MEET THE TEAM: CHUN LEE HARRIS
How long have you been in your role?
10 years. Before I was working in Sake no Hana, a Japanese restaurant in the Hakkasan Group, where I was a supervisor. And before that I was a manager in a group of Thai restaurants. I was there for around 8 years. Before that, I was at Westminster College taking a catering course.
What do you do on a normal day?
We mainly focus on customer service and maintaining the high standards we put in place on the day we opened, part of the reason we received a 3AA Rosette. To maintain these standards, you have to put a lot of hard work in. We have guidelines which we review every year and renew or update if anything needs changing.
So were you part of the conception of Min Jiang?
Yes, I was employed to be part of the team when it opened. It was hard work because there was a lot of training required and everything started from scratch. That was interesting. But when I first started, it was in the senior supervisor role and then I developed into assistant manager and then on to my current role.
What did you think of Min Jiang back then?
Interesting! I used to work part-time in a hotel back many years ago when I was a student back in Asia. Restaurants in hotels always tend to be more upmarket rather than independent, and therefore require much more focus on the guests’ feedback and customer service. It’s completely different in Asia and the Far East compared to here.
Can you expand on that?
The market is different. In Asia, the appetite and the taste, everything is completely different to the West. Chinese people don’t eat so much fried food, they have it steamed and plain – healthy versions. But for Westerners, they generally just go with something crispy and more flavoursome, so it’s very different. They also drink a lot of beer and wine.
Do you at Min Jiang feel totally part of the hotel?
Oh yes, part of the family. After so many years, it is hard to go away. Sometimes you go on holiday and you quite miss work. Literally everyone has been working here for so long, it feels like forever. And you start to want to spend more time with them than members of your family! So, it is very nice to be surrounded by co-workers and familiar faces, not just in the department itself but the whole hotel.
Do staff from the whole hotel mix?
We don’t generally mix but we do share the same canteen for a lot of the time. We’re much closer to each other in the food and beverage department because there’s some similarity in what we talk about.
How would you characterize not just Min Jiang, but the Royal Garden Hotel?
Friendly, flexible, it’s very personalised as well. Because there have been so many customers return to us, they feel this is somewhere they are familiar with and can totally relax. With returning customers, it’s like we become friends with a lot of them.
In what way is it flexible?
Flexible because we cater for what customers need. Whatever they like, we can compromise. We will make an effort to make them happy because they are the guest. Our slogan is our guest is our universe. Part of the hotel’s objectives is to focus on returning customers. That’s why we aim to totally understand what they need, what they want and then a lot of time we just provide it without them asking.
A lot of the time we ask Chef Han (Min Jiang Master Chef) to cook something different to the dish on the menu. For example, we are a Szechuan restaurant as well, so Cantonese and Szechuan, and customers say “Oh, is it authentic like in Szechuan?” and I say “Maybe not exactly the same but if you prefer a certain taste then we can speak to the chef” and slightly adapt it to a different flavour. When that happened the other day, the customer was very happy.
Have you got any examples of slightly odd customer demands or requests?
I do! We actually have a customer, a celebrity jazz singer, who basically comes in for raw egg. Part of me goes like “raw egg, that’ll cause food poisoning”. But apparently that’s his happy dish, he has to have raw egg in the morning.
How does he eat that?!
He just drinks it! Every time he comes in we just get on with what he asks for. There’s a lot more interesting people as well though.
Do you get excited when there are interesting people or VIPs?
Yeah, we do but we try to treat everybody equally. Although, we do have some political figures come in but also a lot of normal customers as well. We try to keep ourselves calm.
Why is Min Jiang a special place?
Why is Min Jiang so special? It’s the view of course. That’s what attracts people to come in. And a lot of people are surprised that before coming, they didn’t have a clue that it was a restaurant. Then of course – the cuisine itself. We’ve been open for 10 years and when we first opened, the Peking Duck, or the Beijing Duck as we call it, was one of the most unusual kinds.. Also the authenticity of the cuisine as well, you don’t get many authentic Chinese restaurants in London because a lot of them are fusions.
Chef Han was telling me that the Peking ducks mostly come from Ireland?
Yes, the duck itself comes in from Ireland. The recipe itself of course doesn’t!
So it’s authentic cooking but the ingredients are quite often from the UK or Europe? What would you recommend?
Yes, that’s right. The dim sum is good, Chef Han warned me that he’s one of the best dim sum chefs in London. But we even have customers from Shanghai who live here and they say it’s even better than Shanghai.
Do you get a lot of feedback from guests?
We do, yeah. We have a comment card for guests, and also they can comment on TripAdvisor for example too.
And what happens if people don’t like their experience?
Well, we’ll try to find out what went wrong. But some of the time we can’t compare as they are comparing here to Asia and the Far East, but you can’t really compare. We do appreciate the feedback and we always plan and try to improve from there.
Do you still enjoy the view?
Oh I do! I never get bored of it. Last winter was fantastic because we got proper snow and it’s absolutely amazing and when the spring comes and you start to see more people walking and on a hot summer’s day, the whole park is literally is full and there’s no space whatsoever. We never get bored.