In the world of high-end hotels, creating an F&B concept can be a lengthy and costly process, with market research, current trends and technological advances all playing a big part in development.
This has had a large influence on the trend of pop-ups in hotels. Established restaurants, which may be unable to make wholesale changes to their menu or style, can get past diner fatigue with a simple pop-up collaboration.
It could lead to an increase in repeat customers looking to come back to their favourite venue but wanting to eat something new, and it could give the hotel access to new customers that may not have considered visiting before.
At the London Hilton on Park Lane, one of the UK’s oldest hotel dining concepts is still going strong, with the famous Trader Vic’s tiki restaurant remaining at the Mayfair hotel since 1963.
Despite more than 50 years of service, the restaurant is not about to rest on its laurels and has recently got in on the pop-up trend, collaborating with Vanessa Bolosier, author of the Creole Kitchen recipe book.
Trader Vic’s Worldwide has a rich history of innovation that all began in 1934 when Vic ‘The Trader’ Bergeron built a cozy little saloon on San Pablo Avenue in Oakland, California, called Hinky Dinks.
After embarking on an adventure to Cuba to refine his skills as a bartender, Bergeron transformed Hinky Dinks into a tiki-
bedecked tropical retreat aptly named Trader Vic’s, which quickly became one of America’s first fusion restaurant concepts. It now has locations in 17 countries across the globe.
“Our customers have travelled around the world and are aware of different foods,” says Trader Vic’s executive chef Shiran
Fonseka. “They love the spices, and like to try things out.
“Trader Vic’s is about a ‘taste of the world’, so we try to incorporate different types of cuisine on to our menu. So this collaboration is something very nice to add in.”
The tiki ethos behind Trader Vic’s is bang on trend, with several more opening in London during the past year, while the menu also fits into the current trend of world cuisine. But adding in some expertise helps bring in new ideas and flavours.
“Pop-ups are about being able to get away from fixed output,” says Vanessa Bolosier.
“I guess that with the tiki theme, it’s almost easier for Trader Vic’s to have that flexibility because of the island vibes of the bar. Bringing island food to an island bar works, and you can choose from so many islands from around the world.”
CREATING THE CONCEPT
This latest collaboration is part of the Island fusion menu series, combining Trader Vic’s signature flavours with exciting tastes from a whole host of Caribbean and African islands.
Influenced by her childhood years spent in the island paradise of the Caribbean, Bolosier draws upon the rich cultural history of the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique for her recipes.
“Chef Shiran and I sat down and discussed the theme and the food we wanted to see on the menu and how the menu could be complementary to everything else they do,” she says.
“But I am a home cook, so everything I use has home-made flavours and uses home techniques. I don’t use big industrial kitchens, so it was very much a collaboration in terms of me telling him the flavours and the things that we eat and cook.
“We didn’t want it to be generic. We spent a whole day cooking and merging our ways of cooking and trying to adapt it to that environment.”
The pair followed up with a session in which Shiran took all the recipes and made them his own, cooking them independently with his team.
“We tasted the food and adjusted. He wanted to make sure it was really authentic and as faithful to the real thing as possible.”
But this is no vanity project. Enticing in customers remains the name of the game and offering something new aims to bring back regular customers who want to try something new, while also appealing to a new audience.
“We have done three pop-ups over recent times,” says Shiran. “All in all, it is something new and something fresh for our customers. It is really nice to have a mixture of ideas – those coming from outside and those we already have at Trader Vic’s.”
The Island Fusions menu ran alongside the current Trader Vic’s menu with a parity of sales on both during the pop-up’s tenure.
Does this point to a trend and interest in Caribbean dining as we have seen with the openings of Turtle Bay and Cottons?
“Yes, there is growth,” says Bolosier. “But we are going from Caribbean food being seen as just jerk chicken and rice – which is predominantly Jamaican food – to a wider spectrum of what Caribbean food is. That’s food from more than 30 island nations with different influences and cooking.
“The Spanish-speaking islands, for example, bring their own full spectrum of flavours, styles and ingredients, which is now being introduced to the UK. I think it is only the beginning.”
While bringing world cuisine to London is embraced, it is not without its problems. And those thinking of future pop-ups should take note.
“There have been a few difficulties with taking the ingredients we use on to an industrial scale, but chef Shiran uses very good suppliers,” says Bolosier.
“There were a few things I wanted to cook that were a bit more niche, which would have been a good opportunity to introduce the clientele, but it can be difficult to source, so we had to adjust.
“For future collaborations, we might be able to add certain things to the list and have better access to certain ingredients. For now, we looked to use things that you can find everywhere but looked at the way we cook it and the seasoning and how we serve the food, which is ultimately just as important.”
While the idea of pop-up collaborations was quite small a few years ago, the freedom it allows hotel chefs and variation it allows customers to choose from means that popularity has skyrocketed.
“Sometimes, in the bigger venues, where pop-ups are scaled up you can lose some of that originality,” says Bolosier. “And in big spaces it doesn’t always work out. But at Trader Vic’s, I think this collaboration works perfectly.”
These sentiments are echoed by Yvonne Ottley, PR and marketing manager for London Hilton on Park Lane.
“The pop-up trend is widely celebrated in London,” she says. “It is one of the attractions to the city. Within a hotel perspective, our guests really enjoy the fact that they are in London but are able to experience these cross-cultural flavours without having to leave the hotel.”
But Trader Vic’s is not your normal F&B concept in Mayfair and that has helped it remain so prominent for so many years.
“It really helps to set us apart, having the variety of restaurants we have (Michelin-starred Galvin at Windows is upstairs),” says Ottley. “We have traditional dining and we have Trader Vic’s. Trader Vic’s has been celebrated as a place where you can let your hair down whether you are here on holiday or as a business resident. It is always associated as a holiday-style destination.
“Tiki concepts are quite popular in London at the moment, though on smaller scales, but we are quite unique in Mayfair with what we do. And to have it here for over 50 years really sets us apart.”
ISLAND FUSIONS MENU
Saltfish fritters, mango souskai, spiced crab meat and sweet potato croquettes
BBQ Spare Ribs
Original 1972 recipe, slow-cooked in wood fire oven
Jalepeno Cheese Balls
Emmenthal, cheddar, coriander and chilli
Goat Colombo with Creole Rice
Traditional French Caribbean goat and aubergine curry
Red Mullet Creole Court Bouillon
Tomato-based spiced red mullet with sweet potato
Trader Vic’s Miso Blackened Cod
Grilled miso cod with pickled cucumber, aged balsamic and steamed rice
Served with coconut ice cream
Rum Ice Cream
With pecan nuts
Mont Blanc Cake
Served with coconut ice cream