Born in Nigeria, time spent in Barbados and calling London his home, chef-patron Henry Omereye is ‘riding high’ with his signature African-Caribbean fusion cuisine. Ten years after the opening of Fitzrovia’s Riding House Café, a venture with restaurateur Adam White, comes Riding House Bloomsbury – the latest showcase for Omereye’s sun-fuelled cuisine, influenced by the chef’s global travels.
Collecting a loyal fan-base due to the duo’s much-loved contemporary all-day menus (also part of the House Café Company is Rail House Café, in Victoria, which opened in 2017), the new opening promises to bring a relaxed, ‘neighbourhood’ vibe to Bloomsbury.
“My passion is to open restaurants which can make a significant difference to an area,” says White. “Riding House Bloomsbury will follow in these footsteps, providing the historical part of London with a members club-like atmosphere, bringing residents together through offering a broad, accessible, lively modern brasserie that works across the day for any occasion.”
The restaurant is found in Bloomsbury’s The Brunswick Centre, one of London’s most noted, and listed, Brutalist piece of architecture. Interiors, by Lou Davies of Box 9 have an industrial feel, with exposed pipes and scrubbed wooden tables, but softened with botanical and natural touches, including hanging plants, green-velvet banquettes and hessian lighting. Concrete booths are contrasted with salvaged restored furniture and tables that have been created by innovative British tradesmen using repurposed stone, marble and metal.
Although originally from Nigeria, Omereye has spent a lot of time in Barbados, namely cooking at some of the island’s best restaurants including The Cliff and The Cliff Beach (which he helped to launch). A passion for both Caribbean and West African flavours plays out on his menus, so diners can expect dishes such as Cocoyam Mash, a twist on the dish the chef’s mother used to make for him as a child; Cassava Hummus and Salt Cod Fritters with homemade Bajan Pepper Sauce.
Together, Omereye and Riding House Bloomsbury’s head chef, Gerald Mirey, who has spent time in Japan, have created a range of new dishes which will launch exclusively at Bloomsbury. Small plates include Grilled Flatbread, Smoked Cod Roe, Tomato and Wasabi Tobiko; Earl Grey Ured Trout, Citrus Kosho & Sour Cream and Flat Iron Steak & Comté Yakitori With Goma Dare.
Main dishes include Caraway Harissa Chicken and Cassava Chips with Fennel and Cardamom Gravy; Miso Grilled Sea Bass, Nuoc Cham & Pickled Cucumber. Desserts will also see new versions of old favourites such as Hot Doughnuts with Milk Jam, while breakfast brings Pea Fritters, Oak-Smoked Salmon and Asparagus and Green Shakshuka, Green Tomato Confit, Asparagus, Spinach, Peas and St. Ewe Egg.
The restaurant feels eclectic and diverse – the essence, in fact, of modern London today.
Here, exclusively for Forbes, Henry Omereye talks about how travel has influenced his cooking.
What is the ethos of Riding House Bloomsbury?
We believe in creating a place which can serve as a hub to our guests – particularly those in the local area. We look to create a space that suits all occasions – business lunches, coffees with friends, dinners with family – a members’ club without membership. This is particularly important to us in Bloomsbury, as there is really nowhere else serving a similar purpose.
What are the signature dishes?
My personal favourite – which has also become a bit of a signature – are the Salt Cod Fritters. After a shift I love to sit down with a plate of Fritters, topped with Bajan Pepper Sauce and a refreshing apple juice to drink. Other standout dishes have to be our Chicken Wings, the Earl Grey Cured Trout and our Miso Sea Bass.
How would you describe your cuisine?
It is globally inspired and contemporary, with particular influences from West African, Caribbean and Asian cooking. Our USP is that you can’t put our menu in a box – all of our dishes are globally inspired, with the team encouraged to use their own backgrounds and inspirations to contribute to the menu.
How do you stand out in London – a city that is rich in innovative restaurants?
Nowhere else offers the breadth of menu that we do – you wouldn’t dishes like ours all available together elsewhere. We are also not afraid to try new things and cross over between cultures, which really helps in terms of standing out.
What influences have inspired your culinary journey?
