With its homely street food and terrific beer range, Bundobust is a restaurant concept bang on message, tapping into two of the biggest trends in the modern British on-trade. And its founder, Marko Husak, isn't finished yet. Will Hawkes reports
Marko Husak is very proud of his Bollywood posters. He got them, he says, from an Indian website, and he wasn’t sure they’d turn up. Now they’re on the walls at Bundobust Manchester. ‘They’re the real deal, from the seventies and eighties,’ he says. ‘They weren’t dear: £20 each, which is a bargain. I like that the quality is a bit shit; that’s what makes them.’
For Bollywood posters, you can also read food, cutlery, lighting, beer: every aspect of the Bundobust experience is a lesson in attention to detail. It’s a recipe for success. Founded by Husak and business partner Mayur Patel three years ago, Bundobust’s combination of vegetarian Gujarati food and superb beer (there are 15 draught lines on the bar in Manchester) is hugely popular in Manchester and Leeds.
The latter venue – the first to open, in 2014 – has the honour of being the most Instagrammed place in West Yorkshire.
And Bundobust’s reputation has spread well beyond the beer cognoscenti of the North. In an Observer review published in February, Jay Rayner raved about dishes like Bhel Puri (‘an addictive mixture of puffed rice and deep-fried samosa pastry’) and Tarka Dal (‘punchy with onions and garlic, and fistfuls of roasted cumin’).
‘On a wet Monday evening Bundobust in Manchester still manages to draw in a crowd of 60 or so,’ he wrote. ‘It’s built itself on word of mouth and I’m not at all surprised. I too, want to shout about it.’
If Husak’s head has been turned, it doesn’t show. This Bradford-raised 33-year-old is as down-to-earth as they come, even if his cap is flat-peaked American baseball rather than flat Yorkshire cloth. He looks like the sort of bloke you’ll find in beer bars, which makes sense since that’s how he started in hospitality: with The Sparrow, a bar that opened in Bradford six years ago.
He was just about to take a PGCE teaching qualification, he says, but decided it wasn’t for him. Instead, he and business partner Les Hall chose to bring the craft-beer revolution to their home town.
A need for beer
‘We were big fans of beer, we liked going to North Bar in Leeds and The Grove in Huddersfield – but there was nothing in Bradford,’ he says. ‘People thought we were crazy because Bradford had a bad rap. We were the first bar to open on an empty street; there are now 10 bars there.’
The Sparrow led to Bundobust (the name is an old Anglo-Indian word, meaning ‘tying together’ or ‘collaboration’). Patel is the son of the family who runs Prashad, a Bradford institution that has made the 30-year journey from local deli – selling Gujarati snacks and sweets – to a Michelin Guide-listed fine dining institution, thanks largely to chef Minal’s second-place finish on the TV show Gordon Ramsay’s Best Restaurant back in 2010.
‘Prashad started with a canteeny vibe, but now it’s fine dining, they’ve got a Bib Gourmand, two AA rosettes, they want to achieve a star,’ says Husak. ‘[Mayur] wanted to do what he remembered from a kid: informal street food.’
Social media brought them together. ‘We were doing well in Bradford, they were doing well,’ says Husak. ‘They tweeted us, saying, “How about we do a beer and food event? We do the food, you do the beers?” We did two events: at Prashad, which was very formal, plated, and at the Sparrow, where it was, “Get a beer, there’s a counter where we’re knocking out the chaat”. We thought: it works, why don’t we do this permanently? And we did.’
It’s a very West Yorkshire formula: great sub-continental cooking combined with superb beer. Leeds (where Britain’s original craft-beer bar, North Bar, celebrates its 20th anniversary this year) and Huddersfield have been at the forefront of the beer revolution that has swept the UK, while Bradford is internationally famous for the quality of its curries.
Finding local breweries
‘West Yorkshire has always had amazing beer,’ says Husak. ‘There’s lots of breweries, there’s great beer cask beer – and you’d struggle to find a better curry than you’ll find in Bradford. There’s about 40 really good curry shops there, and a lot of them are unlicensed.
‘You’re allowed to take your own beer, and after a shift at The Sparrow we’d go to The International curry house with a fresh bottle of Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA.’
Husak’s passion for good beer is reflected at Bundobust. There are permanent lines for Cloudwater, Magic Rock, Northern Monk and Wild Beer, four of the UK’s most feted breweries, while guest beers come from the best breweries in this country and further afield: Derbyshire’s Thornbridge, Ireland’s Galway Bay, Denmark’s Alefarm, to name but three.
There’s cask beer, too, which is even more of a rarity in restaurants. Two hand pumps offer the best of Manchester’s cask scene. ‘When we started [in Leeds] we wanted to be on-trend, so there was no cask beer – but then we realised we’re not a trendy place going for one demographic, there’s a lot of older customers coming in. We needed something for them,’ says Husak.
