CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

An era ends for restaurateur Derek

Camden Town party for the man behind the Mango Room

23 February, 2017 — By John Gulliver

Derek Blake

I WAS at one of the brashest, noisiest parties Camden Town had seen for many years on Saturday night – scores of guests were spilling out onto the pavement in Kentish Town Road. And I was looking at a man in the crowded restaurant who sat with a studied expression at the head table. He was hardly uttering a word.

And then a woman came up to me and against the throbbing music I caught her words: “I have been crying all day…. it’s so sad to see the end of the place.”

She, too, was looking at the silent man, the man with whom she used to live, and she felt sad, she said, because this was the last night for the restaurant, the Mango Room – the restaurant the man had made famous. He, Derek Blake, had sold it after turning it into the best known Caribbean eaterie in London.

A younger Mr Blake with daughter Laurelle

Who is he? Malaysian-born Theresa Richardson, an opthalmic surgeon, told me the story… the story of the boy who used to herd goats in Jamaica and then came to London in his early teens and demonstrated he had a flair few have. He had a magic touch when it came to making money in business deals.

His mother – a Jamaican who came over here in the 1950s with her husband – had left him behind, intending to bring him over here to send to college.

Chef Roger Shakes, who has been at Mango Room for 16 years

He had had hardly any education in Jamaica and was barely literate. But after his arrival he wasn’t interested in higher education – he, apparently, wanted to make money.

He borrowed money and bought a property fairly cheaply in Muswell Hill – and then sold it for twice the price he had paid for it. Not bad for a boy who used to herd goats. And not bad for a man who is thought to be dyslexic.

Oliver McHugh, publican Tony Peters and Alexandra Paul

Next he helped to run a restaurant called Blake’s in Haverstock Hill which soon became a hot spot for celebrities.

I first met Derek Blake in the 90s after he had established another fine restaurant in Jamestown Road, Camden Town, but soon he was off again – yet another deal, this time buying a nearby Italian restaurant from an elderly couple who wanted to retire.

And this is what became the famous Mango Room whose fame spread particularly among the Caribbean community in London – as well as among such celebrities as Samuel Jackson, who would book a table whenever he was in London.

Theresa Richardson and family friend Nina Gan

Sometime ago, I hear, he decided to sell the “Mango” to a Chinese company, who, apparently, have bought, at least, the two buildings that house the restaurant. The value of such sought-after buildings in the heart of Camden Town is probably in the millions.

What drives Derek Blake?

“He was never really driven simply to make money,” Theresa Richardson told me.

“He just liked the challenge business deals gave him. He was always willing to take a risk others would have baulked at.”

Derek Blake, never seeking the limelight, became a successful businessman, someone fellow Caribbeans could turn to. His restaurant was crowded with fellow islanders for its last night.

I heard that when the party ended in the early hours Derek Blake was visibly upset as the tables were being cleared for the last time. He stood there with his mother, wife and daughters, almost shell-shocked – the “Mango” era had ended.

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