So, this isn’t quite a review, and it’s not quite a preview, as Yemaya’s Kitchen has been open for a little while now. But, I went along to meet Lavinia Blundell-Richards who owns and runs Yemaya’s Kitchen in Wheatley; and tasted an awful lot of food. I was pleased to find not just a reason to stop in Wheatley, but somewhere with heart and soul.
The cafe, which sits opposite Cornfield Bakery on the High Street in Wheatley, used to be a greasy spoon until Lavinia took it over. After the opportunity for Wheatley-based Lavinia to purchase the cafe, the space was totally gutted and refurbished, decorated using a beautiful Farrow & Ball dusky blue and finished with patterned blue tiling.
Lavinia is a Mum of two, with high-end hospitality background as Maître D’ at The Ivy, Soho House and The Canton Arms, plus some time in America. After leaving to have children, Lavinia returned as a consultant and Michelin Accounts Manager for Jing Tea.
Yemaya is named after Lavinia’s daughter, and an Afro Brazilian deity known as a protectorate of women and community, and goddess of the sea. This is entirely appropriate, as Lavinia tries to employ struggling young women, providing them with a non-judgemental environment.
Behind the counter hangs a list of around twenty regular customers, who each have their own mug and for who the staff begin making regular orders for as they cross the homely threshold. During my lunchtime visit, every customer was greeted by name.
All about the food
Lavinia’s food is a mixture of comfort and great ingredients; a combination of simple but best, focused on feasting and bringing people together. When I visited I was treated to a sampling session of the cafe’s key offerings, so I went a little bit camera happy and tried to capture the lot!
We started with a classic grilled cheese, and a New York staple of bodega breakfast roll – egg, bacon and cheese in a kaiser roll. To the bodega roll, Lavinia has embellished with the addition of a homemade spiced sausage patty. The roll comes wrapped up so the cheese can melt – open it up for a bite and local cheese combines in blissful harmony with oozy free range yolk.
The grilled cheese was simple but perfect – crunchy, toasted, ridged bread on the outside, melted cheese and dijonaise within.
Buttermilk chicken thighs are my next memory, baked though, not fried. Skinless and boneless the crispy chicken was tender within and delicious accompanied by Rubies in the Rubble ketchup, made from surplus produce.
Smokey and sweet, slow-cooked vegan BBQ beans were tried alongside a jalapeno cornbread and feta, red pepper and parsley muffin. All homemade and spiked perfectly with a balance of spices and flavour.
We also tried a deliciously moist Reuben sandwich – another New York classic. The pastrami homemade using über-locally sourced Shotover beef, from Cricks Butcher’s across the road from the cafe. Served in a dark rye bread, with hints of liquorice, the pastrami comes smeared in Russian dressing and topped with organic sauerkraut.
Sweet fulfilment came in the form of banana, pecan and honey loaf, crunchy on top with brown sugar; plump carrot muffin; and generously seeded granola bar with cranberries, honey and syrup. Vegan brownies are a new arrival and available to order.
The house coffee is by New Ground Coffee, a fairly new Oxford-based coffee roastery that combines coffee with social justice. The business helps to train ex-offenders and enable them to get jobs, which ties in perfectly with the ethics at the heart of Yemaya’s kitchen.
So there we have it, a feast indeed.
Belly fit to bursting and pleased to find a new venue worth visiting time and time again, I made my leave. Throughout my visit to Yemaya’s, I chatted with Lavinia about her plans for the business and her passion for the food and the impact it can have; and I get the feeling this is just the tip of the iceberg. Lavinia is a lady with creative ideas and a joy for both people and food.
Events, catering, gifts and more
In addition to the cafe, Lavinia is running a number of interesting events. Feast for a Fiver, which includes several courses for just £5, encourages people to come together for a family feast, especially when they may be away from their families or feeling lonely. The next event takes place on 22nd November at Oxford Brookes and is open to all. On the 7th & 8th December Lavinia is also hosting Artisan Christmas Supperclubs by Chef Rebecca Barrett in the cafe. Tickets for the supper clubs cost £45 each and feature four courses of seasonal produce sourced or foraged as locally as possible. A full list of their events can be found on Yemaya’s Facebook event page, or via Eventbrite.
If you’re looking for a great gift or holidays supplies box, the cafe now stocks a selection of wine, cookbooks, juices, crackers, tea, coffee, local beers and more. Hampers can be made up in wooden wine crates. Lavinia also offers external catering, previously catering for private customers and bespoke events like TOAD on the Terrace at Bicester Village.