This is the first opening in the UK for chef and restaurateur Roaya Saleh who already has a Villa Mama’s out in Bahrain. We visited her new one based just a few doors down from Phil Howard’s Elystan Street in Chelsea.
There’s a Middle Eastern vibe about the place with rugs hanging on the stone washed walls and the clientele on our visit are equally exotic. We visit during the first few days of opening and although new it’s full with a real neighbourhood friendly vibe.
We start with Raoya’s famous “eggplant explosion” (£7.95) which doesn’t look as flamboyant as it sounds but it’s certainly big on flavour. The aubergine discs are comforting oily and the dish has a great blend of flavours and textures; caramelised onion for sweetness, walnuts for crunch and whey sauce for creaminess.
Chicken livers (£7.95), or “ch’bood deyay”, come in a velvety deep-black sauce which has a wonderful aroma. The spicing is on point – something we find with all the dishes. They’re not one dimensional either – each mouthful tastes slightly different from the last.
Khubus, or flatbreads (£2), are cooked in a specially designed oven which keeps the edges crisp but the innards nice and fluffy. A particular highlight is one which arrives drizzled with anchovy oil which offers a real seafood wallop.
For main, braised lamb shank (£22.50) has meat that falls off the bone yet isn’t entirely mushy – the chunks of lamb retain texture. It’s light and delicate (not always the case with lamb) but again, the spicing seems to develop with each mouthful.
With Machbous Deyay, or chicken pilaf, being the national dish of Bahrain, we think it wise to try Roaya’s (£17.50). For the uninitiated, pilaf is a dish of rice cooked in broth seasoned with spices. No surprise then that here it’s a stonking version. The chicken is tender with charred edges like it’s comes from a tandoor oven and it’s topped with crispy fried onions for richness.
Desserts are both great and not so great. Egyptian bread and butter pudding (£6.50) is made using the day’s freshly baked croissants. The result is, of course, something rather sexy and totally indulgent.
Bahraini creme caramel (£6.5) is less wowing. There’s a touch of the scrambled eggs about it – possibly a victim of being overbaked which would also explain the bitter flavour from the caramel at the top.
All in all we left Villa Mama’s feeling well fed and impressed at the kitchen’s ability to spice everything so intricately. The staff are all really sweet and friendly too without being intrusive. Looks like the locals of Chelsea have got themselves making the locals of Chelsea very lucky indeed.
Would we go back? Yes
We dined as guests of the restaurant