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Ikoyi duo: “To come back as we were felt insensitive”

By Joe Lutrario

- Last updated on GMT

Ikoyi founders Iré Hassan-Odukale and Jeremy Chan on re-opening

Related tags Ikoyi Iré Hassan Jeremy Chan Africa London Chefs Fine dining

The pair behind celebrated London restaurant Ikoyi have described the operational changes to their restaurant as a ‘cultural response’ to the pandemic.

Speaking on Restaurant’s new In Conversation With podcast founders Iré Hassan-Odukale and Jeremy Chan say that to re-open their ambitious St James’s restaurant​ as it was prior to lockdown would have been both insensitive and financially reckless.

“We felt quite anxious about the pandemic as everyone else did,” says Chan. “The fact that it went on for nearly four months really set us back. It killed our momentum. It killed the industry.”

“The food and the menu is a cultural response to the pandemic, while also trying to be as innovate and creative as possible.”

"Instead of cooking more ambitious, conceptual food we’ve turned it round to focus on more familiar concepts that’s more comforting and more straight -forward.”

The Michelin-starred restaurant continues to focus on high-quality seasonal British produce coupled with bold spicing and umami-rich flavours but has dropped its tasting menu in favour of a regularly changing ‘compact’ menu comprised of around 15 dishes with ‘more emphasis given to comfort and familiarity’.

The re-imagined menu is overwhelmingly made up of all-new dishes. These include half a fried Landes chicken with aged beef fat and hot sauce, and plantain caramelised in ginger and kombu.

Ikoyi is now open for dinner only, from Tuesday to Saturday from 17.30, with last orders at 21.30. Spend per head can be as little as £40 for a full meal but diners also have the option for a pricier, lengthier experience.

The changes aren’t designed to increase Ikoyi’s profitability on a per cover basis but it is hoped going to a la carte will allow the business to remain viable because it will be busier.

“We also felt that launching with a £100 tasting menu would not really work. We’re trying to be more price sensitive,” says Hassan Odukale.

“A restaurant needs to be able to feed itself financially otherwise it’s just a hobby,” adds Chan.

“This isn’t a hobby for us. The goal is to run a profitable restaurant. But we also want it to be democratic. For this to work long term we’d have to be fully booked every night and be getting a good spend per head.”


Out of Africa: Iré Hassan-Odukale and Jeremy Chan

The influential restaurant celebrated its third birthday last month.​ Former Dinner by Heston chef Chan and his Nigerian-born friend and business partner Iré Hassan-Odukale launched Ikoyi in the summer of 2017 just south of Piccadilly Circus.

Though it is named after a district in the Nigerian city Lagos, the dishes at Ikoyi aren’t re-imaginings of those of west Africa, although – rather confusingly – some do reference well-known dishes including jollof rice, the barbecue dish beef suya and the vegetable soup efo.

West African influences and ingredients are rolled in with Chan and Hassan-Odukale’s food memories to create – as Chan puts it – “moments of heightened beauty reformulated for others to experience”.

The restaurant is currently listed on Restaurant list of the top 100 places to eat in the UK​ and was awarded a Michelin-star a year or so after it opened its doors.

The latter is an especially significant accolade for Ikoyi as it is arguably the only starred restaurant in the world that truly champions indigenous African ingredients, a continent that is famously under-represented and undervalued when it comes to gastronomy.

To download this podcast via iTunes click here​​.

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