Tag Archives: nico elliot

Mr Crispo serves up Yangon’s best pizza: A review of Parami Pizza

Published in Mizzima Business Weekly on 28 August 2014

Parami Pizza's prosciutto e funghi
Parami Pizza’s prosciutto e funghi

Francesco Crispo knows more than a thing or two about how to make a great pizza. For the past 12 years he’s been consumed with honing his craft, which was first cultivated while working under a renowned Italian chef in the Caribbean’s Dominican Republic for four years. The accountant-turned-chef was even born in Naples, which in the 16th century became the birthplace of modern day pizza. Luckily for Yangonites, Mr Crispo (whose name couldn’t be more apt) arrived in the commercial capital three months ago to become executive chef of Parami Pizza, which opened in Yangon’s northern township of Mayangone on July 25.

“We ferment the yeast for at least 24 hours before using it: if it’s any less than that, a person’s stomach may start to feel strange a few hours after eating a pizza,” Mr Crispo told Mizzima Business Weekly while furiously rolling identically sized balls of dough.

Mr Crispo said that most pizza chefs have their own individual style of creating a pizza base – his preference is for a soft yet crispy one, “So that you can hear the crunch.”

However he added that he always takes his customers’ tastebuds into account, which is why he thinned down the crusts a little since the restaurant first opened.

Parami Pizza's stylish interior
Parami Pizza’s stylish interior

Parami Pizza imports the finest quality Italian ingredients for its pizzas, such as flour, wild mushrooms and tomato sauce (as well as risotto, pasta, olives and coffee – to name but a few). However importing foreign produce is not without its obstacles in Yangon, as some of the ingredients have never before set foot in Myanmar and raise eyebrows when they arrive.

“Sometimes when our orders from Italian suppliers are delivered, the customs department asks us to supply additional paperwork before the goods can be released – they say they don’t know what it is we’ve had delivered. This can make things difficult because the delays sometimes result in us lacking every ingredient we need on any given day,” Mr Crispo said.

Francesco Crispo
Francesco Crispo

“But we always serve up the best food we can according to our supplies; even if that means having to apologise to customers for not being able to provide a particular item on our menu,” he added.

Another challenge Parami Pizza currently faces is the lack of reliable wood suppliers in Yangon. Strips of wood are generally sold on the street-side or bought from local farmers after being exposed to heavy monsoon rains, which is highly problematic for a restaurant seeking to cook pizza in the traditional Italian style using a wood fired oven.

“We’ll have to wait a month before our stock of wood dries out, so in the meantime our pizzas are cooked using gas. For more than 10 years I’ve cooked pizzas in a wood fired oven: wood is my baby!” Mr Crispo said with a somewhat bittersweet laugh.

He said he is so determined to have the wood dried out as quickly as possible that he heats it in the oven every morning when he arrives at work.

Parami Pizza's outdoor dining area
Parami Pizza’s outdoor dining area

Fortunately, Parami Pizza’s general managers Nat Hutley and Nico Elliot (who also established the highly popular Union Bar and Gekko Bar) were far-sighted enough to purchase a combination oven that allows the use of either wood or gas.

“In the past 10 years gas ovens have become very good – it’s difficult to taste the difference,” Mr Crispo explained.

Pizza prices start at USD$9 (for the Parami Special) while the Norcia pizza, which features artichokes, parmesan flakes and black truffles, tops the list at $16. The Prosciutto e Funghi ($12) is highly recommended and has already established itself as a favourite among diners, as it contains a delectable combination of ham, basil, tomato, cheese, king mushrooms and adorably tiny wild mushrooms.

However Parami Pizza isn’t limited to pizzas alone. Its menu includes a wide range of antipasto dishes, salads, pastas and risottos, a daily soup special ($4), as well as the Milanese specialty Osso Bucco (sheared veal shanks served with vegetables and risotto), which will set you back $24.

The coffee is excellent (and also includes liquor coffee) and there are Italian aperitifs such as Campari ($6), while cocktails are priced between $7 and $8 and include the romantically named, “Breakfast at Cipriani.”

Bar staff serving up liquid treats
Bar staff serving up liquid treats

Many of Parami Pizza’s 20 kitchen staff have worked in Italian restaurants abroad and although only around 50 percent speak English, Mr Crispo dismissed the idea that communication was a problem.

“I’ve often worked with kitchen staff who don’t speak English. It doesn’t matter because I show people how to cook; I don’t need to tell them,” he said.

“I love Myanmar people – here in Yangon I start my day with a smile. I’ve worked in 11 different countries and I believe that Myanmar people are the nicest. They keep me calm,” he added.

Mr Franceso’s days are long because he refuses to leave the restaurant until it’s closed and arrives before it opens (other staff work either the lunch or dinner shift). His sense of personal responsibility for his diners’ satisfaction is admirable – and the results tangible.

Pumpkin soup - one of the daily specials
Pumpkin soup – one of the daily specials

“I often get calls from customers after I leave a restaurant. When I left one particular restaurant in the UAE, customers continued to contact me over the following year. Some would send me photos of food on their smartphones with a message saying, ‘Look what they serve now!’” he said with a grin.

On the day Mizzima Business Weekly visited Parami Pizza, the inside dining area became increasingly busy from noon: to the point of virtually every seat being occupied (the outdoor terrace will open once the monsoon season ends). According to Restaurant Manager Ko Myo Paing Aung, the evenings are even busier.

“It wasn’t busy the first day we opened – but that’s not been the case ever since,” said Mr Crispo.

Parami Pizza is open daily from 11am until midnight and it is located on 11/8 (7th Quarter) on the corner of Malikha and Parami roads in Mayangone Township.

