Written by: Jack Wyness AKA Big Dog

 

How this Pacific Street Food Journey all started

I would like to share the journey we have taken with our food since I have started in 2019 and how this actually all started for me a few years ago in Manchester.

The vision from 2017 brought into 2019 and the triAl, error and learning along the way.

The idea came from conversations with my brother a couple of years back when we were working on a concept for a potential restaurant idea in Manchester. Looking for the newest food trends that hadn’t really hit the UK yet, but a theme that was close to both our hearts. I have to credit my brother here as it was he who coined the phrase “Pacific Rim Food.” Bells rang in my head, soon as those words left his lips.

The street food trend was already massively on the rise but we hadn’t seen anywhere that was “Pacific Rim” themed street food. Japanese food culture was on fire at the time and all the top chefs were using specialist cooking techniques with ingredients and tools from Asia.

Mexican food done properly was making a smaller appearance as well, along with many other areas of South American cuisine too. Korean BBQ was another huge interest of mine but id yet to see it anywhere up north. 

To create a food concept that was so broad was like a dream. No constraints to keeping it specifically french or Japanese for example. It seemed like there were no boundaries with such a huge area of geography (this also helps to keep the chefs interested in the long run.) 

In the beginning, I wanted to have a really strong bbq theme running through the menu, so I did my research and came across something called a robata grill. I’d used Konro grills with binchotan coal before but never used a custom made commercial gas-powered grill like this. The grill in question was multi-fuel and multi-purpose giving us lots of reasons to take the leap. 

This was mostly going to be new for all of us, but I knew it would be the USP we’d been looking for. Yakitori chicken to grilled whole fish and veg. At the time when we were launching this menu, the skill set was varied and admittedly there was part of me that thought it may be too much of an undertaking, but I had a clear vision in my mind and it had to be done.

Once the concept had been agreed with everyone on board, it was time to purchase the Robata, which ended up costing close to £7000. A big leap of faith but we were sure it would pay off.

“I would say 90% of the kitchen team hadn’t heard of half the ingredients”

It’s fair to say the first launch was pretty rushed and the kitchen was already in quite a bit of strife with 3 agency chefs on at any one time, people not turning up on time, holidays booked for the middle of summer, 90 hour weeks back to back and deep clean with two of us after a Saturday night service. Sometimes I wonder how we did it looking back. I was manic trying to spec, cost and finish all these brand new dishes whilst trying to run an extremely busy kitchen at the same time. 

I would say 90% of the kitchen team hadn’t heard of half the ingredients used or even seen a Robata, but hats off to all them, they made it happen (with a lot of tests and adjustments.) 

I think what helped the launch was a lot of the dishes were all very new to the lake district. We were the first to do ramen and bao buns in the area and with Bowness being slightly on the traditional side, it was either sink or swim for such radical change.

“3 revised menus and 2 kitchen teams later”

3 revised menus and 2 kitchen teams later we had finally hit the sweet spot. I managed to secure 5 skilled and talented chefs who now are instrumental in this menu. So many new techniques learned, hundreds of new ingredients and systems in place, it finally felt like it was starting to work.

Look back if I had to do it all again I wouldn’t rush such big changes in a concept, design or the menu, but we don’t live in an ideal world. The Summer of 2019 was fast approaching and we were all desperate to move away from the old menu, to give Baha a fighting chance of survival through peak season. Also changing menus due to mistakes or design faults isn’t something I like doing either but with something so new and cutting edge, I suppose it can only be expected and it in turn ultimately created a better product. 

The principles that underpin the ‘pacific street food’ theme?

I think the principles are flavour/umami, fresh ingredients, colour, variety and speed. It’s a collection of all the best street food around the Pacific ocean brought to you under one umbrella.

Its execution is a way of cooking that enhances a great diversity of beautiful fresh exotic foods, with healthy cooking methods in mind, like grilling/BBQ, wok stir-frying, and steaming.

The delivery is simple and effective, designed for sharing or feasting. No frills attached.

 

Where the menu has gone over the last 9 months, flavours, countries e.g.?

We began this journey leaning more towards Asia than any other continent, mainly to do with confidence in my ability to do the food justice. Korea and Japan were some of my biggest influences at the time and there is plenty to pick from that’s for sure. Lots of Korean food is actually cooked at the table, which unless we were going to buy 60 miniature BBQs (we did consider this) it wouldn’t be possible. So taking snippets of each cuisine making sure it wasn’t “tapas” style or the classic starters, mains and desserts was the biggest challenge. 

Where did we fit, and what actually would we be offering? 

“The concept was there but it wasn’t making money”

We found most people, in the beginning, would order a couple of ‘pick and share’ items and that would be enough, but the spend per head turned out to be worryingly low. The concept was there but it wasn’t making money.

We had to create a menu where you would be guided to pick things to start off your meal and then choose something larger, then something sweet if you like. But without sounding classical. 

Our final draft was one of a4 size, simple and clean-cut with a reduced menu of 35 items instead of 55. We also decided on a reduced lunchtime offer, potentially running from 12- 4 now which helps prep levels and drives more lunchtime focused dishes.

What’s working and where the menu is going next?

Latin American food is on the up, with tacos and burritos flying out. Baos and burgers are all on-trend too, so we will constantly keep developing and improving those dishes. Malaysian and Thai curries are big sellers and noodle dishes like pad thai coming out on top. Korean fried chicken with pickles and Japanese fish and chips will also be hitting up this new menu too. 

We feel like we understand our guests more now, so instead of a huge offering we’ve made more of a thoughtful and streamlined approach to this new menu. I would like to see some real house signature dishes come out of this run now and hopefully, they can take a permanent place on the menu for returning guests. 

“We have created our own field which I’m proud of”

We have created our own field which I’m proud of. Sod’s law would have it that Covid-19 came about at the worst time for us, but it’s certainly given a chance for reflection. Where did we go wrong and most importantly how can we do better? These are the questions I ask myself all the time. One thing I do know is when all this madness is over, we will be a better and more refined business. Baha 2.0 will not disappoint!

 

Discover a taste of what’s to come by reading Jacks blog from his trip to Bali.

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