How I Got Here: Bin Li

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

How I Got Here with Murger Han chef and restaurateur Bin Li

Related tags: Chinese cuisine, Restaurant, London

Bin Li is the owner and head chef at Chinese street food restaurant Murger Han, which currently operates two London sites in Euston and Mayfair.

Why restaurants?
After moving to the UK in 2008, I noticed that there was nowhere in London specialising in the food from my home city of Xi’an in China. So seeing as I couldn’t get it anywhere else, I thought I would open my own restaurant.

Tell us something you wish you had been told at the start of your career?
There's nothing in particular I wish I was told. When I first fixed on the idea of opening a restaurant, my accountant and friends told me not to do it because Xi’an cuisine is traditionally street food and not served in a restaurant. People laughed at me, and said: “I cant believe you're going to open a restaurant selling glass noodles and murgers.”

What do you do in your spare time?
I ride motorbikes.

What’s your favourite restaurant or group of restaurants (besides your current one)?
Beast.

What would you be doing if you weren’t in restaurants?
I’m not sure as I came to the UK to study and then saw this as an opportunity, and went for it. From when I arrived here, I was thinking about a restaurant as a way to teach Western people about Xi’an cuisine.

What motivates you?
Letting more people know about Xi’an food. Even within such a multi-cultural city and London, you are always educating new people about this unknown culture.

Where was your last holiday?
Cornwall a few months back.

Which colleague, mentor or employer has had the biggest influence on your approach to the restaurant business?
My mum: Han is her family name, and the restaurant was inspired by her.

What keeps you up at night?
I worry that customers will not eat my food for lots of reasons, maybe they'll think it's too spicy. Also, this cuisine is very new to the market and is so different to the more familiar Chinese foods brought over by Hong Kong immigrants in the 1970s such as egg-fried rice and sweet and sour pork. As well as this, competitors and other restaurants serving what I would consider non-authentic Xi’an food worries me, as I want people to have a real experience of the food I grew up with.

Worst business decision?
I have had a lot of trouble with a concept I recently opened in terms of location, staffing, suppliers - a lot of the usual problems with opening a restaurant. New openings in this industry are very hard.

Best business decision?
Opening Murger Han Euston. I was told by everyone not to, but it is still here five years later with the same dishes on the menu.

What are you reading at the moment?
Nothing at the moment; if I read, I feel like I will fall asleep.

What piece of advice would you give to those looking to climb the rungs in the business?
I actually would advise not to, as it is very hard work and often it doesn’t work out. It is very hard to create good recipes, find suitable locations, and dealing with landlords and councils is a fight! You also have to remember how long the hours are. I would recommend starting a business, but in another industry.

If you could change one thing about the restaurant industry today, what would it be?
Food quality, especially in Chinese cuisine in the UK. It is very varied with chefs often cooking with no recipes, and so the quality and dishes are always different.

CV to date

Born:Xi’an (China), 1988

Studied:​ University of Wales, London branch. Bachelor in Business Management [unfinished], 2010 – 2013 (2.5 years).

Employment:
2014–present - owner and chef | Murger Han Euston
2016–present - owner and chef | Murger Han Mayfair
2018–present - owner | Bin Bin Q Euston

Related topics: People

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