Raising the Bargh

He had also said that ‘enforcer’ Julian Shaw had been spending a lot of time in New York. So what is he up to in Times Square? Bargh pauses. “Supernova is about the history of the American cocktail from the 1850s and great American Comfort food such as meat loaf, tacos.” Grits? I ask. “Yes, grits,” he says devoid of enthusiasm, for once. In the next breath he goes on to say that he found a New Yorker working in Chelsea market in south west London, who makes great doughnuts – yes doughnuts. When was the last time you had a great doughnut…?

Bargh’s idea for a ‘doughnuterie’ is to have a special trolley in Supernova where guests, customers, ‘dough-nutters’ even, can customise their doughnuts. Jam or no jam sir? Strawberry, raspberry or peanut butter, sir? As it’s New York maybe there should be a ‘pickleback doughnut’ made with Jameson Irish whiskey and pickle juice.

“It is my job to inspire the clients and the team,” says Bargh. “It’s no good having a great idea if you can’t execute it. That is why Julian spends a lot of time training. We are constantly travelling. We have to have great passion as every client wants something different.”

How on earth did this all start?  Is there a university course for great hospitality ideas? “I was studying at Chester College and working part time in clubs in Manchester.” He pauses then says something that I didn’t get. Sorry? “I was a table dancer,” admits Bargh looking for a reaction. I try to hide my astonishment. “I also dabbled behind the bar. I loved it. Not knowing what to do, I went into management training with Muswells in the late 1980-90s. I worked with Carol Darwin. She was a really great boss. Never forgot how much  I learnt from her.

“I worked around Northampton and Cardiff, ending up in London. I worked for Whitbread on new ventures. I opened an Italian restaurant in Westbourne Grove.” He starts to reel them off: “I worked for Tower Thistle. Then Wagamama and the Pelican Group, Karen Jones, My Kinda Town with Peter Webber and Luke Johnson, who had the Caprice and Daphne’s. I worked for all the key players.”

Indeed he did. These are the names of some of the seminal players who have led the transformation of formal dining and hospitality in London. It has been a lot more than just about chefs such as Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay, Raymond Blanc et al. London was pretty much a gastronomic desert (not dessert) before all these people started producing new, fresh ideas and instilling professionalism in the higher end of the hospitality sector.

Then what happened? “I went to the States,” Bargh says. “I did not know what to do. I had worked for some great bosses but I did not want to go into operations. Nor did I want to own a restaurant or bar. I advised a couple of people. I did the Zetter Bar at the Hilton Park Lane, and Hakkasan. I decided to start up my own business. Twelve years later there are 15 of us,” he says.

To describe Hakkasan as a Chinese is saying Johnnie Walker Blue Label George V is just another blended Scotch, or Château d’Yquem is a sweet, sticky wine. Best to leave the description to the experts. 

Here is what Square Meal magazine says about it: “A cross between an edgy, black-suited nightclub and a moody restaurant (think John Travolta’s Swordfish, says a movie buff), Hakkasan’s brand of glitzy, gilt-edged Chinese cooking still rocks the West End.