‘We did think it would be a bar with something to soak up the booze when we opened in Leeds. We haven’t done anything different, but people are coming for the food with a few beers, rather than the other way. It’s a surprise, but a good surprise.’
Husak has worked on a series of collaborative beers. Northern Monk’s Bombay Dazzler has been the house beer for two years: it’s a witbier, a Belgian style usually made with orange peel and coriander seed, but this one boasts ginger, cardamom and coriander.
Manchester’s Chorlton has brewed a number of one-off sours for Bundobust – the next one is a Tamarind sour – while Dry and Bitter Brewery in Denmark are making a ‘juicy 4.7% pale ale, with low bitterness, quite smooth’, which will soon be a permanent presence.
He hopes that Bundobust’s success might make operators take a second look at beer. About 55% of the drinks sold there are draught beer, with bottles and cans making up another 10. ‘I eat out a lot, and I like wine, but you go to the best restaurants in the UK – from Michelin Star to cheap ‘n’ cheerful – and there’s no good beer to drink. They need to take it more seriously.’
The venues are interesting and well-chosen, too. Finding their first site on a Leeds sidestreet involved a stroke of luck – the owner was a regular at The Sparrow – while the Manchester site (a former Chinese restaurant that had been closed for three years) is central but without a window, making it cheaper and unattractive to bigger chains.
Not that you have to drink beer at Bundobust. The cocktails are classics themed along Indian lines (Coconut and Mango Mojito, Mumbai Mule, to name two) while the wine is sourced from Eden Fine Wines in Bradford, with five white, five red, a sparkling white wine and a rosé.
‘We’ve got a Gewurztraminer, Los Gansos (a SWA Gold Medal winner) from Chile, that’s £19 a bottle – for that price it’s a banging wine,’ says Husak. ‘We’re discussing what to do with the red wine; none of our food has meat in it so they don’t really sell. We might play with that.’
There’s an endearing nerdiness to Husak’s passion for food and drink. He loves the Belgian Lambic brewery, Cantillon, and has 36 bottles of its beer in the cellar of his Leeds home.
‘There’s no brewery like it, it’s magical,’ he says. ‘When people come round I show them my collection – “Don’t touch it, don’t drink it! Here’s a can of Skol”.’
He used to play in a band The Silence, which gigged around Leeds at the time Kaiser Chiefs were breaking through: ‘We didn’t quite make it. We weren’t good enough’. He promotes gigs, too, working with the likes of Adele, Florence and The Machine and British Sea Power.
‘Those business skills have served me well,’ he says. ‘You have to pay the band, you have to pay the venue, you have to pay this and that… and the money left over is your profit.’
The next Bundobust – probably in Liverpool, but definitely not London (‘too much money for now’) – will be along soon, but Husak has other plans, too. A high-end Bundobust, perhaps upstairs in Leeds and offering natural wine and meat dishes, is one option; less likely but equally interesting is the possibility of a ‘Post-Soviet’ restaurant, taking in southern Ukranian, Georgian and Armenian food.
Wherever it is, it’ll look good. Husak (who studied graphic media and communication at the Bradford School of Art) and Patel designed the place themselves: there are prints on the walls by Leeds artist Drew Millward (with Manchester references, such as the Worker Bee), and, of course, those Bollywood posters.
It’s all about detail. The only time Husak gets annoyed is when he recounts the criticism Bundobust has had for using paper bowls which – unbeknownst to the complainers – are compostable. They use 12,000 a week across both sites.
‘We get a lot of shit from people,’ he says, ‘so we’re getting some stuff printed that clearly explains what it is. It’s an easy mistake to make.’ But not one, you suspect, he’s ever going to make again.
A (beer) match made in heaven
Korma and a lager? Stuff that. Marko Husak picks his favourite three beer and food matches from the Bundobust portfolio.
(Samosa pastry, puffed rice, turmeric noodles, red onion, tomato and tamarind chutney), served with Oskar Blues Beerito. ‘This is a really rich, balanced dark lager, the perfect foil for the huge variety of flavours in the Bhel Puri.’
4% abv; £33.06/24x35.5cl; Vertical Drinks; 0113 898 0280
BIRYANI BHAJI BALLS
(Fried rolled rice flavoured with spices and rose in a richly spiced tomato sauce), served with Magic Rock Cannonball. ‘Azacca has this intense tropical aroma, plus some sweet malt, which works really nicely with the richness and spice of the Bhaji Balls.’
7.4%; £43.10/24x33cl; £131.70/30l keg; James Clay; 01422 377560
(A vegetable curry with star anise, cinnamon and clove) served with Summer Wine Teleporter. ‘This curry is banging with a porter, it’s just wow. Those mulled wine flavours go superbly.’
5%; £ 86/cask; Summer Wine Brewery; 01484 665466