Urban Explorer Series: Interview with Sergey Men

Urban Explorer Series: Interview with Sergey Men

“An urban explorer is someone that is open-minded; someone who loves discovering something new. Not just one city, but all over the world.”

 

 

 

Sergey Men

Founder of Bisushima

 

 

 

Our Urban Explorer

 

Could you please briefly introduce yourself to our guests?

Hello, my name is Sergey Men. I am the Founder of Bisushima, a new restaurant concept in London that uniquely focuses on omakase style service sushi served on the scale of a restaurant to cater to our clientele. I am both a restaurateur and chef, so I really enjoy bringing fresh and innovative dining concepts to London. For Bisushima, in particular, we have suggested a new flow to the omakase style of dining. Generally, omakase is more of a “I’ll leave it to you” Japanese dining experience where guests will trust entirely in the chef’s experience to present to them with some unexpected dishes throughout the night. At Bisushima, we provide a whole culinary journey that starts off with appetizers, before moving our way into fried and grilled sushi so that it becomes the central focus; and then we’ll finish it off with dessert.

 

What brought you to London, the city of dreams. What does London mean to you in your own words?

At the time, I had been working as a chef in Moscow for 2 years while I was finishing off university, and the owner of the restaurant asked me to move to London for a year, and now I have been here for 17 years. If I could describe London in one word, I would use the word “diversity” as London is filled so many rich and unique cultures right here in the city. If I could use a second word, it would be “opportunity” because it has presented me with limitless opportunities to thrive in my career. I do plan to stay here for a very long time!

 

You have always been very passionate about the culinary arts, could you tell us about the time you realised this was your calling?

I actually wanted to become a programmer while I was studying IT in university. In fact, my degree major is in IT.  When I was still a student, I found a job at one of the most renowned Japanese restaurants in Russia. I went through the entire kitchen hierarchy by starting off as a kitchen porter, then worked my way up as a chef’s assistant, sushi chef and then finally to sushi master. I really enjoyed the discipline, attention to detail and ability to make something with my own hands. I was good at Maths and Physics while I was studying at one of the best schools in Moscow, so the attention to detail I acquired during my studies really helped me become a better chef. In a way, the very first restaurant I worked at made me fall in love with being a chef – to the point that I opened my first restaurant at the age of 19, which was a Korean restaurant. At the end of the day, I just wanted to share with people great quality food that I can make with my own two hands. During this time as a chef, what I found the most interesting is that people enjoy eating a good meal that gave them a sense of home, reminding them of their mother or grandmother’s cooking. Even I always say that a mother’s home cooking is the best!

 

We believe you are the ideal ‘Urban Explorer’, and we would love to get to know your thoughts on the term ‘Urban Explorer’ and how you see yourself as one.

An Urban Explorer is someone that is open minded; someone who loves discovering something new. Not just one city, but all over the world.

 

 

With everything changing so quickly and frequently and having to adapt to different ways in the industry currently, what does a day in the life of Sergey Men look like?

I wake up relatively early, between 07:30 – 08:00, and my first stop of the day is at The Crystal Place Market restaurant, then I would check out the daily progress at Bisushima. When the refurbishment was going on, I had to thoroughly check the processes and standard of work. As we recently opened, I would like to be in the kitchen as much as I can to oversee the staff and the quality of food that goes out to our guests. From 17:00 onwards, I am in the kitchen till 23:00. It’s inevitable, but I do keep one day for my other half – she is very understanding!

 

As a chef, you are always on the hunt for new ideas and techniques. Could you tell us about what inspires you and where do get your inspiration from?

Basically, I started in a Japanese restaurant learning the Nobu style of cooking (a Japanese American-influenced style of cooking) so apart from that, my knowledge was quite limited during my first restaurant experience. When I left the Japanese restaurant, I opened the Crystal Palace Market in 2012 as I did not want to dive back immediately into Japanese cuisine. Soon after this evolved into three different restaurants which made up The Market Group. Whilst it would have been ideal, I wanted to discover more about it. At the time, I really wanted to work with fish so I opened a grill-style restaurant and served between 15 and 20 different types of fish. It was a way for me to understand the ingredients more, experiment with the different flavours and methods of grilling. We eventually started offering meat, in which I developed an arousing curiosity for that led me to learn about different aging processes and how aging animals give off different tastes and textures. These discovery travels I would embark on eventually led me to introduce, in my opinion, the best steak in the world by José Gordon in Chelsea. As a chef and restauranteur, I have many opportunities to travel around the world to work with many famous chefs in Korea, Japan, Spain and France. I am a massive fan of aging meats and the different processes that revolve around this concept. Hence, all the fish at Bisushima have been aged to some degree. That process of aging was inspired by meat and then applied to fish, and through my restaurants we have developed a butcher concept attached to the restaurants to sell aged products.

 

A Discerning Palate

 

You have travelled afar in search for inspiration in the culinary world. Could you tell us about some of your travel stories that inspired your passion?

