Sunderland's Borneo Bistro weeks away from reopening after devastating fire - and they've got new dishes on the menu

A Sunderland restaurant owner who watched helplessly as his business went up in flames is weeks away from reopening after the devastating blaze last year.

Friday, 27th September 2019, 6:00 am
Updated Monday, 30th September 2019, 9:56 am
Borneo Bistro owner Kevin Smith outside his restaurant which is due to re-open

It’s been a long journey to rebuild but owners Kevin and Remy Smith are delighted to be just weeks away from reopening the doors to Borneo Bistro, in Hylton Road.

Late on the night a Saturday night in September last year Kevin received the devastating phone call that his business was ablaze.

He rushed to the scene and stood by as flames tore through restaurant he had nurtured for 11 years.

Borneo Bistro after the fire on September 2.

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Now, Borneo Bistro is just weeks away from reopening and the 51-year-old owner said he is shocked at the amount of support he has received over the past year.

“I got a call that night about 11.45pm to say that it was on fire,” said Kevin. “I was just devastated – to see something that you’ve built up for 11 years go up in flames was just absolutely devastating.

“The support I got from the customers that night was fantastic – people had come out of their houses, a lot of them come and stood by to give me support. After 11 years you’ve built a friendship with the people of the community.

“To see your business go up in flames out of something that just couldn’t be helped – it’s just a devastating, sickening, feeling.

Emergency services descended on Hylton Road

“I’m getting close now, I’m getting so excited and I’m excited for the customers too.”

The fire, which was accidental, tore through the entire kitchen, restaurant and roof – and the couple have had to start from scratch to rebuild.

Inside the walls are being decorated by a local artist and a state-of-the-art kitchen has been fitted – with hopes it will help bring food, in particular Borneo-favourite crispy chicken, out to customers quicker.

And Kevin hopes Borneo Bistro will come back with a bang – with a brand new à la carte menu and nine new dishes in addition to the original 21.

Although keeping most of the new dishes under wraps, Kevin has confirmed they will be putting on a new Taiwanese and a new Japanese dish for customers.

They are now just weeks away from reopening and Kevin, who has lived in Sunderland for most of his life, wants to take the opportunity to thank everyone for their support over the last year.

“I’ve diverted the landline to my mobile phone I am getting calls all the time from customers asking if I'm reopen, asking when we’re back, wishing me good luck and some people phone to ask how I am,” he said.

“It’s really lovely, I’ve seen nothing like it in my life. I go into town people are stopping hugging me, people are asking when they can get their crispy chicken again.

“The good side of Sunderland are fantastic – us Mackems stick together you know.”

All six members of staff will be returning to work at the restaurant when it reopens and Kevin’s chef has worked as an adviser for the business over the last year.

The restaurant grew massively since it opened 12 years ago and even made national headlines when a customer ended up in court after releasing a rat in the eatery in a bid to get a free meal.

Kevin added: “When we first opened there was only myself and the chef - then we noticed it getting busier and busier. We started getting more families coming in more people from the hospital, group sales of takeaways from Nissan, Gentoo and other big companies.

“We've got high hopes for when we reopen, I think we’ll get really busy again.

“There’s a lot of nice food places in Hylton Road – having one food place here isn’t enough. I’m so pleased now there’s more so that people have a choice.

“I want to say there is room out there for all of us.”

A date for reopening hasn’t been set but Kevin and Remy are hoping to reopen from mid October.