Full of soul and jazz, the newly opened Park Chinois at Berkeley Street in London epitomises restaurateur Alan Yau’s interpretation of a truly glamorous lifestyle dining experience.
From his earliest success with Wagamama, a popular chain of Japanese ramen and katsu curry bars in London, to the dim sum delicacies at Hakkasan, Yau’s restaurants have always raised some eyebrows.
Many of these profitable ventures were eventually sold at attractive prices.
Opened in November 2015, Park Chinois tells a rather different story.
If anything, it is a much more personal and conceptual project for Yau, inspired by his culinary and geographical travels.
From its impeccable decor to its incredibly expensive menu, Park Chinois easily sets itself apart from any other Chinese or western dining venue in the city.
Yet that is not all, for this restaurant articulates what Yau described as an “old-school dinner-and-dance” dining concept.
Reflecting the exclusive indulgence of clubs like Cotton Club in the United States and the Peace Hotel in Shanghai, the restaurant exudes the glamour of the 1930s.
Its live music — from string quartet, jazz to band performances — completes the charm of the dining venue.
Yau conceded that this new restaurant is a labor of love, well above the standards he set for himself when he opened Hakkasan.
Keen to move away from previous projects, he conceived Park Chinois as a personal curating project in which he could combine tradition with innovation.
Looking like a secluded mansion from the outside, the restaurant boasts interiors that are lacquered and sleek, with a crackling fireplace and plush, floral armchairs for intimate conversations.
In the Salon de Chine, traditional afternoon tea featuring fresh pastries, connoisseur teas and coffee, as well as premium Chinese teas such as aged pu’er, are served, with live music in the background.
The menu is not altogether Chinese. In fact, it is supposed to be an exotic, not authentic, experience.
Chinois rather than Chinese, it is an imaginative, seasonal menu that makes use of British, European and Chinese ingredients: its signature roast Duck de Chine (£75, US$107); Chiuchow-style braised turbot (£32); Norwegian king crab cooked with Qing Hu rice wine (£42); Angus beef rice noodles (£19) and stir-fry cavolo nero with ginger (£12).
Yau attributed this to the fact that it is almost impossible to be truly authentic without compromising on the experience of taste.
“For example, to recreate the Chinese claypot rice experience, it is not easy to find the type of wind-dried meats and premium rice that are essential ingredients,” he said.
“Through our Italian supplier, we have found instead a specific cured duck meat from the Jewish quarter of Venice that has an excellent taste.”
The restaurant uses lobsters imported from France, chosen for their superior taste compared with the typical Boston or Scottish equivalent. At £10.50 per 100 g, this is a culinary indulgence.
Other than the innovative menu, Yau brought in something new: a course-by-course Chinese dining experience.
“I am moving away from family-style Chinese dining, because I want the diner to taste individual dishes freshly made to order,” he said. “It is essentially a dining journey.”
While it may sound unfamiliar to most Chinese diners, the new concept proves to be working, as the restaurant attracts a steady stream of eager clientele.
It is not hard to see Yau’s conviction in what he does.
Focused and highly energetic, he explained his belief in the sustainability of his projects and highlighted the value of hands-on management.
“For me, the most important thing for a restaurant is its own culture and DNA, as well as its own ethos.” he said.
“The brand attributes need to be kept pure, and you need to maintain the integrity of the brand.”
While Yau has demonstrated his prowess in creating a high-end dining venue such as Park Chinois, he is at the same time capable of launching mid-market restaurants, as seen from his latest Chinese gastropub project, Duck & Rice.
Opened in Soho in April last year, it is a stylish pub that offers Chinese food.
“The pub exudes humor and irony,” he said.
In Chinese, the name suggests “dip tau faan” (a meal that comes with some meat and rice, served on a plate).
At the same time, it is a pub name.
Yau said: “I’d like to bring back the joy of Chinese comfort food.”
Characteristic of his innovations, the menu is a pick of authentic and fusion dishes ranging from venison puffs and jasmine smoked ribs to zha jiang mian.
So having launched Duck & Rice and Park Chinois and prepared a lunch for President Xi Jinping at Downing Street on his visit to Britain, what’s next?
It seems that Yau has already set his heart on more challenges — this time on a different front.
He plans to create new digital apps that revolutionize taste, a platform for diners that will offer much more than Tripadvisor reviews.
“It is important to have qualitative rather than quantitative food recommendations,” Yau said.
Discussions are also underway to market the curated music of Park Chinois.
It won’t be long before Yau surprises us with yet another innovation.
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