Published 20 January 2021
Serving food inspired by immigrant cuisine to celebrate the similarities and intricate difference between cultures, Jikoni is one of the most exciting and vibrant restaurants in the capital. This week we hear more from founder Ravinder Bhogal about how her upbringing influenced the restaurant, launching Comfort & Joy boxes during the pandemic and working alongside her husband.
Jikoni is a neighbourhood restaurant. Our food is inspired by immigrants – those who have an ache for what they left behind and a wonder of their new landscape. We cook across borders and our food celebrates both the beautiful similarities and intricate differences between cultures.
When you first arrive in a country, everything seems barren, but as you settle and begin to call your new country home, suddenly the landscape seems more fertile. You preserve your culinary heritage but overlay it with the traditions of your new nation and in doing so you create a brand new cuisine – that’s what I think immigrant cuisine is. It’s wonderful when seemingly disparate cultures are blended in revelatory ways. That merging of cultures and traditions is what makes immigrant food so exciting and delicious.
The physical restaurant is very personal and has a lot of nods to my childhood home in Kenya – the pistachio green terrazzo for example and the staircase is the replica of the stairs at our late great-aunt Shiri Bhai’s house who was the most generous and nurturing cook. I always learnt to cook from women – grandmothers, mothers, sisters, aunts so the way I cook is very intuitive and maternal with my primary focus being on nurturing and nourishing. I feel that every time I stand at the pass I am honouring my ancestors and their wisdom. They stand with me – they didn’t get the opportunities I have so I am representing them.
Well I think if you like to cook, it’s because you like to feed people and that has always been my motivation. But also subconsciously I think I created a place in which I could finally feel at home. I found it quite difficult to fit in when I came to this country aged 7. I felt I was always been assimilated into a version of “Englishness” into which I could not fit, but Jikoni is a place where I can finally be myself and celebrate my entire heritage – East African, Indian, British and also being a product of all the immigrant communities who showed me kindness and hospitality while I was growing up. It’s a place in which I can be free and where my mixed-heritage experience is celebrated and not marginalised.
Mainly peaceful unless we stray into each other’s departments or try to micromanage. He has been the backbone of making sure that Jikoni was a dream I realised.
That’s a tough one – our menu changes so often and I am fickle by nature, but I have an enduring love for our Prawn Toast Scotch Egg with Banana Ketchup and Pickled Cucumbers. It’s a signature on the menu – it is the lovechild of a Chinese prawn toast and a British scotch egg and it makes a quiet political statement that when you blend borders and mix cultures you create something that is better than the sum of their parts.
I suppose we felt that what people needed most to counter the woes of the world was comfort and joy. Even before the pandemic hit, we wanted to create a brand that was fun, playful, casual and packed with the vibrant international flavours we have become known for. We also wanted to lead the way in a well thought out, sustainable, vegan and vegetarian home delivery brand that restores the world around us, which we believe is now needed more than ever.
We have worked hard on the balance of flavours but equally we have used this opportunity to really work on the values of the brand. For example our food containers are 100% home compostable – in fact they will turn to soil in 90 days. We have worked hard to shorten our supply chain and work with more producers who nurture the environment around them. Also, every order will provide a meal for someone vulnerable across the UK through our partners at Nishkam SWAT’s Homeless Project. We cooked for them over the lockdown period and were inspired by the impact that they have.
Last year felt like a constant pirouette even more than a pivot. We’ve had to be really resourceful and inventive often with little notice from the government. It has taken teamwork, grit and determination, but it has also been necessary.
That we get more support from the Government and our landlords to help us survive. That we get a much needed hospitality minister to represent us in Parliament because I think the Government have shown that they do not understand the intricacies of running a restaurant. I hope the vaccinations are successful and we are able to get back to normality and work. I hope our guests come back in droves and support us – enjoying breakfasts, lunches and dinners (including booking in at less popular reservation times). I hope they buy our products – takeaways, vouchers, books, hampers etc – because every little helps. I pray no-shows go the way of the dinosaurs. I hope the industry pulls together and plays its part in being part of a more positive, sustainable, kind and regenerative world.
There have been so many but I think my favourite moments have been our Civilised Sunday events where we have invited cultural leaders like Nitin Sawhney, William Dalrymple and Salman Rushdie who share in our values of pluralism and diversity to come and give talks. I create an entire menu to tell the story of their life and this for me is creatively rewarding. I have also had many of my own food heroes from Nigella to Nigel Stater come and dine with us which is a thrill. But sometimes its those moments when we sneak out in the evenings and look back at Jikoni looking beautiful, full of happy guests and our team being their wonderful, genial selves – that is magical.