Amjad Bashir, known as Peter to his regular customers, has just opened the second of many planned Zouk restaurants which boast a contemporary dining area offering a health-conscious fusion of Eastern cuisine. The restaurant is dominated by an open kitchen which forms the stage for the chefs' 'performances'. With flames from the charcoal grills; dough thrown to make chapattis; the smells and spicy scents; it makes for a real dining experience.
Is 'Zouk' your first venture and what's the concept?
I've been in the restaurant industry for about 30 years and had several restaurants but this is the second 'Zouk'. The concept is Eastern fusion - predominantly Indian, Pakistani and Lahore cuisine but we also have a lot of fish, including Lobster, Sea Bass and Red Snapper which is mostly grilled because it is a healthier option than frying. If we do fry, we use mono-unsaturates and our sauces are lighter than most Asian restaurants as we believe that the public is very health conscious. We do make fantastic desserts though, if you want to over-indulge! We've employed some really great chefs from the continent and from India.
Because the kitchen is on full view, it's obviously important that it is designed and installed to the highest standards, why did you choose Vision for the job?
I hadn't actually worked with Vision before but I chose them because I'd heard good things about them. I've been in the trade a long time and you hear about other good professionals in the industry. I'd heard about Vision through various sources and I have read about some of their work in 'Restaurant Magazine'. They understood what we wanted straight away which was, most importantly, a fully fledged open kitchen with everything on view. It had to look right - not just a mish-mash of ideas. We wanted the whole restaurant to look 'state of the art' and very presentable to showcase our superb food. We made some structural changes to the building - which was just a concrete shell - adding the mezzanine floor along with the drop ceiling resulting in a different feel to a typical Indian restaurant; it's contemporary, light and airy with big windows and modern decor. It was a blank canvas really but it meant that we were able to put all our services exactly where we wanted to make the atmosphere we wanted to create. It has been a pleasure to work with Vision; they are an excellent and professional organisation to work with.
Does the presentation of food follow this modern theme?
We have chosen a contemporary style because we want to focus on the food. A traditional restaurant focuses a lot on decor rather than on the main subject - the food and the chefs. That's the reason why we have an open-style kitchen where everything is on view; so that the food is centre stage and the chefs, who are the superstars, are the performers if you will.
Was that the brief given to Vision and were they involved right from the very start?
They were involved from the beginning and were told what our brief was; the type of cooking that we wanted to do; the type of equipment we were looking for; the results we were trying to achieve and the ambience we wanted to create. We told them what we wanted to achieve and we got the benefit of their experience as well. They hadn't done this particular brief before, but they've done many different types of restaurants with different cuisines and they were very familiar with the equipment and what we wanted to achieve.
In the planning process they presumably presented designs as cad drawings or visuals?
They did both and we played about with the drawings - I think it was a two-way street. Centre stage was to be the tandoori area and the Ramali oven which is new this country; it's an inverted Tava or hot plate for breads where the chef can throw the dough up in the air to make wonderful large chapattis, it's quite dramatic. Ramali means handkerchief denoting the thinness of the actual ruti or the chappati. We also wanted the charcoal grills on display, of course these would throw out a lot of smoke which needed to be extracted properly. We wanted the flames to be seen and the smells to be there, but not to overwhelm the customer. So we've got some pretty big extraction fans up there.
With the designs approved, Vision then did the fit out - how did that process go for you?
Vision did all the fit out, and one of the directors which was Chris Rouine was in charge the whole time. He put the whole scheme together and oversaw all the work during implementation. We had various points of sign off and he kept us informed throughout the process.
Almost inevitably problems arise with a large project like this - did you have any problems at all?
Inevitably yes, I don't blame anybody because of teething problems such as ice machines that accidentally turn themselves off!. These are problems that you hit upon in any new site and you work your way round them trying to solve them, it's more important how these problems are resolved. I think that determines whether a company is professional or not when you hit snags and how quickly they respond to those problems we had. Vision have been excellent. If we have any issues we ring Vision straight away and tell them about any problems. We have had the occasional issue but they responded very quickly.
So this is the second Zouk, are you planning any more?
Yes, our hope is to actually go to several major cities around the world. We are looking for a site in Milan and have earmarked some of the more vibrant cities like Barcelona, Tokyo, Singapore, Dubai, Lahore. We are looking at making this an international brand. We only officially opened for business last weekend but the response has been excellent mostly through word of mouth and people are coming in because of what they have heard and read about us. We've had very good reviews which has done us a power of good.
So yours would be a quality and price offering?
Definitely one of quality and I think people who value quality will like the price. Although Manchester city centre is a very competitive area, we have a unique presence, a unique product, very good food prepared by excellent chefs in a superb ambience and coupled with great service. The atmosphere is fantastic and it's a real hive of activity with all the cooking on view. It is not a kitchen hidden behind walls, where you don't get the smells or see the action.
Would you use Vision again to supply these kitchens?
Oh definitely, I always believe that if you happen to find a company that manages to meet all your needs then that's precious and yes, I would gladly work with them again.