcel-sized, they’re arrived fresh out the oven with two extra thrown in for good measure (or probably because we declined the side of Kenyan chai).
I love Jikoni, which is a claim to make given my usual reluctance to eat food that conjures up home when I could eat the same/similar at home…Actually, long before getting around to opening this first restaurant, Bhogal made a name for herself through residencies and supper clubs. You could still think of Jikoni as the latter.
Jikoni, 19-21 Blandford Street, Marylebone, London W1U 3DH