This restaurant, whose name means “kitchen” in Swahili, opened in September 2016. It is the first venture from Ravinder Bhogal, a food writer who released her first cookbook in 2009 and who was subsequently featured on television. Her Kenyan heritage is seen in a menu that combines British and Kenyan Asian influences. Dishes such as curried pork Scotch egg with tamarind chutney, and crispy soft shell crab with Hyderabad relish give an idea of what to expect.
There was a short wine list of 21 labels, or you can bring your own for £25 per bottle corkage. The list ranged in price from £24 to £80, with bottles such as Ciu Ciu Contrade Ciafone La Marche 2015 at £27 for a wine that you can find in the high street for £9, Rogue Vine Grand Itata Bianco 2014 at £47 compared to its retail price of £18, and Pierre Paillard Brut NV champagne at £80 for a label with a current market price of £29.
The dining room has a rather homely feel to the décor, with mismatched furniture, some tables having tablecloths and some not. It felt to me a little like an elderly aunt’s drawing room, and I don’t mean this negatively – it had a certain welcoming charm. There was muzak playing but the noise levels were tolerable, mostly around 100-105 decibels, which is still hardly quiet but a lot more subdued than some London dining rooms.
Prawn puffs had decent pastry but no discernible prawn flavour – in two puffs just one tiny piece of prawn was detectable. Call me old fashioned but a prawn puff should actually taste of prawn to some extent (11/20). Mathis turned out to be a kind of crisp base of fried wheat dough, served with apple chutney. These were nice enough and the chutney at least tasted of apple (12/20).
Corn on the cob with peanut sauce was basic but decent, the peanuts having reasonable texture though there were bits of hard, distracting bark-like elements in the sauce, whose texture was not pleasant (11/20). Quail egg was used as the basis for a pork Scotch egg with a very sweet tamarind and date chutney, alongside carrot achaar (pickle). The meat filling was fine and the egg was soft, but the tamarind was wildly, jarringly sweet. As a side note this starter this was a tiny portion, but I think they really need to dial down the sweetness in this dish (12/20).
Mackerel rojak featured fish that was rather flabby, served with a salad that was not obviously Indian in origin. This featured pickled onions, fried padron peppers, toasted brioche, pickled onion and mint and mango chutney, and although edible seemed to me rather misplaced, more confusion than fusion (11/20). This dish was better than lobster khichdee, which was very small in size and, more importantly, seriously overcooked, distinctly mushy in texture. This was served with rice, coconut chutney, some moilee sauce (a Keralan fish stew) and yoghurt that were fine, but a mushy lobster is a mushy lobster (8/20). To be fair, they removed it from the bill without me asking.
A side dish of mujadarra (literally “pockmarked” in Arabic), with its rice and lentils with yoghurt and crispy shallots was pleasant, though this dish, originally from Iraq, seemed a touch out of place on this menu (11/20). I quite liked a cold dish of bean thoran, the beans cooked properly and flavoured with coconut (12/20).
A tropical fruit dessert had coconut sponge, mango jelly, tapioca and a topping of passion fruit cream. This was acceptable and refreshing enough though the mango tasted tinned to me (11/20). Oddly, given the miniature Scotch egg, the portion size of this dessert was vast. Banana cake resembled sticky toffee pudding, with very limited banana flavour, served with peanut brittle, and miso butterscotch. Ovaltine kulfi (ice-cream) on the side was vaguely malty but otherwise had little flavour (10/20).
Coffee was from Coffee Workshop and was very good, and in some ways was the best element of the meal. Service was friendly and capable, with an attentive manageress and an interesting waiter. Impressively muscular, he turned out to be an ex ballet dancer and was both charming and very effective in his topping up of drinks.
The bill, even with the lobster removed, still came to £77 each, albeit with good wine. If you had three courses and shared a modest bottle of wine the cost per head would likely be around £55 or more, which seems to me an awful lot for the level of cooking. I really wanted to like Jikoni, with its interesting British/Asian menu. However a pleasant room and friendly staff can only go so far to justifying the price of a meal: at some point the kitchen has to actually deliver some good food. Although the menu was very interesting the execution of the dishes left a lot to be desired tonight, with several problematic dishes and nothing that really stood out. Near here is the simple Keralan restaurant Ragam, with distinctly dowdy décor and very basic service, yet I know where I would rather have been and £55 at Ragam would buy you a slap up dinner for two rather than one. Jikoni is literally next door to the excellent Trishna, which seems to me in another league of cooking entirely. However, the Jikoni dining room was crowded on a Tuesday night, so clearly I am in a minority in this opinion. Perhaps it was an off night and things will settle down, but I would have hoped for at least one dish at my meal to really stand out and give me a reason to want to return.