Newly instated head chef Claude Bosi is rejuvenating Bibendum with a makeover and new additions to the menu, while staying true to the original and the South Kensington locals who have loved it for so long
Words: Alexander Larman
Bibendum, in the Michelin building in South Kensington, is one of London’s most iconic restaurants, as it has been since Simon Hopkinson and Sir Terence Conran first opened it three decades ago.
While the idea of mixing French sophistication and traditional English cuisine sounds nothing unusual now, it was groundbreaking in its day, but even its fondest supporters (among which I count myself) would admit that, by 2017, it was no longer the trendsetter that it once was. Therefore, when French superchef Claude Bosi approached Conran with a proposition to rejuvenate the restaurant, it seemed the perfect meeting of two minds.
Today, basking in the acclaim that the relaunched and revamped Bibendum has received, Bosi is understandably delighted with how things are going. As he says: ‘We’re still settling in, but I feel at home here. We are bringing some new energy to the place.’
He is understandably glad to be back in the kitchen after the rigours of the refurbishment (‘such a new experience – I am not used to dealing with builders and contractors’) and keen to make his mark, just as he did with his two Michelin-starred previous restaurant, Hibiscus.
His involvement came about after a chat with Conran, in which they originally discussed some consultancy work, but, as he puts it: ‘I felt that the restaurant needed more than a chef just turning up and taking his money; what it really needed was a full-time head chef. Our conversations just naturally evolved from me mentioning we were looking to sell Hibiscus and it all happened from there – as if it were meant to be!’
I felt that the restaurant needed more than a chef just turning up and taking his money; what it really needed was a full-time head chef
He’s looking both to innovate and conserve in his new home. ‘We are just trying to bring a bit of what we know people liked at Hibiscus and marry that to some of the great classics that Bibendum is known and loved for. We haven’t changed the building so much that it isn’t recognisable; the beautiful stained glass windows, with Bibendum on his bike, are still very much a feature.
‘Sir Terence asked that we kept some of the classics on the menu, which is no problem; it had never crossed my mind to get rid of them completely. The roast chicken dish is a Bibendum classic that has been very well received.’
Bosi moved to England a couple of decades ago, initially to Ludlow and then to Mayfair. A protégé of Alain Ducasse and Alain Passard, he credits them with his interest in ‘fantastic cooking with the very best produce’.
He’s excited about what he’s doing with Bibendum – ‘I feel privileged to have the opportunity to not just cook, but invest in what I think is a very special restaurant’ – but also the opportunity to place his very own stamp on the menu. ‘I hope guests will become very fond of my mother’s cuttlefish and tripe dish that I put on the menu – it’s a dish that is very personal to me because it is true Lyonnais, where I come from, and was cooked for me and my brother as we grew up.’
I love South Kensington – it’s like being in a village in a middle of a city, we have some of the most loyal customers
He’s already warmed to his new South Kensington home, describing how ‘I love it – it’s like being in a village in a middle of a city, we have some of the most loyal customers. We have a gentleman that has been coming to eat at Bibendum every day for something like 20 years’.
As for the future, he’s not planning any more restaurants. ‘I plan to live in Bibendum for a good long while.’ That is, at least, unless Brexit intrudes. As he says, with tongue placed firmly in cheek: ‘I really don’t know what’s going to happen there. I just hope that the government realises that the catering industry is full of foreigners like me – I hope I don’t have to go home!’
For the sake of the continued excellence of Bibendum in very capable hands, let’s hope not.
Michelin House, 81 Fulham Road SW3 6RD; 020 7581 5817; bibendum.co.uk