Experts Alan Yau, Jay Rayner, Andy Kwok & Felicity Cloake debate the state of the UK Chinese restaurant scene at The Lee Kum Kee Culinary Culture Series from the Oxford Cultural Collective.
On 4 September at Asia House, London, journalist Felicity Cloake chaired a stimulating discussion on British Chinese restaurants development in the future, featuring panellists: Alan Yau OBE the brains behind an empire that includes many ground-breaking restaurant concepts – Hakkasan, Yautcha, Wagamama, Busaba, Park Chinois; award-winning writer and journalist Jay Rayner; and Andy Kwok the Director of The Good Earth Group, a family owned restaurant business that has set the gold standard for Chinese food in London for over thirty years.
The discussion covered Chinese immigrants bringing Cantonese food to the UK opening restaurants from the 1950s, serving dishes including crispy duck, sweet & sour pork and crispy fried beef in a bid to make a living; the second generation taking over family businesses; and the current situation UK Chinese restaurants find themselves in today.
The diversity of the Chinese food offer in the UK means today people can enjoy specialities from across China’s many regions and food that takes inspiration in Chinese origins but that has been refined and adapted to include British ingredients and influences from many different sources.
The current economic and political climate has led to challenges in bringing the best chefs to UK Chinese restaurant kitchens but Andy Kwok discussed how the future would include training more non-Chinese chefs to cook high quality, authentic Chinese cuisine. Business rates and consumer confidence make times challenging for restaurateurs, but despite the pressure, good quality mid-range Chinese restaurants continue to excel, as does the top end of the market. In addition to this the booming street food and independent owner-occupied restaurant scene has brought a new vibrancy and passion to UK Chinese food.
Technology has undeniably impacted on Chinese restaurants – social media enables smaller businesses to market on a budget, but Jay Rayner claimed that consumers still see through the gloss and vote with their feet based on the food and their dining experience. Home delivery services like Deliveroo have helped to increase sales, but not necessarily profit.
In 10 years’ time the panel predicted that although the local Chinese takeaway once familiar on UK high streets in the 1970s and ‘80s may well have all but disappeared, Chinese restaurants will prosper by finding their specific purpose and place in the foodservice market – be it small three to five restaurant chains, those offering exciting regional specialities, or providing that something special that makes eating out an occasion.
In addition, top end establishments will continue to thrive by offering an exceptional eating experience and we will see overseas Chinese restaurant concepts, whether casual dining chain in format or an upmarket brand, moving into the UK and rising in numbers.