What: An upmarket Bahraini restaurant on Chelsea’s especially well-heeled Elystan Street. The restaurant offers home-style dishes that “combine the flavours and culinary traditions from across the Gulf, Persia and beyond”. There are a handful of Bahraini restaurants in London, but Villa Mama's is the first to target a mainstream market with a more contemporary take on the cuisine, which has a healthy amount of international influence thanks to the island state’s strong trading links.
Who: Bahraini chef and restaurateur Roaya Saleh, who runs a restaurant of the same name in the Saar district of Bahrain. Front of house is overseen by Elena Pavare, whose CV includes the Del’Aziz restaurant chain and Enoteca Rabezzana in Farringdon.
The vibe: Designed by Erta Designs, the 50-cover dining room has tables topped with Breccia violetta marble and vintage chapel chairs and colour scatter cushions. Jars of homemade pickles and preserves line the walls. A stairwell at the back of the restaurant leads guests down to the open pass of the kitchen and a small hidden courtyard filled with cooking herbs.
The food: The sharing plates-focused menu is eclectic, with a mix of traditional dishes from Bahrain and the five other countries that make up Gulf Cooperation Council plus “recipes influenced by Saleh’s travels around the world”. The menu includes meyhawa (a Bahraini speciality of fermented sardine sauce made especially for Villa Mama’s by Saleh's aunt); mathrooba (slow-cooked chicken, rice and cracked wheat); and turbot cooked in fragrant stock with pilaf and crisp onions. Given the area, prices are surprisingly affordable with salads and starters around the £8 mark and most mains between £12 and £20.
The drink: Pavare has assembled a concise wine list but the restaurant’s creative cocktails would appear to be the focus here. Everything on the list can be ordered with or without alcohol with options including the Nostalgia (sweet potato, pumpkin spice syrup and lime with the option of adding Flaming Pig whisky) and the Prunus (plum, basil, Swedish bitters and lemon with optional Montenegro and golden rum).
Villa Mama's focuses on sharing dishes (photo credit: Carol Sachs)
And another thing: The restaurant has an unusually creative and enticing breakfast menu centred around homemade khubus (an Arabic flatbread that closely resembles a tortilla). Villa Mama’s early morning menu includes ful medames (stewed fava beans with cumin, tomato and coriander); samosas filled with green peas and chickpea masala; and homemade jams, cheeses and yoghurts.
25-27 Elystan Street, London