It started with a handful of pop-ups, festival appearances, and kitchen takeovers. Then it was the North’s next best thing. Bundobust founders Mayur Patel and Marko Husak head up a business on its way to serious expansion, at a time when many other restaurant businesses are going in the opposite direction. First it was a restaurant in Leeds, which opened in 2014. Two years later, it was Manchester. Next, they’re eying up the rest of the UK.
Bundobust is the marriage of Indian street food – Gujarati cuisine, more specifically – and good beer. Considering Britain’s obsession with a good pint and Indian food, it’s a wonder something like Bundobust hasn’t been attempted before. Especially in Leeds, where cask beer – unlike keg beer, a living, delicate product – runs supreme, and especially in Manchester, home to the famous (though receding) Curry Mile.
Prior to 2014, when the two were just getting going, Mayur (part of the family behind much-loved Indian restaurant Prashad), had approached Marko for his beery expertise to help run a food matching one-off. At the time, Marko recognised restaurants as lazy with their beer menus, with only a few fast casual concepts, such as Byron, possessing a ‘really solid beer list’ and who sometimes ‘really went to town with it.’ Little has changed since then, with Bundobust becoming one of the few restaurants the entire country has recognised for good food alongside good beer (Jay Rayner called it ‘one of a kind’).
Given the reviews they’re receiving up and down the country, something’s clearly working. So why aren’t other restaurants taking the hint? I caught up with Marko – who’s still fully hands-on with the beer side of things – to see how beer can be as important to a restaurant’s dynamic as its drinks selection.
Your original concept – wasn’t it more beer focused with food on the side rather than the other way round?
We thought we’d be a bar that would serve Indian street food snacks. But since we’ve opened it’s definitely more food-led. 65-70% is food sales. And it’s the food that’s really got us the reputation. I mean, we’ve got an amazing beer list but people come for the food.
How do you choose what goes on the beer menu?
We’ve got a set list, but we’ve to got two managers in Leeds and Manchester and we’re very passionate abut letting them choose what beers go on. In Manchester we use a lot of local breweries like Cloudwater and Marble. There are so many in Manchester and we’re lucky to have so many on our doorstep. In Leeds we use Northern Monk and Kirkstall. We tend to pick beers that go well with the food, so a lot of pale ales, witbiers. Even dark beers, which go well with spicy food. And yeah, we like to have the balance between traditional breweries that’ve been around for a while, but we still go for the new forward thinking breweries and give them a showcase, so we’re always keeping an eye out for new releases. It’s important to us that we’re one of the first bars to get in a new beer.
The North is well known for its cask beer. Is the dispense as important as locality to you?
Definitely. When we started out in Leeds we were feeling pretty brave because we had no cask beer whatsoever. Just keg beer. It was fine but we thought we were neglecting cask, and of course there are some great producers around here. So we introduced two cask lines, which are local only, and in Manchester it’s the same. It kind of attracts a different audience as well. We want the modern trendy beers, but people coming for the food aren’t always beer fans and they want something a bit more sessionable and accessible. And it was important that we should remember the heritage. Especially up north with Yorkshire and Lancashire, which is cask country.
I can’t think of another restaurant that does cask and are happy to shout about it.
Not in terms of fast casual groups. It’s harder to look after; it’s got a shorter shelf life. You need to have staff who know what they’re doing. Whereas keg’s just plug in and play. As with the big chains, it’s hard to get a bar manager passionate enough to know what they’re doing with cask. It takes a bit more work and knowledge and patience.
Beer and food pairing menus have been popular in other parts of the world for some time now. Do you think they’ll ever take off here?
It’s all been a bit half arsed. Places are getting better at stocking great beer, but with pairings I was reading about Left Handed Giant and Casa Mia in Bristol – they’re having a restaurant together and that seems very focused. The chef’s Spanish, so maybe they’ll have inspiration from that? In The States they’re just doing it better. It’s something we’ll see in the UK, but the rigid pairing concepts I think we’re still a few years behind.
Why is that?
The drinking culture in the UK has always been different to the rest of Europe. You go out for a drink or you go out for something to eat. But I think we’re bridging that gap where you can go out for food and have some amazing beers with it. And I think with the high end places, they want to stick to wine. Beer for them is still frowned upon. I know there’s a lot of people doing good work on it, like Melissa Cole, who does beer and food pairing events. You know it’s gunna get there, because you watch Sunday Brunch and Saturday Kitchen and there’s always a beer segment on it. It’s just getting it into people’s psyche that you can have an amazing beer with your food rather than wine.
How do people react to modern price points of beer in the North, when they’re used to £2.60 for a pint of cask?
I think people are getting used to paying more now. When we started having £5 for half a pint in the early days, people would be in shock. But for us it’s about having something for everyone. So we do have a £3 pint of cask ale, and we might have something at £6 a half. We want a beer for everyone, so your granddad can come in and have a pint of bitter. Good quality German lagers are the best sellers on the bar, even though we try and push the more interesting stuff. You can’t struggle to sell a lager.
Would you say people are more open to spending comparatively more on beer than they are on food?
I’d say so. The way we’ve priced our food is it’s meant for sharing. In correlation, the beer’s more expensive than the food. People are getting more comfortable parting with their money on something that’s great. Instead of having four pints of rubbish they’d rather have two pints of something really good.
I heard you’re opening up a new site in Liverpool?
Liverpool and we’re looking at Sheffield or Newcastle. Hopefully hitting the Midlands after those three. Leicester or Birmingham. Leicester excites us a lot. And the Midlands generally, because of the kind of food we do – Gujarati cuisine. There’s a large population from that culture who’re in the Midlands. Whereas in the north of England where we’re from it’s more Peshwari. So historically there’s a market there for our cuisine. We want to open 10 sites by 2022. We’ve found the model – we just need to keep rolling with it.
Get started with OpenTable for Restaurants
We love talking with customers about their unique businesses. Simply fill out the below form and we will call you right back.