The Mango Room lives on at Roger’s Kitchen
The former chef of the legendary Caribbean restaurant is back in the kitchen – a natural cook who instinctively knows how to build flavours
15 October, 2020 — By Tom Moggach
The Mango Room was a legend in its time, serving up Caribbean classics for nearly two decades. Everyone loved it, including stars such as Prince, LL Cool J and Samuel L Jackson. Many readers will have fond memories of this soulful restaurant opposite Camden Town tube.
Thankfully its spirit now survives in the hands of its ex-chef Roger Shakes, who’s just opened Roger’s Kitchen in Camden Road.
It was Shakes who perfected the curry goat, ebony chicken wings and other bestsellers back in the day. Now he’s grabbed the chance to go it alone – and to express his creative talent.
Roger’s Kitchen is located just along from Camden Road station, at an address that traded as Mango Room for a short while before its demise. It’s a cosy space for these dark times: one long, deep room with green walls and varnished wooden floorboards. Ska and reggae wafts gently; tables are laid with linen tablecloths. Shakes even built some of the units himself with reclaimed timber.
We turned up early one evening, when Shakes had a chance to chat. As we sipped rum punch, he evoked a childhood playing among the fruit trees in Jamaica, picking pods of ackee or breadfruit to roast on the fire. He’s been cooking since the age of 12, inspired by grandparents who fed him well.
The menu offers classic Caribbean cooking with contemporary flourishes, such as sea bream in coconut milk with a tousled tangle of crispy leeks.
Curry goat is excellent, made with Scotch bonnet and a blend of turmeric, coriander, fenugreek, cumin, pimento, black pepper and star anise.
I rated the complex, zingy flavours of his sweet chilli dressing, made from scratch by roasting sweet chillies and sweet peppers, then blitzing with a dash of pickle to add acidity. We tried plump tiger prawns with pineapple salsa, ackee and saltfish, vegan fritters and a refined take on chargrilled jerk chicken, served in slices rather than on the bone.
Shakes is a natural cook who instinctively understands how to build layers of flavour. We thoroughly enjoyed our evening here, which offered the kind of friendly service and warm spicing that we all need right now to replenish the soul. Prices are keen, too. Main courses hover around £13, which makes this a neighbourhood restaurant rather than fancy destination.
Roger’s Kitchen is the kind of place where you can dress up or down – ideal for a special celebration or a midweek supper when there’s nothing in the fridge.
Launching a restaurant during the Covid-19 pandemic is a brave thing to do. I urge everyone to support small independent ventures like this, which just need sufficient turnover to make it to spring.
On the way out, we meet Shake’s business partner – a regular at Mango Room who was keen to back his old friend: “Anyone can cook but to have that flavour on your tongue – that’s the trick.”
71 Camden Road, NW1
020 8066 0747