Asian market beckons

Asia calling: Zahi Azzi of Kazbah restaurant in Balmain.
Asia calling: Zahi Azzi of Kazbah restaurant in Balmain. Photo: James Brickwood

Restaurants are shaping up as Australia's emerging growth export to Asia. Last week Balmain's Kazbah restaurant signed a 10-year licensing deal with Hong Kong's JC Group to roll out the Kazbah brand in Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China.

While big news for the Balmain eatery, the deal is just one of a posse of recent forays into Asia. Bondi's PaperPlanes is expanding into Bali, while Bucket List owner Andy Ruwald has struck a restaurant deal for the Indonesian holiday hot spot. Darlinghurst's Gelato Messina and A Tavola are headed to mainland China.

Expertise in varying cuisines, coupled with smart concepts and design, has Asian investors knocking on Australian restaurant doors. With our high overheads, there's a consensus in Asia that if you can make it in Australia you can make it anywhere.

North Bondi Italian Food owner Rob Marchetti, who will open a joint-venture restaurant in Bali in December, says more private equity groups and property groups are approaching Australian restaurateurs.

''Australia is really tough to make money,'' he says. ''If you have a hit in Asia you'll make twice as much.''

Kazbah owner Zahi Azzi says he received an upfront fee for the use of the Kazbah name and will receive a percentage of sales in Asia. In turn, he will be hands-on with everything from the menu to the restaurant design.

Kazbah is headed overseas, but Azzi hasn't lost faith in the domestic market. He is opening two new Sydney venues later this year, at the redeveloped Hakoah Club site in Bondi and on Bayswater Road, Potts Point.