Archive for July, 2009

Chef Interview: Claude Bosi (June 2009)

Posted on: July 23rd, 2009 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

As one of a select band of Michelin Two Star chefs, Claude Bosi (left) is firmly in the elite group of most celebrated chefs in Britain.  Claude found time to speak to Simon Carter about his past, present and future. Interview took place, July 23rd 2009 at Hibiscus Restaurant, Mayfair, London.

Claude Bosi

Claude Bosi

Tell us some background about yourself

My background is fairly simple, I left school at 16. I wasn’t great at school but always just good enough to get to the next level – but without ever pushing too hard. When I was 16 my school principal contacted my parents to ask what I would like to do for a career. I said I wanted to be a chef, and that was it.

My parents owned a bistro in Lyon and my father warned me that it would be tough – very hard work, but I said OK, it was what I wanted. I spent a summer working in a brasserie where the chef/patron was well connected. He found me a position at the Michelin Two Star, Leon de Lyon, where I served my apprenticeship.

At that time, when you worked in a Michelin starred kitchen, you didn’t decide where you were going for your next job, the chef used his connections and told you where you should work. After three years the chef Jean Paul Lacombe placed me at Michel Rostang restaurant in Paris for a year. I didn’t enjoy Paris too much and moved back to Lyon to work at La Pyramide for one year.

I then spent six months at a five star hotel in the Caribbean – it was relatively low pressured. Following this I returned to Paris and worked at the two Michelin starred, Le Chiberta, and stayed for just over a year. I then joined Alain Passard at L’Arpege in 1994 when it had two Michelin stars, and during my time it gained its third. I joined Alain Ducasse in 1997 and stayed until later that year.

In 1997 I decided that I wanted to work in England. I said to the recruitment agency that I would like to work in the countryside, as London didn’t appeal to me at that time and I also wanted to improve my English. Eventually they came back to me with a sous chef position at the Overton Grange in Ludlow, and I decided that I would take the job.

A few months later, the owner told me that the head chef was leaving, and he asked would I be interested in taking the position. He said he wanted three AA rosettes. I said that he would have to show me what that is because I had no idea (smiling), he showed me and I said OK let’s go for it! I started in February and before the end of the year we got the third rosette, so my job was safe! (smiling). I carried on and in January 1999 we got the first Michelin Star. I was 24 and I never believed that I could achieve a Michelin Star, so everyone was delighted.

Then, after a while, I decided it was maybe time to do my own thing. We looked around in Warwickshire but we couldn’t afford anything, then we looked in Oxfordshire but couldn’t afford anything there either (smiling). In the end we found a place in Ludlow, that had been the Oaks restaurant. I bought it for £40,000. We opened Hibiscus in May 2000 and got the first Michelin Star the next January and then the second star two or three years later.

You had a very loyal following in Ludlow is London the same or different?

We still have a loyal following in London, including many people who come down from Ludlow. In fact, we had a couple come in to the restaurant at the weekend and the wife is coming back today for lunch, so that is nice.

I think if you make sure that you always give the best that you can and don’t take people for granted then people will come back. I think it’s true of any business that you need a loyal following. I learnt in the countryside that if you don’t have you regulars, then when the economy is tough you really suffer. If I hadn’t had my regulars I would never have done seven years in Ludlow.

How would you describe your gastronomy?

My cooking has evolved as I have matured. When you are young you want to do everything and experiment constantly, but over time you develop a more relaxed signature and feel comfortable in what you are doing.

My style, I would say, is to respect the produce. My cooking has become less elaborate and complex than in years gone by. Most importantly I’m relaxed and enjoying my cooking very much – cooking the things I love.

If I had to describe my cookery style, I would call it, “French with a Twist”. I don’t like using the term “modern,” or “modern French”. To me it has negative connotations – we don’t go in for foams or jellies here, it is purely about respecting the ingredients. A chef’s food is very personal – I will go on my travels and eat at other chef’s restaurants and enjoy what they are doing but for me, you cook what you love to cook, and the customers will enjoy themselves and hopefully return.

Squab Pigeon


How have you managed your suppliers since the move to London?

