Cook­ing up culi­nary treats in Shang­hai bistro

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - BUSINESS - By ALYWIN CHEW in Shang­hai

An­thony Chow and Joey Cheong might lack culi­nary training, but that did not stop them from carv­ing out a suc­cess­ful res­tau­rant busi­ness in Shang­hai.

They are the co-own­ers of Bites and Bot­tle-O, a cozy 20-seater eatery tucked away on Dan­shui Road, a quiet lane ad­ja­cent to the bustling Huai­hai Mid­dle Road.

The bistro of­fers a com­pre­hen­sive se­lec­tion of tapasstyle dishes from dif­fer­ent cuisines around the world, in­clud­ing foie gras, cured gravlax, roasted pork belly, black gar­lic hum­mus and even scal­lion oil noo­dles, a lo­cal fa­vorite. Bites and Bot­tle-O also has a well-cu­rated wine se­lec­tion, com­pris­ing la­bels from Aus­tralia and Europe.

Jaded with life in the ad­ver­tis­ing sec­tor, the self-taught chefs de­cided to quit their jobs in 2015 to pur­sue their pas­sion for cook­ing. De­spite their lack of ex­pe­ri­ence in the food in­dus­try, they did not hes­i­tate to wade into un­charted wa­ters.

“It was def­i­nitely a risky move,” Cheong said. “But hav­ing no pro­fes­sional culi­nary ex­pe­ri­ence was ac­tu­ally more of a bless­ing than a curse — it meant we had to think and work harder than the rest.

“Also, the Shang­hai food in­dus­try is very in­ter­na­tion­al­ized and vi­brant,” he added. “It’s full of new, ex­cit­ing con­cepts. I felt there was room for two self-taught chefs like us to carve a niche for our­selves.”

Born in Syd­ney, Chow trav­eled to Shang­hai in 1993 to learn Mandarin at Fu­dan Univer­sity.

The trip also helped him dis­cover more about his roots — his Shang­hainese fa­ther em­i­grated to Aus­tralia in the mid1950s.

Chow later found a job in the city as an ac­count ex­ec­u­tive at multi­na­tional ad­ver­tis­ing agency J. Wal­ter Thomp­son.

Cheong, a Sin­ga­porean, also used to be in ad­ver­tis­ing but at Ogilvy and Mather.

He first ar­rived in the city in 1995 on a job post­ing and met Chow a year later at Sally’s, a now de­funct bar that was pop­u­lar with peo­ple from the ad­ver­tis­ing world.

The two hit it off over darts, pool and whisky, and soon dis­cov­ered they shared a love for good food.

In 1999, they started whip­ping up meals for friends in Chow’s bach­e­lor pad in Hongqiao area. But what turned out as a hobby soon be­came a friendly ri­valry as they con­stantly sought to out­per­form one an­other in the kitchen.

They then took their cook­ing to the next level by do­ing pri­vate culi­nary events for friends and as­so­ciates be­fore open­ing Bites and Bot­tle-O in 2015.

“We love the idea of Span­ish tapas be­cause there are so many dif­fer­ent types of food on the ta­ble at the same time,” Chow ex­plained about the bistro’s con­cept.

“We be­lieve that a meal shouldn’t be lim­ited to just one or two dishes,” he added. “We want peo­ple to be able to taste a com­bi­na­tion of fla­vors.”

The small eatery has grown in stature. The part­ners stressed that they have not had to in­vest a sin­gle cent into the busi­ness since it was launched.

Tele­phone reser­va­tions, they pointed out, in­creased by 50 per­cent to 6,000 a year af­ter the res­tau­rant opened.

Busi­ness has been brisk. On most nights, it is al­most im­pos­si­ble to get a seat without a reser­va­tion.

The bistro’s Sun­day spe­cials, which usu­ally fea­ture one clas­sic hawker food from Cheong’s home coun­try Sin­ga­pore, are so pop­u­lar that they had to in­tro­duce two seat­ing ses­sions.

This pos­i­tive re­cep­tion has in turn bol­stered their con­fi­dence. They are now plan­ning to open a sec­ond res­tau­rant, called Umaami, in Oc­to­ber.

Lo­cated in the Shang­hai cam­pus for WPP, a multi­na­tional ad­ver­tis­ing and pub­lic re­la­tions com­pany, the new eatery is a whop­ping 10 times larger than their orig­i­nal bistro, and will serve an even wider va­ri­ety of cuisines.

De­spite the scale, Cheong is con­fi­dent in their de­ci­sion to go big, point­ing out that the area Umami is lo­cated in does not yet have any no­table restau­rants.

“Tak­ing into ac­count our type of food and the lo­ca­tion, I think this new venture is not that big a gamble to take,” said Chow.

“Also, it’s all down to qual­ity. Din­ers in Shang­hai are a so­phis­ti­cated and dis­cern­ing bunch,” he added. “They are will­ing to pay for good food.”

The Shang­hai food in­dus­try is very in­ter­na­tion­al­ized and vi­brant.” Joey Cheong, a Sin­ga­porean who runs a birstro busi­ness in Shang­hai growth of tele­phone reser­va­tions af­ter the res­tau­rant opened

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GAO ER’QIANG / CHINA DAILY

Aus­tralian Chi­nese An­thony Chow (left) and Sin­ga­porean Joey Cheong run a bistro in Shang­hai, which of­fers a se­lec­tion of tapas-style dishes from dif­fer­ent cuisines around the world.

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