The main culinary influences from my childhood in Nigeria include Scotch Bonnet, which was on everything (and can be seen throughout my menus today) and Maggi, a really versatile seasoning, which I use instead of bouillon or salt, as it gives extra flavour and builds a great profile. Apart from the direct culinary influences, my childhood there definitely inspired my culinary journey, as it taught me the definition of hard work and graft – and to always be nice to people, which is important given the catering industry is so small.
What are your favourite go-to Nigerian dishes that you love to eat?
On a nice sunny day I love Pepper Soup, which is made with discarded pieces of meat, such as beef, tripe, goat’s liver and cow’s liver and is full of pepper. I like a nice cold Mighty Malt – a non-alcoholic Guinness-style drink – to go with it. For dinner, I love Pounded Yam with Okra Soup – it’s super filling and keeps you satisfied during a long shift.
You’ve also spent time in Barbados, what were the highlights of your time there – culinary or otherwise?
I learnt a lot from locals – how they cooked and how they ate, but also how they lived. I was taught how to make Salt Cod Fritters – which are called ‘fish cakes’ there – by my mother-in-law but I loved seeing how the traditional Bajan fish cakes were made by the grannies down at Oistins, a Friday fish market. I also watched how they cooked traditional dishes, such as Oxtail. Overall, I loved the Caribbean lifestyle and how laid-back it was. You also have the ability to spend a lot of time on the beach – before, after and even during work!
What were your favourite Bajan dishes and places to eat when you lived there?
Nothing beats the ‘Fish Fry’ at Oistins on a Friday night, but in the week I would always go to one of the cafés inside the shopping centre at Emerald City. They are nothing fancy but you can always find amazing things to eat. We would go multiple times a week and the queue snaked out the building, with people waiting for traditional dishes, such as rice n peas, oxtail, fishcakes. I’d always take my choice to Brownes Beach and have it with a Banks Beer. I also loved popping into Bubba’s Sports Bar, which served the best BBQ chicken wings.
What were your favourite places to visit in Barbados and why?
Nothing beats Brownes Beach in Barbados – I’d go with my family and watch my children swim in the ocean. Or, on a weekday, I’d head to the beach between my shifts and after work, I’d be there having drinks with locals. I also loved taking the ZR buses with their loud music and great atmosphere.
What inspiration have you taken from the Caribbean for the current menu at Riding House?
Obvious inspirations in our menu can be seen in the Fritters and Bajan Pepper Sauce, but cooking in Barbados, in particular, taught me to not be afraid to try anything. I also learnt some traditional recipes there – many of which were inspired originally by Africa or other islands, such as Jamaica.
You’ve worked in a range of kitchens, what chef inspired you the most?
The one person who inspired me the most was Marco Pierre White. When I worked for him he taught me so much, from kitchen discipline to how to work within a team. He is a massive inspiration to me – not just for his skill, but also how he managed the people around him.
How would you describe your style in the kitchen as head chef?
I would say it’s nurturing. I encourage my team to have fun as long as the kitchen is run correctly. To encourage longevity, you can’t always be serious. I want my team to enjoy themselves while they are at work. Everywhere I’ve moved, I’ve always been lucky enough to take members of my team with me and I think this is because I’m really keen on ensuring my team progress. My senior sous chef at Bloomsbury, for instance, was originally my apprentice many years ago and one of our best chefs was originally a night cleaner. You have to invest in someone and build a relationship and then that encourages their best work. If you enjoy what you do, have fun, work hard and invest in people, it all falls in line.
As a chef, how important is it that the bar offering also gels with what comes out of the kitchen?
It’s super important. When we work on a new menu, the bar team are always involved at all points – from development to tasting. Our bar concept is overseen by Harry Hughes, who joins us from The Ned, and will see a bar dominated by large whiskey barrels of Negroni, Martini, Old Fashioned and Rum Manhattan, aged within the barrels. New in-house cocktails include the Piña Picante with Tequila, infused in-house with pineapple skins and chilli, shaken with citrus and sweetened with agave. Our design at Riding House Bloomsbury reflects our concept, with an open bar and kitchen merging into one another.
How important are the interiors and overall design of a restaurant?
Another vital part. A great restaurant must have a great atmosphere and this has to come from the design, as well as the food and drink, of course. The founder of Riding House Bloomsbury, Adam White, worked on the design with Box 9 and created a beautiful space, which allows each aspect of the experience to complement one another.