BCU Alumna to open own restaurant in Kings Heath

A BCU alumna who was inspired by her multi-cultural surroundings in Birmingham is set to open her very own restaurant after finding huge success in the city’s food and drink scene.

Sabrina Fung, who graduated with an MA in Creative Industries and Cultural Policy in 2015, will open her restaurant Blow Water Café on Heathfield Road in Kings Heath on Saturday 3 September.

We caught up with the graduate to find out more about her exciting new venture and upcoming plans.

Can you tell us a bit about your time as a student at BCU?

I moved to Birmingham in 2014 and chose to study Creative Industries and Cultural Policy at BCU. On my course, I learnt a lot about cultural tourism and cultural translation, which led me to research further about the anthropology of food and culture. I was particularly interested in how humans learn from the past and pass it on to the next generation and how, over time, habits and traditions create cultures.

During this time, I also worked for different festivals such as Flatpack Film Festival and Birmingham Design Festival to learn first-hand the operational management of cultural events. My tutor, Paul Long, also introduced me to the Hare and Hounds in Kings Heath, and recommended I check out the events and community over there – and now my business Blow Water is based just across the road!

I like the multi-cultural makeup of the city and the strong sense of belonging I feel here. Kings Heath is a very open-minded and diverse community. I met my partner and some good friends, so I chose to stay and have lived locally for six years. Kings Heath has been a great place to set up, as both the residents and other businesses have been so supportive throughout Blow Water’s journey.

So, what is Blow Water Café?

Blow Water is a café but also a cultural bridge connecting Hong Kong and Birmingham through a community space which celebrates food and culture. Homemade dumplings have become our signature dish. I was taught by my mum, and we have always made dumplings for family celebrations. The menu includes dishes like chilled aubergine, Shanghainese rice cakes, congee and teriyaki tofu, and of course our signature dumplings. The menu changes often as it is influenced by my own cravings as well as what is the best seasonal produce of the moment.

Blow Water is a multipurpose space where we’ll host music and arts events, alongside our usual food offering. We have a botanical theme with raw plaster and concrete as a nod to the aesthetic of Hong Kong, a concrete jungle. We’ll blend and celebrate culture through food, music and art in one space.

How did you get inspired to open your own restaurant?

When the political status became unstable in Hong Kong, I started thinking about how I could sustain my culture while sharing it with the people of Birmingham. I started an arts project which was focused on Hong Kong culture, but I didn’t have the experience to successfully apply for funding and grants to get the project going. This made me reconsider the best way to make an income while also embracing my identity and sharing my culture in an engaging way. Food in East Asia is a massive part of the culture, so I started hosting dinner parties at home with a group of “guinea pig” friends who were happy to try anything I made.

I decided to host a public supper club with my friend’s encouragement and when we launched tickets to the public, they sold out very quickly. The event proved that there is a gap for modern and healthy Chinese food in Birmingham, so I began booking in more supper clubs in different locations.

When we went into lockdown at the start of Covid-19, I bought 20kg rice and decided to do lockdown deliveries. As a Hong Konger, I had experienced the SARS outbreak in 2003 and wanted to do what I could to contribute, so we also gave out free meals to NHS workers.

During that time, I built up a solid community customer base of amazing, supportive people. It is very rewarding when people come to me and say Blow Water delivery helped them through the lockdown and it was something they looked forward every week. This motivated me to push Blow Water even more once we came out of lockdown with kitchen takeovers, private dining and supper clubs, and this has now led to us opening our first bricks and mortar space in King Heath.

What are you hoping for the restaurant?

I hope to continue to bring people together through the sharing of food and culture, while carving out a place for the community to learn, meet and share. I would also like to strengthen the creative community in Kings Heath. There are many artists, musicians and people in hospitality living in the area, and I hope Blow Water will be a place for people to share ideas and meet new people.

As a Kings Heath resident, I realised there are limited options on a Monday and no co-working space, so I plan to open every Monday and provide a working space for people in the area. I feel like there is a need for more community spaces, as many people moved here during lockdown when it was hard to meet friends, especially if you're working from home. I hope Blow Water can offer residents the opportunity to meet new people and enjoy working together to improve social isolation.

What advice would you give to current students and fellow alumni about starting their own business?

My advice would be if you don’t try you will never know. Things rarely succeed at the first attempt, so trust your gut and keep trying. You will learn from your mistakes and then you will know where to improve. Think outside of the box and see from all different perspectives. You will get there in the end.