This September, Bahraini chef and restauranteur Roaya Saleh will bring Villa Mama’s from the Saar district of Bahrain to Elystan Street, London.
Drawing on Saleh’s rich Bahraini heritage and a life well-travelled, Villa Mama’s seasonal, home-style dishes combine flavours and culinary traditions from across the Khaleej, Persia and beyond.
Cooking was in Saleh’s blood from an early age. Summers spent on the family farms gave her the opportunity to learn about growing fruit and vegetables, from grapes, peaches and plums, to aubergines, lettuce and herbs, almonds, pistachios and walnuts. Helping her mother and grandmother in the kitchen later inspired her to share her cooking with others.
Saleh said, ‘It was my dream to open a restaurant which felt like an extension of my home and kitchen, to preserve my heritage and share my family recipes and stories. Having opened Villa Mama’s in Bahrain six years ago, London feels like the next adventure for me.'
The menu focuses on sharing plates of traditional Bahraini dishes and those of the six countries of the GCC, alongside recipes influenced by her travels around the world.
‘Mezzeh’ offerings includes ‘Khubus’, a Tandoor-cooked flatbread, served with meyhawa, a Bahraini speciality of fermented sardine sauce (made especially for Villa Mama’s by Roaya’s aunt); ‘Mathrooba’, slow-cooked chicken, rice and cracked wheat, and; Lamb and Feta Kofta finished with cherry molasses.
Larger plates include ‘Sayadieh’, turbot cooked in fragrant stock with pilaf and crisp onions; and ‘Tacheen’ for two, a saffron rice cake layered with spiced chicken and pine nuts.
Desserts of ‘Muhalabia’, Rose water rice pudding, almonds and pomegranate and ‘Um Ali’, an Egyptian bread and butter pudding, finish the menu.
Open daily from 8am, the breakfast menu will centre around Khubus, served with chicken livers, eggs and Roaya’s homemade jams, cheese and yoghurt. Influences of Raoaya’s travel feature in dishes such as ‘Ful Medames’, slow-cooked fava beans, tomato and coriander; Samosa filled with green peas and chickpea masala, Baked eggs with spiced tomato and a full brunch, Villa Mama’s style, of Chicken livers, mushrooms, tomato, fried egg & khubus.
Front of House will be overseen by Elena Pavare, has curated a concise wine list. The restaurant will also offer a list of creative cocktails which can be enjoyed with or without alcohol, 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 & golden rum.
The space is designed in a collaboration led by Erta Designs with furniture, artwork, textiles inspired by Roaya’s heritage and travels. Traditional Bahraini café style benches line the pavement for alfresco diners, and folding doors line the front. The dining room seats 50 at pedestal tables.
A reclaimed shop counter from Paris will be laden with Raoya’s homemade jams, spices and hand-woven Bahraini baskets for guests to take home. A stairwell at the back of the restaurant leads guests down to the open pass of the kitchen and a small hidden courtyard of hexagonal terracotta tiles and filled with cooking herbs.