Salleh has created a charming, chic restaurant that, despite its west London location, has a real sense of authenticity. It has an intensely homely feel, yet it serves thrillingly unfamiliar exotic food.
Villa Mamas' interior is clearly inspired by Saleh’s heritage and travels. Traditional Bahraini café style benches line the pavement for alfresco diners and folding doors, dressed with handmade Turkish curtains, line the front. The interior has Breccia violetta marble topped tables, vintage chapel chairs and colourful scatter cushions. Carpets and beautiful tiles adorn the polished plaster walls. There’s a huge reclaimed Parisian shop counter laden with Roaya’s homemade jams and delicacies like rosewater and orange water for guests to take home, each hinting at flavours to savour.
As is so often the case, the best way is to order quite a lot and share. Whether you are going for brunch or dinner, there is plenty for all tastes and palettes. Surprisingly, Villa Mamas is as good a spot for weekend brunch as it is for dinner. Trust us, we've tried.
The brunch and dinner menu are reassuringly short, but bursting with delicious zingy flavours.
For brunch, opt for the house special, Ch'bood Deyay; this wholesome plate of chicken livers sauteed with masala and vine leaves, served with khubus is one of the most adventurous yet astonishingly rich and satisfying dishes on the menu. If you fancy savoury, swerve the recommended slow-cooked tomatoes and eggs – it disappoints in both taste and texture – and instead, order a perfectly seasoned serving of poached eggs with salad.
Those with a sweet tooth will devour the khubus with Nutella – exceptionally light Arabic flatbread cooked in a tandoor – and the greek yogurt and quinoa granola. At once, crunchy, and flavorsome, and, most importantly, not too sweet, it may be one of the best we've tasted. Cap it off with a freshly squeezed orange or grapefruit juice, essential for the daily detox, or a pot of flowering lily and jasmine tea.
If you're going to Villa Mamas for dinner though, you're in for a real treat. Be sure to order the meyhawa – fermented sardine sauce endearingly made by Saleh’s Aunty – as an accompaniment besides zatar.
The menu is reassuringly short, encompassing mezzeh, mains, salads and desserts. Thankfully staff are eager to make suggestions as to which dishes are unmissable, such as the saffron chicken tahcheen.
More recognizable dishes with special touches – hummus with tikka lamb, kofte with cherry jam – sit alongside unusual combinations including aubergine served with crisp, caramelized onions, walnuts and whey; deliciously creamy yet a little tart and an absolute explosion of flavour. We found ourselves longing for a larger portion. Perfect autumnal comfort food.
Our standout favourite is the saffron chicken tahcheen. Enough to feed two, it looks sensational and tastes spectacular. It appears as a huge mound of saffron rice, cooked crisp on top. The long marinated chicken within is fragrant with cardamom and cinnamon, bejwelled with tart barberries and pine nuts and served with housemade yoghurt.
Desserts are absolutely ace. A gently perfumed muhalabia rice pudding with rosewater, pistachio and an amazing silky texture has to be one our favourite desserts of the year. There’s outrageously good, sweet, almost earthy saffron ice-cream too.
The Bahraini inspired choice of cocktails, offered with or without alcohol, is a true highlight. A mix of plum, basil, bitters and rum was especially delectable, as were the Bahraini wines.
Villa Mamas has a quiet charm and joy that should make it a destination as well as a neighbourhood restaurant.
Price: dinner £100.00 + for two with drinks
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|What||Villa Mamas restaurant, Chelsea|
|Where||Villa Mamas, 25-27 Elystan Street, London, SW3 3NT | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Sloane Square (underground)|
23 Oct 17 – 09 Nov 18, Mon-Sat 8am-10pm Sun 8am-9pm