Banyan Bar + Refuge, the newest addition to the Gallows Group, is planning to open this July in the old Hamersley's Bistro spot in the South End. Owner Rebecca Roth Gullo and COO Seth Yaffe discuss the restaurant's layout, the menu, and executive chef Phillip Tang, formerly chef/owner of East by Northeast in Inman Square.
How's the process of building Banyan going?
Rebecca Roth Gullo: We're getting closer and closer. The walls are all up, and we're just now starting to hire people, which is really exciting. We are going to be an Asian-inspired gastropub, and it will be heavy on the seafood. We're installing a really beautiful raw bar that I'm super excited about. And there will be six seats right on the expo line where the chef hangs out all night, so that people can actually dine right with the chef, which is going to be a great experience. People are going to be able to see what goes on in a kitchen that is not going to be for show.
Our kitchen is going to be hustling. It's not going to be a small menu; there will be 50 items, and we're going to have a very large bar program. We'll have 12 things on tap — eight beers, two wines, two cocktails.
That's a big menu; is it going to be just small plates or a little of everything?
RRG: It's all sizes. We just started to taste things, and we set it up how we like to eat. When I'm out, I like to just order a little bit of everything and try it all. We're going to be doing some very large-format dishes like char siu sausage with Phil's house-made steamed buns and all of the great sauces that he's really known for, with accoutrements like daikon and all of that fun stuff. There's also going to be a house fried chicken, which will also be a large portion. There will be fun things like uni shooters and shellfish towers, but it will be done with Asian-inspired mignonettes and seafood that we'll be sourcing directly from Japan.
How did the relationship between Phil and the Gallows Group come to be?
RRG: I'm so excited about Phil. The more and more that we get to know him, the more excited we get. I first was introduced to him through his food at East by Northeast; I went in and loved everything. Now that I see how he works and his methodology and true sensibility of being very earnest about what he does, I just dig everything about him. And Tom [Griffin, formerly sous chef at East by Northeast] is great too. We're excited to work with him as well.
Seth Yaffe: This is an industry where you meet very talented people who are very successful or will be very successful, but they're not always the right fit for you. So it's really great to be able to find someone who really fits in from the start and really gets involved and becomes part of the project from day one. When we started talking to him, it was very clear that it all just clicked. It's really exciting, not just because of his talent level but the fact that he just feels like he's been there forever.
Phil was the obvious choice for us. The project started with the idea of creating a space that offered what we ourselves would want to eat. The conversation started, and then we had a conversation with Phil a while ago about maybe coming together someday. As this project developed further, the conversation kept going back to Phil and seeing where he saw himself, and I think that when you're lucky enough to find someone who blows your mind on such a high level and then you get to work with him, it's all just meant to be. It's also inspiring because you want to match that talent and do whatever you can to make things as great as they can be. It just makes us really want to push ourselves even harder. I'm excited to get to know him more. We started unpacking boxes of dishes yesterday, and it was so inspiring to watch Phil start to see his vision play out. It made something so mundane as unpacking boxes seem exciting.
That location is such a beautiful space.
RRG: It's a really great space. Steve Sousa, who did The Gallows and Blackbird Doughnuts, has really envisioned it to be like you are under the shade of a banyan tree. There will be gigantic light fixtures that are going to be made onsite from locally-foraged tree branches, and they have, like, a 15-foot span. We have some great shoes to be walking into, but we are really excited to place our mark on it. It won't look anything like it did because you just can't compete with that legacy, and we wouldn't want to.
There will be 50 seats outside and around 150 seats inside. My favorite part is that on the outside there's going to be a lounge area with sofas and chairs where people can sit and have a cocktail, get a snack, and enjoy themselves. And I do mean enjoy themselves. That's what this is all about. Seriously, it's meant to be fun. We're not trying to do anything else other than make sure people have fun. Enjoy a cocktail, have a bite to eat, enjoy your date, and just have fun.
What was it like taking over such a historic space?
RRG: We were very silent about it and still are. We said nothing even though this was in the works for so many months. We didn't want to say anything because we didn't want to be disrespectful of all of the hard work that Gordon and Fiona [Hamersley] did. Not that we thought we would become newsworthy, but we just didn't want any questions, and there isn't much more that we have to say about it. We're doing a completely different concept, not just because it's different than what it was, but because it's what we wanted for the neighborhood and it's what Phil excels at. The alignment of the stars just seemed to happen.
SY: It's a really fun project for us because the menu at The Gallows has evolved based off our tastes and where we like to go and where we like to eat. I'm one of the hugest fans of Chinatown, and I think it's one of the best places to eat in the city. Rebecca and I thought about the types of places that we like to go when we're not working, and things like dumplings and sake have been things that we've both been consistently excited about. The range of flavors and textures that this sort of cuisine brings to the table is not something that I grew up with at home, and I think that's what makes it so exciting — because there's so much to explore. It's a whole different degree of creativity for us and something else that we can get very passionate about.