For more information, call (01) 667 449 or visit Parami Pizza’s Facebook page 

Turning Japanese: Yangon’s Gekko Restaurant and Bar

Published in Mizzima Business Weekly on 15 May 2014

Nico Elliott
Nico Elliott

Following hot on the heels of the success of Union Bar and Grill is Gekko Restaurant and Bar, which officially opened in downtown Yangon on 27 March. The general manager of both establishments, Oxford-born Nico Elliot, talks to Mizzima Business Weekly about his latest addition to the city’s burgeoning drinks and dining scene.

 

Gekko's upstairs lounge
Gekko’s upstairs lounge

How would you describe Gekko Bar and Restaurant?

It’s a Japanese cocktail lounge built around a charcoal yakitori [a Japanese type of skewered food] grill. I have a friend who owns a restaurant in Hong Kong called Yard Bird, which was the inspiration behind Gekko’s food and drinks menu. I love Japanese food and have spent a little bit of time in Tokyo, but I’m not an expert on yakitori. I just really like the concept of it. We’ve westernised the theme a bit, but as there are a lot of Japanese people in Yangon now, hopefully we can get some of them here. We also have a wicked sake menu. The name “Gekko” is Japanese – it has nothing to do with the animal – the two symbols are a direct translation of “moon” and “shine”.

Union Bar is very different from Gekko – Union is very much western food – simple comfort foods of pizza and burgers. Here it’s mostly Japanese items such as ramen, as well as a couple of Korean dishes. Gekko also has more of a sharing menu, a tapas style of eating. Except for the noodle dishes, everything can easily be passed around a table, rather than “Matt” is having this and “Ben” is having that.

Is Gekko more of a drinking den than a restaurant?

I’d say it’s turning out to be 50:50. It’s definitely got a loungey feel, but a lot of people are eating. But it’s the customers who will decide – we’re too young to know yet which way it will go.

Unlike Union Bar, which fairly recently introduced a non-smoking area, Gekko has no such limitations. Why is that?

For me, the noisy, smoky, drinking dens in Japan lend themselves to a smoky atmosphere so we’re going with full smoking and cigars are on the menu. We have proper ventilation – the air being sucked in and taken out as we have an open grill.

Gekko's tiled floors from Manchester
Gekko’s tiled floors from Manchester

Why did you choose this particular building for Gekko Restaurant and Bar?

Someone told me there was a stationary shop that was closing down, so I went to have a look. As soon as I walked in I fell in love with the space. The tiles on the ground floor are stunning – they were made in Manchester and shipped put to Yangon in the early 1990s. I also love the original steel beams, which are from Scotland. I’ve met the great, great grandson of the building’s original owner, who filled me in with lots of cool stories. The building itself was finished in 1906.

We’d paid the rent up front long before we walked out the back of the building and saw what a disaster it was. There was sewerage a metre-and-a-half deep. It was worse than anything I’ve ever seen, but by then I’d paid up front so I didn’t have much choice but to go ahead. So I showed the mess a sewerage expert and he took one look and giggled when he saw it and said, “Good luck with cleaning that.” Initially YCDC charged us to do a very bad job at it so we decided to do it ourselves. It took us a month and a lot of people to get rid of it.

The music is very eclectic – who chooses it?

I do. I have a huge collection and I choose songs from the 1920s to 1950s – nothing beyond that. I also choose some jazz and reggae tunes, always with a slow tempo. Union Bar is a bit more upbeat.

Was opening a second bar and restaurant in Yangon something that was always on the cards – and will any others appear?

I’ve been working with groups in Hong Kong – Kothai and Aylmer Capital – who are involved in restaurants and we came here with a view to doing more than one, assuming we could make one work. I don’t have a food and beverage background so it wasn’t certain, but as the first was doing reasonably well, we decided to look for number two.

And yes, a third restaurant is on the way. It’s going to be wood-fired pizza restaurant and it will be uptown, in between Pyay Road and Kabar Aye Pagoda Road in Parami. There’s a huge amount of offices uptown and there’s a lot of people who would like to come downtown but it’s become too much of a hassle. We hope to open it by the end of June and it will likely be called Parami Pizza. However while the rent downtown is still pretty reasonable, that isn’t the case further north. But it was a real challenge to get Gekko opened, because like many of the old colonial buildings, there’s no infrastructure. We had no lighting, power, sewerage or water, so we had to put all those basic things in ourselves.

And if the first three places are a success, we’d love to do more. We could also go into hotels if we found an opportunity.

Gekko
Gekko

Are you feeling any heat from competition, as an increasing number of food and drinks establishments open up in Yangon?

For me it’s a case of the more the merrier. The more places there are that people like to go out to – and having many in one area – is a positive. There’s a long way to go before it hits saturation point. Personally, I’d also like to eat at more restaurants than the dozen or so I do. I’m all for it.

If you don’t have a F&B background, what is your professional background?

It’s a mixture of things – I’ve set up education-based businesses in India and in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, I ran a hotel school for two years. Dhaka is a tough place but I had great mates and good fun.

How do you keep your staff motivated to ensure great service in a city known for its lack of human resources?

Keeping my staff happy is key to making it work. I try to keep them challenged and we do a lot of training. I’ve brought in people from Singapore and Hong Kong to train local staff – having set up a hotel school in Dhaka, I have a bit of experience in training. And we try to have fun, not take life too seriously. Another thing is paying your people well. We try to pay the higher end of the salary scale and we charge a 5 percent service charge, the entirety of which we give to our 35 staff members here – we don’t charge 10 percent and keep five for ourselves as some places do.

Gekko Restaurant and Bar is located on 535, Merchant St, Kyauktada Township in Yangon

For more information, visit www.gekkoyangon.com