Ta­ble talk

A new West African-in­spired restau­rant of­fers ad­ven­tur­ous – and de­li­cious – dishes

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - CONTENT - Michael Dea­con

Michael Dea­con at Ikoyi in cen­tral Lon­don

I WAS BORN in 1980. Far too late. I re­ally should have got around to it sooner. Some­where around 1945, ide­ally. That was the time to be born. Cer­tainly for a jour­nal­ist.

By be­ing born around 1945, I would have en­sured that I spent the peak years of my ca­reer in the 1980s. And the 1980s, it ’s now clear, were the golden years of jour­nal­ism. Not nec­es­sar­ily in terms of qual­ity, but cer­tainly in terms of perks, booze and idling. Which are, af­ter all, the three main rea­sons any­one en­ters jour­nal­ism.

‘When I started at The Times in 1981, over­man­ning and slack out­put were prodi­gious,’ beams Bill Bryson, in Notes

from a Small Is­land. He and his fel­low sub ed­i­tors would ‘wan­der in’ around 2.30pm, and then ‘spend most of the af­ter­noon read­ing the evening pa­pers and drink­ing tea while wait­ing for the re­porters to sur­mount the daily chal­lenge of find­ing their way back to their desks af­ter a three-hour lunch in­volv­ing sev­eral bot­tles of jolly de­cent Châteauneu­f-du-pape... At about half-past five, we would en­gage in a lit­tle light sub­bing for an hour or so, then slip our arms into our coats and go home. It seemed very agree­ably un­like work.’

Bryson and his col­leagues were well­paid – mainly for work they didn’t ac­tu­ally do. One of them showed him how to fake an ex­penses claim. No re­ceipts or other ev­i­dence were re­quired – you sim­ply filled in a form and in re­turn were handed how­ever much you’d pre­tended to have sp ent: £100, £300,

£500. Hardly any­one, it seems, got rum­bled. In fact, you were more likely to get in trou­ble for claim­ing too lit­tle – as Lynn Bar­ber found, when she joined the Sun­day Ex­press in 1982.

‘The first time I ever filled out an ex­penses form, the deputy edi­tor told me it was “pa­thetic”,’ she re­calls in her mem­oir, An Ed­u­ca­tion. ‘What did I mean trav­el­ling sec­ond-class on the train or, worse still, by Tube – didn’t I know that [union] reg­u­la­tions meant we were only al­lowed first-class train travel and taxis?’

God. That must have been the life. It ’s noth­ing like that now. Lunch is at your desk, we’re all wretch­edly sober, and ev­ery claim for ‘en­ter­tain­ing a con­tact’ must be ac­com­pa­nied by a 5,000word state­ment jus­ti­fy­ing the out­lay, tes­ti­monies by two in­de­pen­dent eye­wit­nesses, and CCTV footage of you hand­ing the waiter your debit card.

There is one area of jour­nali sm, though, in which it ’s more fun to b e worki ng n ow th a n th e n . And that area, for­tu­nately for me, is restau­rant re­view­ing.

In the 1980s, the Bri­tish ate out far le ss (unle ss, I supp os e, they were re­porters en­joy­ing sev­eral bot­tles of jolly de­cent Châteauneu­f- du-pape). And, when they did eat out, they had far less to choose from. Now, by con­trast, Bri­tain has restau­rants of un­prece­dented va­ri­ety. Ev­ery cui­sine in the world is rep­re­sented. The crit­ics of the 1980s could never have dreamt of it, as they trudged from one weary trat­to­ria to the next. Those of us re­view­ing for the pa­pers to­day are nowhere near as in­flu­en­tial as our pre­de­ces­sors, now that we have to com­pete with TripAd­vi­sor and In­sta­gram. But at least we get to eat bet­ter.

This week’s restau­rant is a per­fect ex­am­ple. Ikoyi, in cen­tral Lon­don. West African-in­spired fine din­ing. It’s new, it’s dif­fer­ent, and it’s ter­rific.

It ’s been opened by two friends in their early 30s, Iré Has­san- Odukale (born in Nige­ria) and Jeremy Chan (Chi­nese- Cana­dian). The menu is short . Snacks to be­gin. First, the ‘chicken oys­ter ’: a sin­gle mouth­ful of chicken, scooped up in a leaf and downed in one, with a tin­gling af­ter­burn of pep­per. Like do­ing a shot, but of meat.

Then, but­ter milk plan­tain: a lurid pink ba­nana, cov­ered in Scotch bon­net, a spice that threat­ened to torch the ton­sils, but was cooled just enough by the ac­com­pa­ny­ing may­on­naise to let the plan­tain sweet­ness seep through.

Next, oc­to­pus pep­per soup: a thick chompy ten­ta­cle in a glis­ten­ing oily broth. Good, but much bet­ter was the Manx Loagh­tan rib, which was volup­tuously suc­cu­lent. The Manx Loagh­tan

There’s a fair bit of spice, but it’s not a blaz­ing fur­nace of heat. More a low-level glow

is a rare breed of sheep with four horns, found not in West Africa but on the Isle of Man, but here it’s pre­pared in a Nige­rian style, with a tickly ‘asun rel­ish’. As you’ll have no­ticed by now, there’s a fair bit of spice on the menu, but, scotch bon­net aside, it’s not a blaz­ing fur­nace of heat. More a low-level glow. Em­bers smoul­der­ing.

For main: iberico suya, a car­toon­ishly large hunk of pork that went per­fectly with the side of jollof rice and smoked bone mar­row. Also the chicken, per­haps the least in­ter­est­ing dish here, but still unim­peach­ably ten­der, and served with okra.

Two pud­dings. The ‘cof­fee, roasted cumin and uda cookie’ was dark and se­duc­tive, but my favourite was the ‘zobo pa­paya, par­adise meringue and but­ter­milk’: lus­ciously juicy and shiv­er­ingly sweet.

I liked the food at Ikoyi a lot. Vivid, imag­i­na­tive, im­mac­u­lately cooked, gen­er­ous but not over­fill­ing. An­other re­minder of how much eat­ing out has changed in this coun­try, how much more ad­ven­tur­ous it’s grown, and how much bet­ter.

If re­porters still had the time to go out for lunch, and a spare £100 from some fid­dled ex­penses, this is where I’d tell them to go.

Above Iberico suya and hibis­cus mayo. Be­low A spe­cial on the Ikoyi menu, fea­tur­ing tuna belly and raw okra and red-pep­per soup

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