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The Caterer

Alan Yau

12 May 2005
Alan Yau

Overall ranking: 46

Restaurateurs rating: 13

Snapshot

Career guide
Yau, who was born in Hong Kong in 1962, came to the UK when he was 12 to join his parents in Kings Lynn, East Anglia, where his father ran the kitchens of a local chop suey house.

After taking his A levels, Yau helped his father open a Chinese takeaway, opening a second while still at college. He then enrolled for franchisee training with McDonald's in Hong Kong and worked for KFC in London to feed his fascination with food service systems.

In 1992, Yau opened the first Wagamama noodle bar - his healthy take on the fast-food genre - in central London. He sold the business in 1998 when it comprised two venues.

After developing the Satsuma noodle bar for the Royal China Group, Yau launched his first Busaba Eathai in Wardour Street in 1999, followed by a second in Store Street in 2003. Between the two, he set up the chic Hakkasan in Hanway Place in 2001 which gained a Michelin star in 2003. His latest venture, Yauatcha, opened in Broadwick Street in early 2004.

What we think

Yau 's revitalisation of the Oriental genre at both the top and the cheaper ends of the market won him an award for outstanding contribution to London's restaurants in the 2001 Carlton London Restaurant Awards. The man who began his career in a provincial takeaway also put Chinese cooking on the Michelin map - Hakkasan is the only Chinese restaurant to date to win a Michelin star.

Yau's mission is to drag Chinese food out of the stagnation he traces back to the zen movement of the 1980s. "The zen, minimalist blueprint left a lot of Chinese restaurants soulless," he told Caterer in 2004. "Chinese cuisine lacks a profile and leadership internationally as well as qualitative standards. Whatever you think of Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver, people aspire to be like them and China needs figures like that so Chinese chefs can transform their profession from a livelihood into a career."

Restaurant design and service are as central to Yau's vision as the food. Wagamama presented Japanese noodles in the radical setting of an open kitchen, minimalist refectory-style dining area, and fast service from waiters with electronic terminals.

For Busabai Eathai, Yau worked with Thai cuisine expert David Thompson in Australia and began an enduring partnership with French interior designer Christian Liagre. The walk-in canteens offered quick and affordable Thai meals and, in 2004, were voted the best places to eat cheaply by Observer readers.

Yau plans to make his international debut this year when he opens a second Hakkasan in Hong Kong and a seafood restaurant in a new Liagre-designed hotel in St Barts in the Caribbean. London will see two more Busaba Eathais open in Bird Street and Floral Street, along with Chowbar in Kingley Court, which has been described as a "rewoked (SIC) chop suey house" and "Hakkasan's naughtier little brother".

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