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Fond farewell to man who changed foodie culture of Camden Town

Derek Blake's Mango Room guests included celebrities such as Spike Lee, Grace Jones, Tom Jones and Samuel L Jackson

16 February, 2017 — By John Gulliver

Leaving: Derek Blake, inset, and the Mango Room

A FAREWELL party will be held on Saturday night for one of the most colourful characters in Camden Town – Derek Blake of the Mango Room restaurant.

Talk to different people about Derek Blake and you will get a different picture of him. A little reserved. Sometimes sharp. Full of humour. Always possessed of a seductive philosophy about life.

But whatever they may think of him they all agree he had one of the sharpest minds in the restaurant trade and owned one of the best restaurants in north London. It became so well known as an oasis of the food culture of the Caribbean that within a short time after its launch 18 years ago it had attracted international attention.

A little unbelievably, guests included such celebrities as Spike Lee, Grace Jones, Tom Jones and Samuel L Jackson. It almost goes without saying that a regular diner was the Jamaican High Commissioner.

The friendly, easy-going atmosphere was such that the Mango Room also became a meeting place for Caribbean families of all ages.

Derek, a Jamaican, became attracted to the restaurant trade in his 20s and soon built up a reputation as a man who could turn any place into a thriving business. His reputation soon spread in Hampstead where he ran a successful eaterie. Then he opened his first venture in Camden Town – Blake’s of Jamestown Road, which is where I first met him in the early 1990s. Then he spotted an Italian restaurant in Kentish Town Road, which was for sale, and the idea occurred to him that he could turn it into Camden Town’s first Caribbean restaurant.

I followed him to his new creation, Mango Room, and met his first wife, then a junior hospital doctor, later to become an established opthalmic consultant. A renaissance man, Derek always kept up his friendship with her after they parted and after he had started a long-term relationship with another woman.

I had heard rumours that Derek was shutting up shop for a week or two but before I could check them out I bumped into a shopkeeper I have known for some time in Chalk Farm Road on Sunday evening who told me: “You’ve heard the news – Derek is going! Will you be at the party on Saturday?”

And so this Saturday the man who changed the foodie culture of Camden Town leaves town. Now in his 60s, Derek is believed to have sold the two buildings that house Mango Room. It’s unclear whether Mango Room will be replaced by another restaurant – Derek, reserved and tight-lipped, is playing the mystery man, as you would expect.

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