Ellen Chew of Shan Shui, talks about opening up at Bicester Village

Let’s get something out of the way: I love shopping at Bicester Village. I commute from London Marylebone at least seven times a year to do my shopping.

I love the brands, the atmosphere of the village and the service that comes along with it. So, it comes as no surprise that out of the eight restaurants I currently operate, Shan Shui is my spoiled child.

Don’t get me wrong though. I love my other outlets and concepts. After all these years of blood, sweat and tears they’re all dear to me. It was an arduous journey when I left my job in Singapore to come to London in 2006. All I had was my luggage and a gigantic dream of starting my very own restaurant business. I love travelling and I love food so opening a restaurant in London seemed like an obvious choice since it’s so well connected to countries in the West.

In Singapore, I worked for food court giants, Kopitiam. My job there was to basically scout for F&B tenants suitable for the demographics of the different locations Kopitiam was established in. My strength lies in finding gaps in different locations and plugging those gaps with exciting F&B concepts. So, when I planned to open my first restaurant in London 10 years ago, I wanted to create a unique experience for the locals: something they have not seen before. That’s when I opened Noodle Oodle – the first hand-pulled noodle restaurant in London. It created a huge buzz as intrigued passers-by filmed the traditional process of noodle making in front of our restaurant. It wasn’t long before that became a huge success.

Using this same formula of creating working F&B trends specific to locations and their demographics, I’ve gone on to open concepts such as Rasa Sayang, a Singaporean/Malaysian restaurant in London Chinatown and Tapas restaurant, Lobos in Borough and Soho.

It was not long before I set my sights on my favourite shopping destination – Bicester Village. Over the years, I’ve noticed the rapidly growing number of Chinese tourists coming to the Village to shop, but I’ve also noticed that there isn’t an establishment here offering authentic Chinese cuisine to this massive market. And, If I’m honest, after a long day’s shopping at the Village, I’ve personally hankered for a nice warm bowl of noodles to recharge!

That’s when I developed the idea of opening the restaurant that would reflect what I grew up eating.

My grandmother, who is originally Shanghainese, moved to Singapore when she was a teen. Her love for cooking has seen her experimenting with ingredients, spices and recipes from both worlds and we got to enjoy the fruits of her culinary labour and that was exactly what I planned to offer at Bicester Village. Shan Shui’s menu is curated to excite our diners’ palates with the dynamic taste of traditional Shanghainese cuisine as well as the eclectic dishes from the diverse culinary scene of South-East Asia.

We also aim to keep things interesting for our diners in our menu. Take for example the Crispy Sichuan Mala Chicken: this dish consists of deep-fried, bite-sized pieces of crispy chicken that has been marinated with numbing Sichuan peppercorns and other aromatics. As you can imagine, the end result is a real sensory treat what with its wide spectrum of flavours. To make things even more exciting, this dish is covered in plenty of dried chillies, so you will find yourself hunting for the bite-sized pieces of chicken with your chopsticks.

To date, Shan Shui is also my prettiest restaurant in terms of the interior décor. Being in glamorous Bicester Village we had to look the part: Shan Shui’s look is reminiscent of 1920s Shanghai, which was its most glamorous era. Because the restaurant holds such personal significance to me, I’ve adorned the walls with old pictures of my family and a collection of Chinese paraphernalia, some of which are handed down to me by my parents and grandparents. I look forward to sharing our brand of Chinese and Asian delights.