The Big Interview: Claude Bosi

By Lesley Foottit

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Chef

Bosi: "I have a lot of respect for chefs in the countryside because it is definitely harder than in London"
Bosi: "I have a lot of respect for chefs in the countryside because it is definitely harder than in London"
There is rather a lot going on when I arrive at Claude Bosi’s two-Michelin-starred Hibiscus restaurant in Mayfair, central London.

A posse of builders is downstairs busily knocking on wood, which I later learn is all part of building a new development kitchen. The plan is to use it as a demonstration kitchen and cookery school from March.

The innovation is typical of Bosi, who doesn’t rest on his laurels. He moved Hibiscus from its first home in Ludlow, Shropshire, to the heart of Mayfair in 2007 after gaining two Michelin stars, because he thought London would be the right fit for the restaurant business.

The focus remains very much on food at the restaurant, which has downsized capacity from 58 to 42 seats as part of a recent circa £100,000 refurbishment.
The revamp has also made the restaurant more comfortable, modern and atmospheric.

A business deal has been struck with young British artists who will supply new paintings seasonally.

In 2011 Bosi, along with brother Cedric, took on the Fox & Grapes in Wimbledon, south-west London, which was named in the Publican’s Morning Advertiser’s Top 50 Gastropubs 2012, and recently added Brakspear lease the Malt House in Fulham, west London.

Cedric takes care of the day-to-day running of the Fox & Grapes and will do the same with the six-bedroom Malt House.

Marcus McGuinness, head chef at Hibiscus, has moved over to run the kitchen at the new venture, which opened on 28 January.

“It will be Marcus’s place,” explains Bosi, who has worked with McGuinness for six years.

“He can do what he wants — I don’t want to take my eyes away from Hibiscus. The plan is to have five or six pubs with my brother.”

Many people with siblings would balk at the idea of working with them, but luckily Claude and Cedric “work great” together, perhaps because there is little crossover.

Challenges

Even when you are a two-Michelin-starred chef it is not easy to establish a new business, or keep an existing one successful. One barrier is that of staffing — a lament taken up by many operators.

“Staffing is a big issue,” says Bosi. “We have a fantastic team — staff who actually care.

“Another problem is pricing — you have to make sure your pricing is right. Hibiscus is still really busy, the Fox & Grapes too,” he adds.

“The last year was exceptional, but any good business is hard to run, dealing with customers and so on.

“There is a lot of competition, in Mayfair especially, with so many good places to eat out. So many places are opening all the time and so many are closing.

“It is so important to look after everybody to make sure they come back; respect the customer and believe in what you do. There are a lot of fantastic places in London, but enough people here to keep you busy if you offer the right package.”

Surprising to some is Bosi’s genuine love of British food, which is what the punters get when they visit Hibiscus, rather than the French fare some anticipate.
Though he expects Peruvian and South American food to grow this year, Bosi believes in the longevity of old classics, regardless of new trends.

As Hibiscus closed over the Christmas period, he was able to take a four-week break and used the opportunity to visit Vietnam, where “the food is fantastic”.

Community spirit

Although Bosi’s dearest love is Hibiscus, he is a keen advocate of pubs as well and hails them as part of the community.   

Malt.House.Bar

He also points out that the overheads of running a restaurant are “enormous”, which works to encourage younger chefs or those just starting out in the pub world.

“There is a lot of pressure in running a restaurant and I think what Tom Kerridge has done with the Hand & Flowers [in Marlow, Buckinghamshire] is fantastic.

“Pubs used to have a bad name and he has proven they can do just as well, and you can get two stars in a pub. I think that will encourage new chefs to turn to pubs.”

Bosi, who has been cooking professionally since his teens, is generous in praise of his peers. He specifically name-checks Sat Bains of the two-Michelin-starred Restaurant Sat Bains in Nottingham; Simon Rogan, of L’Enclume, Cartmel, Cumbria; and Anthony Demetre, of London’s Arbutus, Wild Honey and Les Deux Salons, adding of the latter: “He is one of the most talented chefs in the country — he understands food. I am inspired by any chef who believes in what they do.

“I have a lot of respect for chefs in the countryside because it is definitely harder than in London. It is such a fight for customers to come back — we’ve got it easy in London.

“If you’re doing well, people will come back.”

Of course, you know you’ve made it as a chef when you’re invited on TV.

Bosi starred on Saturday Kitchen early last year before going on to work with a number of other starred chefs, including Sat Bains and Daniel Clifford on Electrolux’s international pop-up, the Cube at London’s Southbank Centre last summer.

He admits it was hard work, but would consider similar ventures if it felt right.

Headline-maker

The chef hit the headlines towards the end of last year for lashing out at a critic’s unfavourable blog on TripAdvisor.

At the time, several top chefs came to his defence on Twitter, causing the offending critic to delete his account.

Now that the dust has settled, Bosi says only: “Most bloggers I talk to are great. I was just trying to help the guy out. That was a sharp learning curve for all of us.”

His real issue with the situation was the use of TripAdvisor, which he saw as a personal attack that could damage his business.

After 12 years in England he is still enjoying the lifestyle here, which many born and bred Brits would not believe, when you consider that he was born and raised in Lyon, south-eastern France.

Though he may be keen to expand his pub portfolio, Bosi won’t be adding any more restaurants.

“One wife and one restaurant at a time is enough,” he laughs.

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