Last night (Thursday 17th October), Cheltenham restauranteur Pak Wai Hung collected the OFM award for “Best Cheap Eats” at a ceremony hosted by Nigella Lawson and Jay Rayner at the Freemasons Hall in Covent Garden, London.
2019 Observer Food Monthly Awards
Now in their 16th year, the Observer Food Monthly Awards celebrate the best in British food and drink. Of the 16 OFM award categories, 10 are reader nominated whilst the other six are decided by a panel of judges from all over the UK.
Supported by M&S Food, the OFM awards afford Observer readers the chance to recognise their local food hero, favourite restaurant, best Instagram feed, amongst others. The OFMs also present a unique opportunity for local restaurants and bars to share a national platform with celebrated chefs and personalities.
288 Bar & Wok placed first in the highly competitive “Best Cheap Eats” reader nominated category, which is designated for eateries who offer their guests a main course and drink for less than £15 per head.
– Interview with owner and self-described 288 Bar & Wok “Bottle Washer” Pak-Wai Hung –
Int: When you first opened 288 Bar & Wok, what were your expectations, what were you looking to achieve?
PWH: To be honest with you, I had no idea what I was doing. I had no experience of working in a restaurant, let alone owning one. Thus, zero expectations because I didn’t know what to expect. Having no prior experience of restaurants may have been an advantage because I was able to build the restaurant without any preconceptions and instead be customer led. My aim was to build a family local restaurant. We were in (what was) an unfashionable part of Cheltenham and that added to our local charm.
Int: What do you enjoy most about the food and drink industry? What makes you tick?
PWH: My job is simple. My aim each sitting is to feed and water our guests. We provide good decent sized portions of good quality and tasty food at honest prices. I enjoy my job because of the people There’s a unique buzz to a restaurant that is full. I enjoy finding out about people. I like talking rubbish with people. Politics and religion is strictly a no-no but rubbish is definitely on the agenda. I’ll happily talk to most people about any subject.
Int: Why do you think as an independent restaurant B&W has survived where others have not?
PWH: Pricing is very important. I always looked long term. I didn’t open our restaurant to make a fast buck, hence we’re now in our 15th year. I have always tried to recruit interesting front of house. There’s nothing duller than a server who has no personality. Our training scheme is very simple: “treat each guest who comes into our restaurant as if they were your friends coming for dinner at your house.” After 15 years I still consider myself an amateur who makes a few quid.
Int: Who would you like to thank the most for your recent success in the OFM awards?
PWH: Whilst it may sound like a cliché, I’d like to thank our loyal customers. The award was an OFM readers choice award and thus for our customers to take the effort to vote for us is amazing. They eat our food week in and week out and thus they are our best critics. I would also like to thank my wife Jody, who encouraged me to enter the Awards. We’re both still pinching ourselves.
Int: What (if any) influence do you believe this award will have on trade or how you do things at 288 in the future?
PWH: Nothing will change at B&W. We’ll keep plugging away at doing what we do. We may have a few new customers following the national publicity but in general we will continue to focus on our local and loyal customers.
Int: Finally, how will you and Jody celebrate your award?
PWH: We originally said that if we even got shortlisted, we would celebrate with a small group of customers who voted for us. Now that we’ve won that small group has now grown to a party of over 100 guests. I would like to mention Amathus Drinks and Sibling Gin, with whom we’ve always had a good working relationship. We appreciate their support in kind for the party.
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