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November 12, 2009

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Cheap roast take-away chook

IT has been a busy year for Shanghai restaurant industry stalwart Eduardo Vargas as he plans to move from fine dining and bistro-style venues to take on the take-away and affordable, good-quality fast-food market.

Last month saw the launch of Bistro Burger on Changle Road and yesterday the rotisseries started turning on his newest creation, Brasa, a Peruvian-style roast chicken shop on Shaanxi Road S.

Vargas also has another higher-end dining option - his French-style bistro Balthazar gets into full swing this week after a soft opening last month.

Located in the Taikang Road complex, Balthazar has a so-called cheese cave on the second floor and an extensive bar area downstairs.

Vargas, the Peruvian restaurateur behind Azul Tapas Lounge, Vargas Grill and Casa 13, has come up with a delivery-focused restaurant squeezed into a tiny 77 square-meter space in a sprawling apartment complex on Shaanxi Road S.

Over the course of this year Vargas has been turning his mind to the art of cooking the perfect chook, working through five different prototypes of a rotisserie roasting machine that uses charcoal.

"In South America brasa chicken is a Peruvian institution," he says. "Brasa is a Spanish word for when the charcoal becomes red, so when you see the charcoal red you say, 'Oh brasa'."

Opening a Peruvian roast chicken shop has been a concept Vargas has nurtured for 20 years since he was a chef in Singapore.

Tucking into a slab of roasted chicken, Vargas says that the food is to be eaten with your hands and is intended for people wanting a healthy affordable take-away meal.

Vargas says the 1.5-kilogram chicken is free range and sourced from Shandong Province. The chicken is marinated overnight and, after being roasted for an hour on a spit, is moist and the skin is crispy.

A quarter chicken with a choice of sides (French fries, garlic rice or roasted potatoes), along with a small salad and a sauce will set back a diner 38 yuan (US$5.60). Delivery is free within a 1.5-kilometer radius. A family pack costs 128 yuan. It can feed three to four people and contains a whole chicken, a large side dish, a large salad and four sauces.

Soups and salads range from 15 yuan to 35 yuan and desserts are 20 yuan to 25 yuan.

"To be successful here you need to provide something that is affordable and the most popular places recently are those that have given people quality but haven't been expensive," says Vargas.

It is certainly a different direction from the restaurateur who arrived from Singapore in 2002 and has had a hand in different restaurant concepts, starting with a tapas restaurant in Xintiandi before he opened the popular Azul in 2003.

Vargas then went on projects including opening City Diner, 239 with Brad Turley and IIT Cafe.

"My main aim is to concentrate primarily on delivery and we want to have 10 of these small shops around the city," he says. "If I open something else it will be a bistro burger or a Brasa.

"I am happy with what I have achieved with the restaurants I have opened but now it is time to make some money and it isn't rocket science, it is simple good food. It's chicken, salad, fries and rice so it is something that is easy to duplicate without having a problem with consistency."


Address: Block 6, Shop 7, 888 Shaanxi Rd S.

Delivery: 400-820-2172


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