There are many factors that go into the creation of a successful F&B concept. But two of the more important influences are space and distinction.
Spaces in hotel buildings need to be utilised; any area devoid of activity or potential revenue creation is a waste, which is why we are seeing even the most limited roof spaces turned into terrace bars and pop-up summer restaurants.
Creating an F&B space that has a point of difference, and distinguishing it from the competition, can come in many forms; it may be that the space it operates in itself is the distinction.
Bõkan, at the new Novotel Marsh Wall hotel in Canary Wharf, has got both elements spot on. Three floors, including a roof terrace, have been purpose built to house a concept restaurant with the pulling power to reach those beyond the shiny buildings that surround it. As for making itself stand out against the considerable competition – there is a Hilton, a Marriott, an InterContinental and a Radisson Blue Edwardian in the Docklands area alone – in the capital, Bõkan has brought in some weapons.
Former head chef at the Michelin-starred L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Covent Garden, Aurelie Altemaire has been brought in as executive chef, while Danilo Tersigni (hailing from Mr Fogg’s) is in charge of the bar – oh and there is the little matter of the 360° views of the London skyline.
Split in to areas clearly furnished as lounge, bar and restaurant, Bõkan is split across the 37th, 38th and 39th floors with open steel stairs, open-plan layouts and floor-to-ceiling windows surrounding each floor, gives it a mezzanine-type feeling.
Exposed metal, stripped-back wood, leather seats, shining brass and a visible kitchen all tie into modern decorative trends.
The clientele at lunchtime is the suited and booted of Canary Wharf, as are those in the early evening, while weekends tend to bring in those locals living in the Wharf, Canada Water and Greenwich.
“During the week, we get visitors from the hotel, too. Not too many yet, but we still do 100 covers every day,” says Altemaire.
“And we are full every night, so that is a good sign in these early months.”
The style of food is classed as modern European, but there was a specific brief given to the chef as she joined.
“The brief when I accepted the position was to locally source,” explains Altemaire. “But the European cuisine style gives me the freedom I want.
“In pre-opening we really tried to find the right suppliers for the restaurants, visiting farms pre-opening. And I have been in London 10 years now, so I already know a lot of places and we have also created our roof garden where we grow herbs. So we try to source as much as possible locally.”
Having grown up and completed her cooking apprenticeships in Paris, there are clear French influences on Altemaire, who relies on the produce she uses to make her dishes sparkle.
“I want to make the produce shine,” she says. “We might do something quite simple as a dish but we will add a little twist.
“I want my plates to have a kick and a bit of a surprise.”
For example, the popular starter scallops with a warm organic pearl barley salad and the sea vegetable wakame. But the twist comes in the gel spots of limoncello with the slightly spiced alcoholic kick.
There are, of course, seasonal influences on the menu, with the white asparagus salad with blood orange, mixed nuts and fresh herbs being replaced with heirloom tomato salad with gin and tomato granite and juniper during our visit.
“I’m not a big fan of changing the whole menu all at once,” says Altemaire. “So we will change a little by little. This week, for example, we changed a couple of starters and one main course, just as the asparagus season is finishing up.”
There are some dishes on the menu that will remain, such as the chef’s signature Pugliese burrata made with house-made focaccia (the pastry chef is Pierre Coquil, formerly of Blue by Eric Ripert), red pepper coulis and fresh basil.
The impressive team includes sous chef Guillame Gillan (also from L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon), while the bar area is presided over by Danilo Tersigni, who alongside a Bacardi Legacy finalist Domenico Carella, has created a range of innovative cocktails influenced by the docks and its trading hub history.
Creative signature serves include the Royal Captain with Hendrick’s gin, lavender-infused Mancino Vermouth Bianco, elderflower cordial, cold jasmine tea, grapefruit bitters, topped with soda, and The Bõkan – a sharing vessel made with Reyka vodka, crème de framboise, pineapple juice, topped with prosecco.
Bar food is designed for grazing and comfort, with sharing tiles of British charcuterie and cheese and small plates such as crushed pea and mint fritters. More substantial dishes come in the form of lobster rolls with triple-cooked chips and grass-fed beefburgers with ginger glaze.
But Altemaire wants to make sure that the restaurant’s main focus does not get confused with the bar food, or the hotel room service menu, which she also oversees.
“We have a main kitchen that does everything for the restaurant and we have a second kitchen that looks after the room service orders. And we run all the hotel’s F&B from here,” she explains.
“We have classic hotel snacks with burgers and club sandwiches and we operate a room service menu. But we don’t want to mix them.
“Having more than one floor means we can make sure that the hotel’s classic food stays up in the bar and the Bõkan restaurant food stays true to the concept.”
For our visit, we were recommended the Cuvee Le Bosq White, a French white “reminiscent of French holidays”, from the menu, which features wines in three categories: Revelation (trailblazing wines, for those looking to explore off the beaten track), Re-invented (twists on the classics) and Re-discovered (well-known classics).
The Bõkan tag-line reads “quality ingredients, expertly prepared and beautifully presented”, and that is pretty much bang on already.
Our starters came in the form of the fore-mentioned scallops with limoncello gel and a succulent and tangy Portland crabmeat salad, with mandolin-shaved turnip, rhubarb and vanilla.
But the squid, with classic ratatouille, spicy oatmeal dust and saffron sauce, as well as the Aberdeen Angus beef tartar with sesame crisp and wasabi mayo, also lookrd to maintain Altemaire’s British ingredients with a kick philosophy.
While the fish dishes included sea bass and clams, cod and shrimps, as well as a whole lobster, it was the Rhug Estate grass-fed lamb cutlets that grabbed the attention.
Perfectly cooked on the Josper Grill, and on the bone, the dish is completed with charred aubergine and artistic smears of chimichurri.
Altemaire says that the Hereford 28-day-aged ribeye steak with padron peppers and roast Jersey Royals or the 28-day-aged bone-in British grass-fed fillet steak with confit shallots and mash remain favourite dishes among customers.
A changing list of artisan cheeses tops an intriguing list of visually stunning desserts, again maintaining the philosophy.
A tropical meringue with coconut, mango sorbet has the added punch of candied cashews, while the Tanariva chocolate and blackcurrant mousse has a zinging raspberry sorbet and popcorn.
The service across the lunch was superb, while the food was exactly the style to keep both corporate clients and weekend overnight guests coming back time and again.
And that passion and distinction will hopefully be present going forward.
Altemaire adds: “The restaurant has to add something to the hotel. The hotel gives us the support we need and brings guests from the hotel, but we can bring people to the hotel, too.”