Dish With A Difference

We're talking about: a West African evolution

Ikoyi in St James is elevating West African cuisine from hearty street food to SW1-style luxury

15 September 2017
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  • The Dish: Tuna belly supakanja
  • The Place: Ikoyi
  • The Chef: Jeremy Chan

What? Traditional supakanja is a red pepper and okra stew, a West African staple that can contain all manner of ingredients from smoked fish to beef, and is normally served with rice. Here, it’s been reinvented by being served up in a raw, gazpacho-style version, with grilled tuna belly and basil.

So why has it caught our attention, we hear you ask? Well this Euro-African hybrid created by chef Jeremy Chan at Ikoyi represents the next step in West African cuisine’s British evolution. (And you know a trend is set to soar when it starts to be adapted.)

In Chan’s words, this is a dish where “familiar flavours from the region [are] served up a little differently.”

 

Where? West African ingredients and flavours have been familiar to street food and supper-club enthusiasts since the guerrilla dining movement first emerged around 2010. But restaurant-wise there are just three in London, which all fall under the fast-casual umbrella. The most famous of these is Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen, which began in 2011 as a soup stall, became a supper club and is now an established restaurant in Brixton.        

Step forward Ikoyi, which opened last month. The St James opening claims to be the UK’s first high-end West African restaurant and is the brainchild of Chan and Iré Hassan-Odukale. The latter grew up in Ikoyi, Nigeria, while Chan has worked with Heston Blumenthal at Dinner and Claude Bosi at Hibiscus. It’s catapulted West African cuisine into a new arena.

 

Why? The 1980s saw a wave of immigration from Ghana and Nigeria, so perhaps we’re seeing the first culinary influences of British-born/raised West Africans celebrating the food of their heritage. That’s certainly the case with Hassan-Odukale, as well as Adjonyoh, who both talk about food as a way of connecting with their culture. 

London’s established West African communities mean that a glut of ingredients from the area are now available in supermarkets, which make the flavours more familiar. And the slow evolution from home cooking to pop-up to fine dining have given the public time to realise that the remit of West African cuisine goes far beyond stews and broths.  

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