Overall ranking: 22
Restaurateur ranking: 7
Alan Yau - Snapshot
Alan Yau is a Hong Kong-born restaurateur who has brought a radical edge to the London market for Oriental restaurants. He founded noodle bar chain Wagamama as well as Michelin-starred Chinese restaurants Hakkasan and Yauatcha, which were sold for £30m in 2008, although he retains a shareholding. Yau’s current portfolio includes four Busaba Eathai Thai canteens, Chinese noodle bar Cha Cha Moon and Sake No Hana, a fine-dining Japanese restaurant.
Alan Yau - Career guide
Alan Yau, who was born in Hong Kong in 1962, came to the UK when he was 12 to join his parents in King's Lynn, Norfolk, where his father ran the kitchens of a local chop suey house.
After taking his A levels, Yau helped his father open a Chinese take-away, and opened a second while still at college. He then enrolled for franchisee training with McDonald’s in Hong Kong and worked for KFC in London to feed his fascination with food service systems.
In 1992 Yau opened the first Wagamama noodle bar – his healthy take on the fast-food genre – in central London. He sold the business in 1998 when it comprised two venues.
After developing the Satsuma noodle bar for the Royal China Group, Yau launched his first Busaba Eathai in Wardour Street in 1999. There are now four Busabas in London, with a fifth set to open in 2010.
2001 saw the opening of the Hakkasan Chinese restaurant in Hanway Place and, in early 2004, the Yauatcha dim sum restaurant and tea house in Broadwick Street, both in London. Hakkasan and Yauatcha won Michelin stars in 2003 and 2005 respectively.
In January 2008 Yau sold Hakkasan and Yauatcha to Tasameem, a property arm of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, for more than £30m to help fund overseas expansion. In April 2009 Hakkasan made its US debut, opening in the Fontainebleau resort hotel in Miami Beach, Florida.
Yau’s most recent UK launch was Chinese noodle bar Cha Cha Moon, which opened its doors in London’s Soho in May 2008.
Alan Yau - What we think
There were gasps of astonishment when news broke in 2008 that Alan Yau had sold the controlling stake in his Michelin-starred restaurants Hakkasan and Yauatcha for £30m: £30m for two stand-alone restaurants during a credit crunch - surely some mistake?
But the story proved to be correct, highlighting once again the business nous of Yau, which he has combined with a deep understanding of Oriental cuisine to create some of the most enduring restaurant brands in the UK.
His revitalisation of Oriental cuisine at both the top and the cheaper ends of the market won him the Independent Restaurateur of the Year award at the 2005 Cateys, where the judges praised his “innovation”, his “restless curiosity” and his “entrepreneurial spirit”.
The man who began his career in a provincial take-away not only created the juggernaut that is Wagamama – selling the business in 1998 – but also put Chinese cooking firmly on the Michelin map. Hakkasan was the first Chinese restaurant to win a Michelin star and was joined by Yauatcha two years later.
For Busaba Eathai, Yau worked with Thai cuisine expert David Thompson in Australia and began an enduring partnership with French interior designer Christian Liagre. The walk-in canteens offered quick and affordable Thai meals and, in 2004, were voted the best places to eat cheaply by Observer readers.
Once again, where Yau went the financiers followed. In 2008 he secured private equity investment of £21.5m to transform the Busaba Eathai restaurant into a chain. There are currently four Busabas – with a fifth in Old Street due to open soon – but the agreement could see as many as 30 in the coming years.
Yau kept his hand in at the fine-dining end of the market with Japanese restaurant Sake No Hana, which opened at the end of 2007. It won immediate accolades, picking up Best New Restaurant in the Good Food Guide’s first ever London edition. However, since August 2010, he is no longer involved in this concept.
Alan Yau - Further information