Restauranteur discusses challenges facing the industry in Qatar
The award winning Cantonese restaurant recently opened at the St. Regis. Henk Bruggeman, director of operations Middle East and China of Hakkasan spoke with Erika Widén about the main challenge the restaurant industry faces in Doha.
What type of cuisine does Hakkasan restaurant have and what are some signature dishes?
Our main cuisine is Chinese Cantonese. All of our dishes are based on traditional Cantonese cooking, but we give it a modern twist in all of our menus. It is not fusion; it is pure traditional Chinese cooking. Sixty percent of the dishes are signature dishes and the remaining 40 percent are the creative influence of the chef working with local produce as much as he can, making up the whole menu.
What do you think is unique about Hakkasan?
It is all about giving people an experience, all of the elements have to come together…if it is about the food, the drinks, from our cocktails to our wine list, the music etcetera…all of these different elements together have a very positive effect on our brand and brand identity where we give people the complete experience from the moment clients arrive to the moment they leave. The food has to be phenomenal, if you look at our restaurants in London, the first Hakkasan opened 11 years ago and they achieved a Michelin Star status in the first year. It was the first Chinese restaurant ever to receive a Michelin star, that was a phenomenal award and recognition for the restaurant.
What is a Michelin star?
A Michelin Star is based on the food, the service, and ambience that you give to the client. In Europe, you have the Michelin guide that was previously used by Michelin the tyre maker, who gave out a little booklet if you were travelling around Europe saying you should try this and that restaurant in all of the different countries, and they gave the restaurants stars. The maximum Michelin stars that a restaurant can achieve is three. We are very proud to have one Michelin Star for our original Hakkasan in London. The second Hakkasan in London, which opened one and a half years ago in Mayfair, also achieved a Michelin Star in its first year. Our restaurant in New York, which we opened eight months ago also achieved a Michelin Star. It is a phenomenal achievement for us as a brand and all of the other restaurants have the same approach, the same quality, and standards because what we do in New York and what we do in London, we do everywhere else. The benchmark for us is London, that is where we are from originally, where it all started.
Where else in the Gulf region are there Hakkasan restaurants, and have they received any awards?
We have one in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and Doha is the third one in the region. Abu Dhabi has won a lot of awards from restaurant of the year and chef of the year, and best Chinese restaurant in Abu Dhabi. We are very proud of achieving those awards in Abu Dhabi.
How was the restaurant market study conducted before taking a decision to open Hakkasan in Doha?
It is not as big of a market as we have in Dubai, New York and Los Angeles. It is a different mix of clients that you have here in Doha. It is much smaller but we believe since we are within the St. Regis hotel, which has very high standards and in this whole operation also fits a Hakkasan. The owner of the hotel, Mr. Al Fardan, is a big fan of Hakkasan, and knows it from London. He has been in Dubai, he has been in Abu Dhabi, he has been in New York and when he built this hotel he actually got in touch with us and tried to find out if we would open a Hakkasan here in this property, and here we are today.
Is getting supplies one of the main challenges the restaurant industry faces in Doha?
That is certainly one of the challenges; we have adjusted our menu slightly. We cannot obtain all of the products that we would like to have so we have changed some of the dishes and we have brought in new dishes with products that are locally and constantly available. It is still a little bit up and down, the deliveries of products here in Doha. Today, it all came in a container and everything is available this week, next week the container may be delayed and then there is no, for example, tomatoes, beef or fish. So, that is definitely a challenge.
From where does Hakkasan receive the fresh produce and how does the process work?
Everything is imported in Doha, so we have some suppliers who ship directly from China or Europe. We use some suppliers from Dubai who ship it to Doha and whatever else we can get directly from the local suppliers here, so we are using the same supply chain as the hotel, so everything is ordered through the hotel.
Are there any challenges in importing the food?
Doha is pretty much organised with suppliers so they transport the food correctly in refrigerated trucks, which is very important. In that respect with the local suppliers we don’t have any main challenges. We went a few months ago to visit all of the suppliers to know where they store all of their food. We wanted to ensure that they follow all hygiene rules, to make sure that once it comes to the hotel that we are confident that it has been stored properly before we have received it.
Do you have an alcohol permit?
We go through the hotel. We don’t have an alcohol permit ourselves but the hotel is licensed so we are using that. Doha only has one alcohol supplier, with whom we have very good relations. They have been very helpful because they have their own portfolio of wines but we also have a lot of special imports, which we consolidated in Europe, that we have imported through the alcohol supplier QDC to get it into Hakkasan in Doha. We have our own very unique wines on our wine list that you can’t get anywhere else in Doha.
By offering a unique wine list, will Hakkasan attract more guests?
We believe so. All of those elements make us different to other restaurants. It is our challenge to make sure that we can deliver that and that is why we are different…In this part of the world if you are able to serve alcohol then you normally have a limited choice of what the supplier offers from their portfolio. We brought in forty percent of our wine list as special imports so that it is unique to Hakkasan and unique to Doha, so I am sure that our guests will appreciate it.
How does the restaurant industry in the Gulf region differ from other parts of the world?
There is definitely a difference between Dubai and Doha. Dubai has obviously built up its name for being very vibrant and very fast. Abu Dhabi is picking up; Doha is definitely going to pick up considering what is going to happen here in the 10 to 15 years in preparing for the World Cup. That has a lot of work that needs to be done on the infrastructure so that will bring a lot of business to Doha so in that respect we also believe that we are here in good time. It will only grow and that is good for the country, good for this hotel and good for Hakkasan at the end of the day.