A  year after my second restaurant opened in Chelsea, The World’s End Market, I came to the realisation that I was providing a similar offering in Chelsea as my first restaurant in London, The Crystal Palace Market, and I felt we needed something more to offer. At that stage, I could not find the right product in the UK, so I allowed myself to travel for a month. I drove from London to Spain and along the way, I stopped at several renowned restaurants where I got to meet some incredible chefs. One of the most noteworthy places I have visited was San Sebastián in the Basque region in northern Spain. There, I discovered something completely new. It is a special place for chefs and foodies alike. San Sebastián has the mountains, the sea, and the farms – a sort of pilgrimage. I would go there on a yearly basis just to learn about the different foods, ingredients and produce in that region. As I was doing research there, I came across the Netflix documentary called Steak Revolution, where the host was on a mission to look for the best steak in the world. He travelled to South America, U.S, France, Italy, and on his final stop in Japan, he presented the Matsusaka beef – one of the best meats in the world. After this long and winding journey, he ended up in a little village in Northern Spain visiting José Gordon’s restaurant and farm where he named his steak the best steak in the world. So, while I was in San Sebastián, all I could think about was trying this steak! The restaurant was about 500 km away, so I called the restaurant, introduced myself and politely made a booking to try their steak. They explained to me that if I could drive over by that evening, they would accept my reservation. On that note, I immediately hopped into my car, drove all the way over and even stayed the night. The experience of tasting the steak and learning about its aging process was unparalleled. Chef José would age his ox (as opposed to cows) until they were 14 years old so the meat would maintain is tenderness and taste, and I can honestly say that he is one of the only chefs I know who takes aging to the extreme. He had an ageing process that was up to 120 days (3 years) for a leg. Even till this day, this experience made a mark in my life. He would cook them on a Spanish grill to a perfect rare; it was easily the most delicious beef I have ever had. After a year, we had developed a close working relationship in which he granted me exclusivity to sell his beef in the UK and Russia. It was an amazing time!

 

As a chef and businessman, how do you find balance between the two roles? Do you ever feel that you must compromise on your passion on the kitchen side to handle the logistics of the business?

Multi-tasking is the key, as many restaurants can attest to this. I would have to say that it is one of the hardest jobs, in my opinion. It is more important to have a balance between work and life rather than trying to find balance between being a chef and entrepreneur. I am not good at that as I really enjoy working but I am trying! Though I love being in the kitchen, I also need to make quality time for my family.

 

How has the UK influenced your style of cooking?

UK is one of the few capitals in the world that embraces a variety of cuisines from different cultures! I have had the chance to try out several restaurants in London and found that many high-end Japanese restaurants have drifted away from the traditional Japanese style restaurant – adding a refined contemporary twist to this authentic cuisine – which has led me to the concept of Bisushima. While there is a clear definition of what it means to be authentic, it is important to know the difference between quality and authenticity. I have noticed the incredible quality of other Japanese restaurants in London, such as their service and produce. At Bisushima, we want to take it one step further by carving out a different path that brings the true essence of Japan a bit closer to London, through exploration of the cuisine’s authenticity.

 

 

Bisushima embodies your passion for Japanese culture and cuisine. Could you tell our guests your vision and expectations for this exciting project?

Bisushima will offer modern dishes infused with an authentic essence of Japan. That said, the presentation of each dish will be aesthetically modern but the cooking method and ingredients will be authentically Japanese. More specifically, the sushi that we prepare will incorporate the Edomae style of cuisine which integrates the complex process of aging fish to deliver an exquisite taste and quality for our guests to savour in.

 

What can London expect at Bisushima?

Bisushima consists of two parts: (BISU and SHIMA) SHIMA represents an island, a sanctuary, a peaceful light. This beautifully complements the rooftop element of the restaurant as it will have a lot of natural day light. BISU represents the Egyptian god of fun, hedonism and party; in fact, the island of Ibiza was named after Bisu. Uniquely capturing both of these elements, we wanted to convey a sense of transformation in our restaurant – from Shima (Day) to Bisu (Night). The idea will be to manipulate the lighting and ambiance to create the transformation from Day to Night. Together, we will also be the only restaurant in London to offer authentic Japanese breakfast. We also have a curated listed of beautiful sakes and champagnes, in addition to our extensive cocktail and wine list.

 

What is next for Sergey Men?

At the moment, I am solely focusing on Bisushima! However, I would like to grow with Page Hotels as it continues to expand around the world and continue our incredible partnership together.

 

Travel Inspiration

 

During the pandemic, how do you find new ways of exploring without having to step outside your home?

I get my inspiration mainly from social media, reading, and even Netflix documentaries like Chef’s Table.

 

 

Where does your inspiration for travel come from?

You cannot be very creative without knowing what is currently trending, so I enjoying following different chefs on Instagram. Social media has become a door to discovering everything. Following certain restaurants and foodies is an easy access to the world and for limitless inspiration.

 

What destinations are on your bucket list for the culinary arts?

I would very much like to visit China because I feel that this country has so much to offer in terms of its culinary arts. There is a wealth of various cuisine types which are not offered internationally so I would love to learn more about Chinese cuisine. I would also like to visit Mexico. I think the country is special. Iceland is also on my bucket list as well.

 

Where would you like to travel to once it is safe again to do so?

I would like to go back to Moscow, Russia to visit my mum.

 

 

Being a chef and restaurateur in London, can you tell us 3 restaurants you think embody the city and really offer something unique?

  • Clove Club – They do an incredible job at sourcing the best ingredients for the flavours of Britain
  • Sketch – For a sense of theatre, as well as the service and ambiance
  • Chiltern Firehouse – For it’s amazing cuisine and ambiance

 

Favourite restaurant of all time in London?

I would hate to dismiss so many great restaurants by selecting one so I will choose my most recent favourite experience which comes to mind outside of London – Fat Duck by Heston Blumenthal.

 

The best food markets to explore?

  • Borough Market – I would say is the mother of Artisanal food
  • Billings Gate Market – An incredible fish destination!
  • Covent Garden Market – For unique flower offerings

 

Favourite place for a Saturday morning stroll?

For a nice morning stroll, I would suggest Battersea and Dulwich Park!

 

Where to go to find something a little different?

I like to go to Richmond for its beautiful parks and the area between Richmond and Chiswick is something special. I would like to live and raise kids there!

 

What are the 3 things you love most about London?

  • Shoreditch – Massive fan of the street art there
  • Hampstead heath – Just an amazing area!
  • Covent Garden – A great place to simply wander

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