The two men behind one of the world’s most exciting restaurants met while still at school. When they graduated, Jeremy Chan plotted a path to study philosophy at Princeton University in the US, while Iré Hassan-Odukale made a successful career in insurance broking in the City of London. More than a decade later, they came together to launch Ikoyi in London’s West End – a restaurant that has developed a shapeshifting identity for delicious, uncategorisable food which has seen it rewarded with the American Express One To Watch Award 2021.
When the restaurant opened in 2017, diners and critics alike found it hard to define. Sure, the restaurant took cues, spices and indeed its name from west Africa – Ikoyi is a province in Lagos, Nigeria's largest city – but it similarly employed ingredients and processes from Southeast Asia, Japan and remote parts of rural England, following the UK’s ‘micro-seasonality’ with great interest.
As Chan’s repertoire as a chef has expanded, touching more corners of the globe with his research-driven cookery, the boundaries of what defines Ikoyi continue to broaden. Today, visitors to the restaurant have all but given up trying to pigeonhole it – they have come to accept that the experience will be of the world, though by no means limited to any corner of it.
Chan puts it best in his own words: “I struggle with people wanting to give labels to Ikoyi,” he says. “Why can’t we think freely with food like we do with art? How would you verbalise Jackson Pollock, for example? So many contemporary artists are uncategorisable. Everyone can agree that it’s beautiful, stimulating and meaningful – can’t food be like that?”
What critics and diners can agree on however, is that the food is utterly delicious. A recent menu reveals tropes of never-before-seen ideas, with a palette of influence that runs the gamut across four continents.
A first course of octopus fried in buckwheat and yeasted Béarnaise is followed by lobster salad and strawberry croustade, before an evolution of the dish that helped make the restaurant’s name: plantain caramelised in ginger and kelp with uziza jam. The menu always closes its savoury section with a dish that has arguably become the restaurant’s signature, its smoked jollof rice, whose recipe and ingredients move in-synch with the British seasons.
As this awareness of Ikoyi has grown among dining cognoscenti, the restaurant’s star has risen. Without the shackles of labels and signifiers, it has been able to blossom and stand as a restaurant that does things its own way. In winning the American Express One To Watch Award this year, Ikoyi has arrived on the global stage and is ready for its time to shine.
Read the interview with Chan and Hassan-Odukale and take a tour of the restaurant in the video:
Images: Maureen M. Evans
Discover more about the previous award winners