Claude Bosi drinks a lot of coffee. In part this is because he’s French, in part because the two Michelin star chef has a deal with Nespresso – he likes to neck it from special, handleless, heat-retaining cups – and in part because, metaphorically if not always literally, he has a lot on his plate.
Having closed his Mayfair landmark Hibiscus, Bosi teamed up with Terence Conran, bought a share in another dining landmark, Bibendum – in Kensington’s old Michelin building – and plans to win it its first Michelin star in its 30 year history. The first of three, that is.
“I don’t like to go to work at the same place for too long,” he says, now on his third espresso of the morning and looking forward to Bibendum’s relaunch some time around April.
Success Isn’t Enough
“You have to keep moving forward and I was never really happy with Hibiscus in London. I mean, it was very successful but I could see that I would end up just cruising and that idea didn’t appeal. So I sold the business, went home and told my wife.
She said, ‘what do you mean?’ I said ‘I sold the restaurant’. She was pretty shocked. And I got a call from Terence the next day. He said he wanted to make Bibendum a destination restaurant. And I said ‘ok’.”
That Claude Bosi might be described as spontaneous – or rash – would be an understatement. The first rendition of Hibiscus was based in Ludlow, Shropshire, where it opened in 2000.
He closed that virtually overnight, too in order to re-open it in London, a little later buying out his partners, then not knowing, of course, that he would sell the whole shebang last year, just three years later.
“You should have seen the faces of the staff when I told them,” he laughs, though not maliciously. I had a rather large knot in my throat when I switched off the lights for the last time, but but I just knew I had to move on,” said Bosi.
Now, as then, the risks are his too. Indeed, it was a stipulation of Bosi’s that he become a part-owner of Bibendum.
“I’ve poured all the money I have into it,” Bosi says, “because if you’re all going to work in the same direction then you all need to share the risk. Besides, I had no interest in becoming an employee.”
Of course, Bosi is happy to have a restauranteur of Conran’s pedigree alongside him now.
The Thrill of a New Challange
And he hopes to bring some of his regulars from Hibiscus over to South Kensington, not least because he has kept his key staff from there, and likewise will be keeping some of his more classic dishes too – the likes of his chicken and tarragon, or calf’s liver.
“But we’ve very pointedly not called it Hibiscus again,” he notes. “This is Bibendum, and it has to be its own place,” said Bosi.
‘That place’, he says, will be a fun one. Bosi has little time for formality. In part, this is a product of his experience with pubs, of which he is now co-owner, with his brother, of three (the latest is The Swan Inn, in Esher, Surrey) with prospects of owning perhaps another couple.
It is the pubs, he suggests, that offer the blueprint for modern dining. “I love the friendliness of a pub, that it can feel like going to someone’s house. Dining in a pub feels very natural and that’s what people want: good, proper, simple food in a good atmosphere,” he argues.
Lessons from Owning Pubs
“The idea of the gastro pub – OK food with some herbs sprinkled on top – is over now. But so is the stiffness of many restaurants. Nobody wants to feel under pressure when they eat. Nobody wants a waiter with a broom up his bum,” said Bosi.
None of this is really music to the ears of traditional French establishment cooking. But then, Bosi – who, despite his accent, despite his Nespresso addiction, despite being trained in French cuisine and loving French food, is about as an adopted Englishman as any – has been outspoken in his less than complimentary views of that too.
Outspoken – unless checked – is perhaps his fall-back position: back in 2012, when a restaurant critic said his crab was overcooked, Bosi’s tweeted response was blunt, blue and caustic. And, it must be said, refreshing.
Claude Bosi Believes French Chefs Are Lazy
“I think French cooking is moving forward, which is great. It’s the French mentality that isn’t,” said Bosi. “It has made them lazy. Working just 35 hours a week is a good philosophy for life but it doesn’t work in the kitchen,” Bosi said.
“As a young chef you can’t make progress in seven hours a day. And the fact is that when I think of hiring a young French chef the first question they ask me is what time they finish, or how long their breaks are,” laments Bosi.
At least Claude Bosi works to his own mantra. Like many chefs of his standing, he starts work each day at 8.30am and rarely leaves the restaurant before midnight. “But the fact is I want to be there in the kitchen,” Bosi concedes.
“To lead a team you have to be there,” said Bosi. And he will be. Expect the Michelin building to have a star to go with the name. ML