Creative Conversations: Plum Guide meets Ravinder Bhogal
The chef-patron of Jikoni tells us all about her 'unrestaurant', who she considers to be the ultimate arbiters of style and why she loves visiting Rye
As part of our latest Creative Conversations interview series, we're speaking to Ravinder Bhogal – chef and owner of Jikoni. We discover where Ravinder's passion for cooking first came from, why antiques make a house a home and more...
Tell us a bit about your restaurant, Jikoni
We are a neighbourhood restaurant in the heart of London’s Marylebone Village - I sometimes like to say an "unrestaurant" because Jikoni is so special - it's a place where friends and strangers gather to eat food that is an expression of the immigrant experience - a longing for what we left behind and the wonder for our new landscape. Our food is what happens when those two powerful things are reconciled. We cook across borders and describe our cuisine as immigrant food. We celebrate the richness of our similarities and our intricate differences too.
Where did your passion for cooking first start?
I was a reluctant 5 year old kitchen assistant to my mother when I was growing up in Kenya, but it was my sweet grandfather’s infectious love of good produce and joy of eating and sharing great food that really made me fall in love with cooking. He also instilled the idea of "seva" or "community service" in my life early on and always said the easiest way to serve others was by feeding them. My restaurant Jikoni has always been very community focused. We always try and think about how we can have the most positive social and environmental impact.
You’ve recently started Jikoni’s Civilised Sundays series. Could you explain the concept behind it and where the idea came from?
Jikoni is much more than just a place to eat. It’s a cultural space and part of the fabric of a community. We have always attracted like-minded people from all walks of life who share our values of diversity and pluralism. We thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to invite cultural leaders to come and give talks to an intimate and engaged audience. The menu on those nights is also a tribute to our guest speaker's life. We have hosted wonderful artists, writers and musicians like Nitin Sawhney, William Dalrymple, and Sathnam Sanghera to name a few.
Do you have a favourite artist?
It's very difficult to narrow this down to just one, but certainly the speakers we have had have been amongst my favourites. I would love to host more of my favourites such as Leila Slimani, Jhumpa Lahiri, Arundhati Roy….
There’s not long to go now until restaurants can fully reopen here in London. What are you most looking forward to stepping back into Jikoni?
The random sampling of humanity that comes together on any given night. It’s like a lottery and at Jikoni we always feel like we won. We are lucky to have the most wonderful guests – many of whom are regulars.
Tell us the story behind a favourite item in your home
A brass sev sancha – a sort of Indian noodle maker where you can pipe a gram flour dough into scorching oil and fry it to an off-the-Richter crunch. The dough sits in a main cylinder, to which you fit discs with various shapes punched into them, then squeeze the dough out using a manual lever. As a child, I coveted it like a toy and as an adult I first pilfered, then inherited it. I rarely use it, but I treasure it. In its patina is my grandmother’s coconut oil scent, her wit, her stories with a million digressions and her lesson in generosity: if you can share your snacks, you can share anything.
What makes a house a home, to you?
The love and spirit between the walls. As much as I am a tidy-freak – things should feel lived in and loved. It’s why I love antiques so much. I love going to Rye and looking through the little antique shops to see what treasures I can unearth.
Where is your home away from home?
Jikoni – it’s where I spend most of my time and really it's not too shabby. It’s in a wonderful location and the design is a tribute to the home I grew up in Kenya so it always feels like it’s where I am meant to be.
Who or what do you consider to be an arbiter of style?
My friend Anna Foster – the founder of ELV denim. She is a stylist and could frankly make a plastic bag look chic. I also admire one of our guests Caroline Issa for her immaculate dress sense.
For the Plum Guide ‘Perfect Stay’ home test, we collaborate with experts from different fields — from psychologists and hospitality experts to architects and interior designers — to identify the ingredients a holiday home needs in order to deliver a perfect stay. If you were designing a test or set of criteria for the perfect holiday home, what ingredient(s) would you specify as essential for the perfect stay?
A decently kitted out kitchen is a must. Good pots and pans, a decent cooker, a set of sharp knives and other tools. Good quality tea and coffee, sea salt, olive oil with good provenance are also great. Other than that Netflix, a complimentary welcome basket with some local produce, personal recommendations and guides, fresh flowers, books and magazines are all wonderful touches.