Chef Ravinder Bhogal recently moved into a new apartment in northwest London; in the kitchen, there’s a marble-topped butcher’s block, where Bhogal can sprinkle flour and knead dough. Since she opened her restaurant, Jikoni, in fall 2016, though, that butcher block hasn’t seen much action. “I’m at the restaurant 90 percent of the time,” says Bhogal. “It’s more home than home is at the moment. I was warned it’d be like this, but I can’t complain—it’s a privilege.” Diners who make their way to Bhogal’s comforting space in Marylebone, which is adorned with vintage-inspired tablecloths and plush pillows, aren’t complaining, either: Jikoni’s rich, inventive dishes have earned rave reviews from critics, including four stars in the Sunday Times. Her regulars have also helped boost her confidence. “It’s a huge compliment when we have repeat customers,” says Bhogal. “We’ve only been open four weeks, and some people have already been back six times.”
Bhogal grew up in Nairobi, Kenya, among an extended family “for whom meals never seemed to stop,” she says. “It was just a constant feeding frenzy, with between 15 and 25 people at each meal.” She learned to cook from her mother, whom she refers to as “the commander-in-chief of the kitchen.” At 5 years old, Bhogal was enlisted to help out with prepping and cooking: peeling carrots, potting peas and making pastry. “She sort of dragged me in kicking and screaming,” she laughs. But she credits her passion for cooking to her grandfather, who encouraged her earliest efforts in the kitchen, however amateurish. “He bought me a little aluminum stove and I’d make flatbreads on it,” she says. “They were very charred and not very nice, but he would gobble them up with sheer delight, and comment on what a brilliant cook I was. I thought, ‘Wow, if you can garner such praise through something you’ve cooked, this must be a wonderful thing.’ ”
At age 7, Bhogal moved with her family from Africa to the U.K., and she wasn’t especially thrilled about the transition. “I’d been running wild in a lush, tropical garden, and then suddenly I was in this gray, wintry landscape.” But decades later her food career blossomed in London. Bhogal was working as a fashion and beauty journalist but was still infatuated with cooking in her free time. A friend saw an ad for a reality show in which superstar chef Gordon Ramsay would anoint a new food personality; Bhogal was one of 9,000 entrants and won the series’ third season. “It changed the course of my life,” she says. She had a book deal within three months, did some TV shows, then cooked at a series of restaurant pop-ups and residencies. A business partner approached her about opening a space of her own, and the result was Jikoni.
“I wanted to bring people the kind of food I love: unadulterated and un-fiddled-with,” says Bhogal. “Almost an un-restaurant, where people could enjoy a meal and the kind of service you’d have for guests in your home.” She describes the food at Jikoni as having a “mixed heritage”—a heady blend of influences from Africa, Persia, India and Europe. And as for its intimate decor, she says it’s all a natural extension of how she ended up in restaurants to begin with: “The look of Jikoni is almost maternal, because I learned how to cook from women. Wherever I’ve traveled, whether it’s Zimbabwe or Palestine or Kenya, I’ve always ended up in the kitchen with a woman, learning. I wanted to celebrate all the women who’ve taught me, who’ve generously shared their kitchen with me.”