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The Mango Room: Camden's Caribbean sensation

TOP TEAM: From left, Mango Room founder Derick Blake with his nephew Nathan Ferguson and one of the restaurant’s chefs

DERICK BLAKE had a vision 20 years ago to bring Caribbean fine dining to London, a concept that was, by his own admission, “unheard of”.

The fact that the discerning diner wasn’t familiar with the notion didn’t dissuade Derick from bringing to life a business that has survived two decades in its north London spot in Camden.

Any black business that is able to say that have seen off the nineties and the noughties while still delivering an excellent service is a credit to the organisation’s team. Things are changing, though, – a longterm degenerative disorder has meant Derick has handed the day-to-day running of the restaurant over to his nephew, who is ardently placing the company in a position where another 20 years from now, people will still be familiar with the name Mango Room.

Talking to Life & Style, Nathan Ferguson said following a subtle refurbishment period, things are looking positive.

“We’re in the process of structuring a catering arm to the business and we will also offer takeaway. There are Michelin Star restaurants that offer takeaways – we will, too,” said Nathan.

He added: “We will be offering tasting menus and when we say that, it’s to give people an opportunity to explore Caribbean food while keeping the tradition of the region, but bringing that to London.

“The variations between Caribbean islands can all be explored. One island’s all-purpose seasoning is different to another’s.

“One island may eat predominantly fish as opposed to meat.


CARIBBEAN CUISINE: A seafood platter

“Everything is there to be explored in the way that it isn’t explored that much.”

Nathan salutes his uncle for the almost pedantic nature with which he assesses the strength and weaknesses of not only Mango Room, but the type of dining experiences available when consuming West Indian food in England. Describing the early days of the restaurant, an endeavour he says his uncle has always ensured he was a part of in some shape or form, Nathan enthused: “When my uncle founded Mango Room his thought was that you see Caribbean restaurants, but in terms of the representation when you go to the Caribbean, whether it’s hotels or that fine dining experience, we didn’t have it here in the UK.

“Prior to opening Mango Room he was one of the goto guys if a restaurant or bar wasn’t working – he was essentially a consultant as well as a proprietor, and Mango Room was his cherry on the top. “It was the soul of where he’s grown up and he was really able to express himself with the design and the vibe and put all of that in one to bring fine dining Caribbean food to London.”

Derick was recently given an Honorary Award as recognition for his role as a businessman and pioneer who has taken culinary success to new heights in the UK. The award was bestowed by the community at the latest AAA (Antoin Akpom Achievements) Foundation Award ceremony hosted at the Croydon Conference Centre.

If you have never been to Mango Room you will be following in the steps of Grace Jones, Destiny’s Child, Samuel L Jackson, Paul McCartney and Sir Lenny Henry, to name a few of the restaurant’s clients.

There have been good times at the establishment, but as with any long-standing business, there have been bumps in the road.

Nathan explained: “In the beginning you have to remember he was in Camden – it was a very rough and a bit racist.

It wasn’t seen as the place for a Caribbean fine dining restaurant. Normally they would push that to Brixton.

“Then you got to think about things like this – if people don’t see or understand something, how are you going to get them to understand that it is here?”

Thankfully those issues didn’t stop the growth of Mango Room.


FINE DINING: The venue’s interior

In Nathan’s own words, ‘Good food and good vibes translate anywhere’. While Nathan is keen to celebrate the varying facets of Caribbean culture that feed into the cuisine, his buzz word right now is modernisation. “Since the restaurant has had a reputation for 20 years, I think it is the perfect platform to do a lot of things with food and the community that have never been done or haven’t been done very well.

MODELS

“A part of the business is my cousin who has seen for 15 years what has been done, what has worked and what hasn’t.

“We understand seasons, we understand footfall – I bring my expertise to the table which centres around creating models which enable us to implement some of the new elements I’ve already mentioned.

“That will allow us to hedge and balance things. We’ll take one step at a time and we’ll get it right in the Mango Room way.”

Asked about what it meant to him to be in business for over two decades, Derick said: “It does make me feel proud.”

THE MANGO ROOM JOURNEY

Derick Blake, a businessman and pioneer, has taken culinary success to new heights in the UK culminating in Britain’s first and long-standing fine dining Caribbean restaurant, Mango Room, based in Camden, London.

For the last 35 years, Jamaican-born Mr Blake’s endeavours and business genius has inspired his peers and still manages to impress and influence all age groups, from the UK and internationally.

From his very first job in retail, Derick saved sufficient money to follow his dream by renting a basement bar in Leicester Square, called Copy Cat, in 1983, which was a co-partnership venture with a friend who invested alongside Derick.

The venture became an immediate success with queues around the building and they soon had to extend the opening hours by adding food to the popular drinks bar. As a result, Derick is credited by many for introducing London’s first gastro pub. His first very own independent venture after that was Blake’s Brasserie in Hampstead which was well-known and attracted a glitterati of musicians and stars.

Other restaurants include a brasserie called 192 in the trendy spot of Portobello Road, then Monta Sol, a Tapas restaurant, then Ally Caf, HQ, Bar Room Bar and Pie 2 Mash – all based in around the Camden area.

His reputation spread near and far with many entrepreneurs wanting to partner with him for business. The Mango Room has become one of his longest and most successful ventures.

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