Ravinder Bhogal's first restaurant Jikoni has the critics abuzz. But is the food as fragrant as the former beauty journalist herself? Jess Wood tries it out...
To be fair, Jikoni chef-proprietor Ravinder Bhogal hasn’t been a beauty and fashion journalist for some time. But that got your attention, anyway. A lot has happened to the glamorous 36-year-old in between – being anointed ‘the new Fanny Craddock’ by Gordon Ramsey on his programme The F Word, an award-winning debut cookbook, Cook in Boots, and a whole series of her own, Ravinder’s Kitchen, shown on TLC.
The big Jikoni theme is homeliness, with a menu offering ‘soothing’ food that serves as a tribute to the wisdom of mother figures who have passed down their kitchen skills. But what does that mean in reality?
Many foodie types, more skilled at the saffron-critique than me, have already given it raves (hello Fay Maschler, Marina O’Loughlin, and not forgetting the late great A A Gill). So here instead I shall keep it real with a hungry-layperson-on-date-with-husband take…
The look: Small, cosy and eclectic, with flatteringly low lighting and Asian flourishes. The tables are covered in pretty printed cotton cloths made by a womens’ co-op in India, and laid with mismatched coloured china. A bright woven Indian fabric adorns one wall, a framed ‘He is the Cow’ text takes pride of place on another and even the coat hook in the spice-fragranced loo has a rhino head. At Jikoni, Bhogal’s idea is to create a welcoming home from home, and when she does a charming, smiley turn round the room to chat to diners half-way through our evening, it does feel touchingly personal. All a total contrast to the formal, starched-napkin vibe of the area’s other eateries, and perfect for a fun, romantic dinner a deux.
The drinks: exotic aperitifs with a twist in the tail. My Clementine and Clove Bellini with Sipsmith gin, £11, tasted like a grown-up, liquid Tangfastic – sour and sweet at the same time. My husband’s Machungwa and Chilli Martini, £10, below, made with chilli-infused gin, orange and ginger marmalade (Isay!) had a seriously throat-warming effect. The short, expertly-edited wine list includes some unusual options, like a Moroccan chardonnay.
The food: Colourful English/American comfort food with an Asian twist (or vice versa, hard to tell) – all cooked with a light hand and plenty of unusual spices and flavours. No stodgy curries or boring filler dishes here. The starters are perfect for sharing. Bhogal’s signature Quail Scotch Eggs, £7-£7.50, below, are a must-try.
Each serving is one perfect egg, in a deep layer of deliciously crunchy coating. It comes sliced in half to reveal the deep yellow yolk, just verging on runny. My prawn toast version came with banana ketchup, on a bed of pickled cucumber. The Charred Brussel Sprouts, £8, are another revelation – crunchy and smoky, served with little pieces of chestnut. The Sweet Potato Bhel, £7, was like a vegetable version of a banana sundae – a great long strip of succulent sweet potato, drizzled in creamy, yoghurty sauce and nuts. For our main course, I moved on to the Lobster Khichdee, £24 – a whole meaty lobster tail on a bed of ‘moilee broth’ – a liquid, soupy bowl of rice flavoured with coconut chutney. Simon’s Crispy Pig Cheek, below, with turnip polenta, £15.50, came as four small, rich slivers of meat with another soupy, apple-tinged sauce and mouthwatering crackling – or ‘puffed pig skin’ as the menu has it.
There are fantastic options for fish and meat-eaters but only one vegetarian main (Pan-Fried Brill with Barrel-Aged Feta, £17.50) – so veggies might need to fill up on starters and pad out with side dishes like the Green Bean and Cashew Nut Thoran, £5. The puddings had me doing my best Meg Ryan/When Harry Met Sally impression. The standout Banana Cake with miso butterscotch, Ovaltine kulfi and peanut brittle, £7.50, was a bit like a sticky toffee pudding, with a posh Snickers-esque twist. The Creme Brulee with carrot and cardamom was perfection – light, delicate and with a silky rice pudding texture. But a word of warning: Apple Crumble is not a cosy, piping-hot pud – it’s a cold, creamy roulade with rather too healthy-tasting raisins and nuts scattered round.
The verdict: Jikoni is truly a delightful experience all round. Pretty place, beautiful, unusual food and lovely service. Highly recommended for a date or a gastro blow-out with the girls.
Jikoni is at 19-21 Blandford Street, London W1. 020 7034 1988