Cheltenham restauranteurs steam ahead with firey new concept

Michael Raphel & Jay Rahman

As Boris announces a roadmap out of the pandemic, and gives restaurants the green light to reopen later in the year, a new restaurant concept will launch in Cheltenham.

Bao & BBQ, which is nearly ready to open its doors on Regent St in Cheltenham (in the former Koj restaurant which fell victim to the pandemic last year), is the brainchild of Jay Rahman (of Prithvi fame) and his co-director Michael Raphel, who founded and runs Bhoomi Kitchen in Cheltenham.

Never heard of a Bao Bun? You haven’t lived. Bao (pronounced “bow”) Buns are Chinese steamed buns. They are a warm, bread-like dumplings which can hold various fillings and are the perfect street food.

For Bao & BBQ, Jay and Michael are marrying Bao Buns with a Texan style BBQ. It’s a new concept but for these long-time friends who spend a lot of time travelling around and testing out new ideas, it’s a great union of ideas and tastes.

Jay said: “We take inspiration from bigger cities, other countries and bring the best to Cheltenham to offer diners diversity.”

These days, eating is as much about the theatre of food as about the taste. Diners will be able to watch their Bao & BBQ buns being made in the open kitchen.

Jay and Michael are easily the most innovative restauranteurs in Cheltenham, with a variety of successful food concepts under their JM Socials brand. These include the incomparable Prithvi Indian restaurant which Jay opened at the tender age of just 23, Bhoomi Kitchen, inspired by dishes from the South West State of Kerala in India (which has two sites, on Suffolk Road in Cheltenham and London Road, Headington in Oxford) burger bar Holee Cow on Winchcombe Street in Cheltenham and its vegan counterpart Holee Cowless.

And if that’s not enough, this tireless duo are also aiming to open a European brasserie concept, Circo, in the former Indus tandoori restaurant on the Bath Road in Cheltenham, which closed in February 2020, and an American diner, Holee clucker, on Suffolk Road, which takes inspiration from the soho farmhouse restaurant Mollys diner.

Jay said: “We already have very successful Indian restaurants, and there is no point in doing the same thing over again, so we look to other ideas and tastes. Bao & BBQ will be a talking point and we can’t wait to open”

But it won’t wait until full lockdown has been lifted. “We hope, Covid permitting, we will be able to open for takeaways in the next few weeks.”

He added: “We have confidence. We believe in our industry and I personally feel that anyone who survives the current situation will come out strong.”