INTERVIEW: Matt Helders and James O’Hara

Posted by: Ashley Birch
INTERVIEW: Matt Helders and James O’Hara supporting image

'We're gonna do portions of sticky toffee pudding this big!'

Ambulo is now open in the Millennium Gallery’s café, and we caught up with two of the owners ahead of opening weekend, to find out a bit more about the city-s newest all-day dining experience

As a parent, the café in Sheffield’s Millenium Gallery has long been a source of frustration, so news at the back end of last year that the group behind some of the city’s best bars had joined forces with an Arctic Monkey, and were about to take over the running of the venue was hugely exciting news.

The Rockingham Group, who are responsible for local faves The Great Gatsby, Picture House Social, and of course, the award-winning Public, are collaborating with Arctic’s drummer Matt Helders and Museums Sheffield to transform the café’s at Millenium Gallery and Weston Park Museum into the hotly-anticipated Ambulo.


Photo credit: India Hobson


The first fruits of their labour, in the Millenium Gallery, were on show over the weekend, as the café opened up to the public on Saturday 9 February, and we caught up with owners Matt Helders and James O’Hara, ahead of opening to find out if there were any last minute nerves, and what we could expect from the new venture.



“When we were first talking about this, a lot of what we were talking about were things we’d seen elsewhere and travelling around and bringing some of that back.” Says Matt: “I still love spending time here, I love being here and I think it made more sense for me to do it here than anywhere else. It just seemed natural to do it in Sheffield.


“It’s also nice to provide it for Sheffield, in a way and bring something new.”


James added: “We’ve been talking about Ambulo for three years. Because the name means to wander in Latin, it was always coming back to this thing of travelling and bringing these things back to Sheffield. The travelling reference is always there because Matt has always got a camera with him, wherever he is.”


“We thought Millennium Gallery would be the perfect place to do the first one.”


James now has a wealth of experience converting venues, and a dependable team that he can rely on to transform his vision, in which he includes the likes of Rocket Design’s, Nick Deakin and photography from India Hobson. He explains that each venue from the Gatsby, to most recently, Public has been a reflection of where they are in their lives.


He said: “Gatsby, we were in our 20s and it was open till three o’clock, and it was DJ sets and it was kind of loud and a lot of drinking.


“Gradually, we’ve grown up with the venues each time. So Picture House was a bit more grown up and food-led. Public was a step up again in terms of something that was a bit different. I think we wanted to do something that was inclusive, a lot of us now, including Matt and my brother, have got kids as well. We wanted to do something that was for families and was really open and accessible.


“What we’ve managed to do is do a food menu with Ronnie, the head chef who is another one that’s got a little ‘kid, that’s nutritious, but at the same time still fun and something that kids are gonna want to eat.”


So, while James has plenty of experience in the industry, Matt is clearly more used to being behind a drum kit than a bar. “I’ve had to trust people who have done it before, and some of it I’m just not qualified at all to be involved with” admits matt: “The things I’m interested in I’ve had an input in, obviously the creative side of it, what it looks like and the music, and you know, some of the food. That’s been the fun part – I just get to do the fun stuff.


James added: “The visual thing is the bit that Matt’s been really involved in. Most of the inspiration for the colours and the decor came from Matt’s photos. So, when people go on the website they’ll see some of the photos.


The concept for Ambulo is all-day dining, and with the attached museum it is important to them that it caters for the families in the day time.


James said: “It is going to transition through the day, from being much more family-focused in the day time to becoming a bit more of a restaurant. The lights will get lower, and the music will get louder.


Matt said: “I’ve been doing playlist that will hopefully reflect that the experience will be different in the day-time.”


Ambulo is open now, in Arundel Gate, and having nipped in over the weekend we can whole-heartedly recommend it! For more info check them out on Facebook.

VIBE's youngest reviewers put Ambulo thorugh the taste test and it's a thumbs-up from them!