Restaurateur Alan Yau has succeeded in London. Now he's eyeing Hong Kong. The 45-year-old's past is a classic rags-to-riches tale of a Hong Kong emigrant who overcame poverty and racism to become a leading figure in the food industry. Yau last month sold his majority stake in the Hakkasan and Yauatcha restaurants he founded in a GBP30.5 million (HK$463.8 million) deal with the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority. He retains full operational control of both brands and receives cash that will enable him to open 50 outlets across the globe, including one in Hong Kong. Yau has come a long way from the poverty of his birthplace in Shau Tau Kok. When he was five his parents emigrated to start a takeaway restaurant in Britain, leaving him in the care of relatives. Six years later, Yau joined them at their takeaway in King's Lynn, Norfolk, where he soon learned English and battled racial prejudice over long hours behind a counter. But he also learned his father's trade, and although Yau studied politics in London and worked briefly in engineering, he chose to work in restaurants because he says it was a 'field he could not fail in'. He is reported to have raised GBP50,000 in 1986 to start his first takeaway in Peterborough and visited Hong Kong six years later to consider setting up a business here. But he returned to Britain and in 1992 opened the Wagamama noodle bar chain in Bloomsbury, only to lose control of it in a hostile buyout six years later. He returned to the sector by founding Hakkasan in 2001, then Yauatcha, and was awarded an Order of the British Empire for services to the hospitality industry in 2006. 'It's a great human tale,' Yau says of his life in a Yauatcha branch in London's Soho. 'I suppose the reason there is so much interest in Hong Kong is because of what I have been able to achieve overseas.' European foodies rave about his restaurants. Hakkasan was the first Asian restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star and was last month rated the best restaurant in London in Time Out magazine's top 50 places to eat in the city. His Thai venture, Busaba Eathai, was voted second best and his Japanese outlet, Sake No Hana, also made the magazine's top 20. Hakkasan and Yauatcha have just been re-awarded Michelin stars, which isn't bad for a man who confesses he doesn't cook 'at work or at home'. 'I do consider Hong Kong to be my home, but culturally I am obviously more British,' says Yau. 'In terms of residence I consider myself more of a free international citizen.' He is married to a Turk, Jale Eventok, whom he met in a branch of Pizza Express, where she works. There is talk of the couple starting a family and though he is coy on the subject, any Yau children might expect an upbringing as itinerant as their father's. Neither Britain, Turkey nor Hong Kong seem to appeal as long-term homes. 'I would like to live in Thailand,' Yau says. 'I love the energy there and I could use it as a base as it has good connections. I am planning to buy a property there, probably in Phuket, which is very attractive, or Bangkok, which is a very nice, accessible city.' He seems detached from the British way of life which may stem from the racism he endured as a King's Lynn teenager. He says it taught him to see money as a way of escaping prejudice and the circumstances his parents lived in. Yet he's irritated by the British media's tendency to label him as 'a working class hero from the Chinese restaurant community'. 'I don't want to be the representative of this stereotype of a Hong Kong immigrant ... this extremely English middle-class view of the Chinese who settled in England,' he says in his Yauatcha restaurant. The premises' stained glass, exquisite design and precisely spaced tables seem to shield diners from the frenetic activity outside. So, no wonder Yau is obsessed with finding the right space and location in Hong Kong, a quest that has delayed his much-anticipated return. He says he's found premises 'though he hasn't signed a deal' but is 'confident of opening this year'. He was linked to a space in Landmark East but Zuma opened there last June. 'I want to do a Hakkasan but the space might not suit the interior architecture, so I might put something else there,' Yau says. 'The cuisine I have in mind is a Cantonese variation - I would like to put my spin on it. I have a very strong faith in my personal taste and it is not satisfied with the local market in Hong Kong. 'Given the availability of the local produce and ingredients, I think I can do this type of menu really well. I also think it will surprise a lot of people. They think I am going to transport the entire look and feel of the London menu, which is not my intention at all. 'The Hong Kong restaurant world is extremely consistent and conservative. These are the qualities that have been developed by the mid-market restaurants such as Lee Gardens. I think they provide a good product but there is no fresh challenge. I want to offer something that is totally different but I know it's not going to appeal to everyone.' When asked whether his Hong Kong restaurant will be a family-friendly venue or more suited to businesspeople, Yau says: 'I tend not to do projects in a scientific way, when you do market analysis, price orientation and so on. I tend to do what I like and I am quite confident that what I like will bring enough people through the door. So I am not sure who the customers will be. It could be families or it could be the young and sophisticated.' Hong Kong society has changed radically and 'for the better', since 2002, says Yau, who has revisited his hometown once a month in recent years. 'It used to be extremely materialistic, to a point where nothing else mattered. But certain factors have helped it mature in terms of the quality of the life and people's attitude. The economic downturn coupled with Sars and after that the bird flu scare made people value quality of life more. 'I also think Hong Kong people sending their children overseas for their education has changed their perceptions and the way they develop values,' he says. 'A certain ethos has shifted and it would be nice to put forward a product that is more compatible with these modern consumers.' All those London plaudits might have raised expectations but won't carry much weight when Yau arrives here. 'The Michelin stars will count for nothing in Hong Kong,' he says. 'They are an inclusive idea, limited to a particular geography.' Even overseas success stories must start afresh in Hong Kong.