Stick men: Joshua Owens-Baigler and Amar Takhar on 'kushikatsu' Japanese skewers restaurant Dai Chi

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Angelina founders Joshua Owens-Baigler and Amar Takhar on 'kushikatsu' Japanese skewers restaurant Dai Chi

Related tags: Angelina, Restaurant, Japanese cuisine, Omakase

Joshua Owens-Baigler and Amar Takhar on why they’ve chosen to overhaul the Soho bar space they launched as Golden Gai last year, and reopen it as 'kushikatsu' restaurant Dai Chi.

Golden Gai seemed really popular, so why the change?
Joshua Owens-Baigler: ​The fact is, we’re fundamentally food guys, and we didn’t anticipate that when you’re a bar, people don’t eat. We put a lot of effort into the menu at Golden Gai​ when we launched it. It focused on piadine – a filled flatbread from Emilia-Romagna that resembles an enormous taco – and we were really proud of the dishes. But everyone was just coming here to drink. So we chose to reframe the concept.

Tell us about the concept
Amar Takhar: ​We’ve based it on Osaka’s 'kushikatsu' dining culture, which we both love but no one seems to have really heard of before. It’s basically deep-fried skewers of meat, fish and vegetables that have been coated in panko breadcrumbs.  We went through a lot of conversations and at one point had about 10 different concepts we were considering putting into the space, including a ramen bar; a wine bar; another Angelina. But eventually we settled on kushikatsu.
JOB: ​When we visited Osaka on our travels in Japan it was so liberating from a food point of view. There’s an incredible street food culture there and that appealed to us. Kushikatsu is like pub food. In Japan it’s having a renaissance at moment with chefs elevating the food, and that inspired us. A lot of people want to eat fried food, but they want to do it in a nice room with good service, and so we settled on that and built the concept from there.

What’s on the menu?
JOB:​ We serve a single omakase menu of different skewers, with dedicated vegetable, fish and meat courses. Obviously we are constantly developing as we go, and making changes as we learn what works and what doesn’t. Some signatures so far have included the hokkaido milk bread and soft shell crab; and the shiso, shitake and hazelnut. We have flavour profiles we love, and it’s about finding out how we can make them fit on our menu. What we love about the Japanese way of doing things is the structure. It’s an exciting constraint to creativity. Sometimes a tasting menu can be really indulgent to the chef’s ego, but we have those structures in place to avoid that. There’s some strong western influences in the skewers at the moment, but we know that over time it is likely to move closer to what we experienced in Osaka.

Dai-chi_soft-shell-crab_Anton-Rodriguez

What changes have you made to the space?
AT:  ​The fundamentals are pretty similar. The raw materials are consistent, but post Golden Gai we wanted to inject a greater sense of intimacy into the space. We have installed this great centrepiece down the middle, which breaks up the room really well.
JOB: ​One of the challenges we had that we didn’t think of before is the central door. Everyone thinks having one is great as it gives you symmetry, but actually makes it a nightmare to create any sense of intimacy. So we’ve spent a lot of time planning the seating so that people are protected from that central door and not made to feel like they’re sitting on the street.

Are there any plans to bring back Golden Gai in another guise at some point?
AT: ​It’s something we’re interested in exploring further down the line. Golden Gai started out as a five-seat bar at the back of Angelina and evolved into its own thing. We love the concept, but we need a site that’s suitable for it.
JOB:​ Golden Gai is definitely missed and has a sentimentality we miss, but it had its challenges. Half its time open was spent in the street, and I don’t think it got far enough along to make a proper impact. But still we have people who come into Angelina just wanting to have a drink at the bar in the back, and so there is an appetite for it as a concept. Like Amar says, though, we need to find the right sort of space.

Related topics: Openings, Restaurant, Profiles

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