JIJI occupies a quiet street just off of Islington‘s Upper Street; however, the moment you step through the doors, you’re welcomed into an abundance of colour, sounds and smells. Off to a great start, and that’s before you even taste a morsel of food. As we shrugged off our coats, and warmed our hands amidst (another) January cold snap, we realised we’d made a good decision coming out to dinner, rather than hibernating from the cold.
The restaurant blends Middle Eastern and Japanese flavours, but this isn’t fusion food: the dishes are served side by side instead. JIJI is the brainchild of restaurateur Janina Wolkow, who also founded Japanese restaurant Sumosan. Wolkow, who was inspired by her travels through Japan and the Middle East said: “I believe dishes from both cuisines complement each other perfectly, and make for an exciting, intriguing menu.” We headed to JIJI to see Wolkow’s words in action; read on for our review…
Lunch times at JIJI
Right, so we actually didn’t go to JIJI for lunch, but we’d be doing the restaurant a disservice by not mentioning their offerings. For those of you working around Angel, or Highbury and Islington, hot foot it to JIJI to get your fill of bento boxes between 12pm–4pm, Tuesday–Sunday. You can opt for toppings such as chicken katsu, beef and lamb shawarma, and roasted cauliflower, plus nab a glass of wine or mocktail to accompany.
A review of dinner at JIJI
Now, let’s get into it: a review of our visit to JIJI. If it was possible to be vibrant in a subtle way, JIJI nails it. The place offers high end interiors and high quality dishes, but at affordable prices within a laid-back atmosphere. I absolutely loved the bespoke 3D murals on the wall, depicting the face of a woman in various styles: “it’s Jiji in disguise,” quipped our host, Michael.
As a sushi fiend, I’ve had my fair share of the stuff, and JIJI’s offering is up there with some of the best I’ve enjoyed in London. My favourite was the crispy seabass, truffle, jalapeño and fish roe uramaki roll: the jalapeños are rolled within the soft rice, encasing crispy fish for a satisfying hit of complimenting textures and flavours – it wasn’t too spicy though. The JIJI roll and chu-toro nigiri were also great choices, bursting with flavour, and the latter uses the belly of the tuna to give a softer, meatier texture.
The sushi is just a precursor to the delights that lie ahead: we ate beef cheek katsu, served next to a smokey aubergine carpaccio; 48-hour, miso-marinated Scottish salmon; slow cooked pulled lamb and beef shawarma; and a JIJI-style flatbread. Everything is presented beautifully, encompassing various textures, and as our host told us, the team aim to give their own twist to every dish. The open kitchen sits at heart of the dining space, which is indicative of the restaurant as a whole: reminiscent of a home kitchen, it is the beating heart of the establishment. The kitchen is led by Executive Chef Bubker Belkhit (also known as Buba), who has worked with the restaurant’s founder for over 20 years.
Now, if you come to JIJI for one dish, and one dish only, it has to be the Scottish salmon. For fear of sounding like a stuck record, it’s some of the best salmon I’ve ever enjoyed. I do not usually entertain salmon without crispy skin, but the flavours were sensational. It was melt-in-your-mouth soft, sweet, but not overly so, and just WOW. The shawarma with the flatbread was my partner’s favourite; he noted the zesty flavours, the perfect thickness of the flatbread, and the overall flavours there too.
Speaking of my partner and I, the rocky road dessert almost led us down our very own rocky road as we argued over sharing the dish; let me tell you, JIJI’s indulgent twist on the classic treat was almost worth forfeiting our shared mortgage over. The chocolate hazelnut praline cremieux was light yet rich, and the caramelised popcorn, almond crumble, popping candy, and marshmallows added to each bite…
If you’re not half way to Islington already, let me tell you about the drinks. JIJI’s bar boasts wine, sake, cocktails and mocktails, which they have carefully selected to compliment the food menu. We tried the sweet lychee and blossom martini, and the spicy picanteria from the cocktail menu, both of which were presented beautifully. The picanteria was something particularly special; it wasn’t just spicy, rather the drink actually had a depth of flavour to it. We also had a Lebanese white wine and French red, which both paired well with the meal, finishing with a rare sparkling, semi-sweet sake, which elevated the dessert further (if that was even possible). I’m not usually a fan of sake, but this one went down delightfully.
I couldn’t finish this review without giving a shout out to the operations director at JIJI, Michael, whose impeccable hosting and attentiveness was a testament to his ample years of experience. In fact, from our observations, all the staff were warm and friendly, making each table feel as though they were the most important guests there.
TLDR: I absolutely loved my experience at this restaurant from start to finish, and everyone should go.