My Week: Antoinette Ledford-Jobson of Bubbas

Think Caribbean cooking is just takeaway jerk chicken with rice'n'peas? Think again. Antoinette Ledford-Jobson has brought fine dining, Caribbean-style, to south London.

by Rebecca Burn-Callander
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

I never planned to open a restaurant. But when the opportunity came up to buy a property right next to Tulse Hill station, I had to take it. I thought of opening a wine bar but London has thousands of wine bars. There are hardly any fine dining Caribbean restaurants – and the few that do exist are in north London. It took two years of hard graft to get the place ready: the building was more run down than I had realised, almost derelict. But I finally opened Bubbas on March 9 this year.

All throughout the refurbishment, I was at the restaurant every day, morning till night. Once we opened, I would still get to Bubbas at 8:30am, and leave after midnight. But now that I know my staff and trust them with the keys, I don’t have to be there all the time. So, most days, I will arrive at 3 (we start service at 5:30) and some days I even leave around 7pm, so that I can spend time with my son and help him with his homework.

Our busiest days are Fridays – when we’re always fully booked – and Saturdays. We’re also open all day on Sunday but Monday is my rest day. That’s when we give the restaurant a thorough clean.

I don’t spend much time on the floor any more; my role is more back office: accounts, dealing with wine merchants, that kind of thing. I’m incredible lucky to have a very talented head chef, the Michelin-trained Anthony Cumberbatch. He suggests the menu but I always taste everything and have final say.

This is very much a family business. My nickname for my son is Bubba, which gives the restaurant its name. And all my uncles and cousins are builders and electricians – they did the place up. It was the only way I could have afforded to launch Bubbas. I have the same staff now as I did on the day we opened, so they also feel like a family. They bicker like one too but we’re very good at talking through any problems.

Being a mum and running a business is very hard. I’m lucky that Bubba loves spending time at the restaurant. He loves to mix cocktails out of different juices and calls himself a mixologist! But there have been some really wonderful days that make it all worth it. Like when Reggae Reggae sauce founder Levi Roots came for dinner. And when he came back again!

I also love going on fact-finding missions at other restaurants. I went to the North Road in Farringdon last week and the waiter asked us if we’d like some aperitifs before a meal. I thought, I’m having that, and now my staff ask our customers the same thing.

We have just had a quiet patch because of the Olympics. Everyone in the restaurant trade has noticed it’s been slow. But as soon as the Closing Ceremony was over, the phones started ringing again. And at least the lull gave me a chance to start thinking about our Christmas menu – you have to plan at least four months ahead. And trust me, you won't find just any old turkey and trimmings here. We’re doing Christmas Caribbean-style!

Find out more about Bubbas.

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