I would say, at the moment that 85% of our produce comes from mainland Britain. It is true that you build up strong relationships with your suppliers and this takes time. I’m still using things like the butcher, the guy who smokes the fish and the flour for the bread from my days in Ludlow. The way I like to work is to trust a supplier. They do what they do to the best of their ability, and then I will work with what they have to offer, rather than tell them what I am looking for. Everyone has their own job and is professional in what they do and so this is the best way to work.

How do you construct dishes?

I do have a taste memory – after twenty one years of cooking you are bound to be able, to some extent, to combine tastes in your head. I like to follow the seasons very closely. You will rarely find me at a table with a piece of paper writing down dishes and/or drawing pictures.

I get most of my inspiration during service when I am working with my head chef Marcus. I may say to him that later we’ll try this with that and see if we can create something new. The inspiration tends to come from the heart.

Berkshire Pork


Do you trial dishes on the set lunch menu for the a la carte or do they go straight to the a la carte?

We tend to experiment with flavours a little more on the set lunch. Most of the lunch clientele during the week is corporate, and I suspect that this market can be more open to experimental combinations. I think in most Michelin restaurants the chefs enjoy being more adventurous, and less “safe”, and a little more daring on the set lunch than the a la carte. At the same time though, we like to strike a balance. We don’t want any customers to feel scared of the menu, so we always make sure that we have dishes to suit all tastes.

We like to think that the set lunch menu is a great way for people to try Hibiscus, and then to come back again for the a la carte or to try the weekend tasting menu.

How long is the typical creative process?

It can be a day, a week, a season or up to two years for one dish. We follow the seasons, so if we haven’t perfected a dish within a couple of months it will have to wait until the following year before we put it on the menu again

What is the size of the brigade?

Ten to twelve in the kitchen and eight to ten in front of house. My head chef, Marcus, has been with me for four years (since Ludlow). It is a very good and strong team front and back of house. The important thing is for the team to realise that it is the customer who is paying us to do the work that we love doing, and therefore the customer is the most important person in the building.

The ages in the kitchen are between 24 and 28 (except for me, I am the old one) and between 23 and 26 in the front of house. We have a great range of ages, a blend of youth, enthusiasm and some polished experience. We are also one team and there must be no conflict between the kitchen and the front of house.

The better the team work, the smaller the brigade you need. It is really important to space service well as it makes life easier for the kitchen and front of house. If one person makes a mistake, the next person steps in to help. We have to work like that for the benefit of our customers.

What are the essential qualities of being a successful chef/patron?

I think one of the most essential qualities is to respect every customer who walks through the door, and not to take any for granted. The customer must be your number one priority.

How often does the menu change at Hibiscus?

The lunch menu changes every two weeks. In terms of the a la carte, we may change one dish every two or three weeks. To a strike a balance with consistency we have our signature dishes and best sellers that stay on the menu.

The set lunch menu is currently £25 for three courses, or £33.50 for three courses with wine. At the moment we are open from Tuesday to Friday for lunch and Tuesday to Saturday for dinner, but from the 15th November until Christmas we will also be open Saturday lunch, and also Monday lunch and dinner.

There appears to be a trend towards tasting menus in the market, do you notice this at Hibiscus?

Oh yes, in fact on Friday night and Saturday night at Hibiscus we only serve the tasting menus. The choice is four, six or eight courses – you don’t know what you are going to eat. You are given a list of produce and we create dishes from that list. Naturally we respect the customer’s preference and they can choose the produce they particularly like. This has been very popular at weekends, particularly for those people who have maybe heard of your restaurant but don’t get a chance to come too often.

We started doing this because, 85% of customers order the tasting menus. It didn’t make sense to run both menus at the same time, when the tasting menu was so popular.

We will always offer a set of wines by the glass to have with the menu, but for those wine fanatics that want to come and drink a fantastic bottle of wine they can let me know and we will produce something to complement and match that wine. So we are flexible with our customers.

What would you say are your best sellers?

Scallops are always popular, as is Veal and Jellied Eel. I have a tripe and cuttlefish dish on the menu that comes from my Lyon days, which is also selling very well.

What are your proudest professional achievements?

Achieving two Michelin Stars in one of the major cities in the world has been one of my greatest professional achievements! After going back to one star when I moved Hibiscus from Ludlow to London from two, there was extra pressure to work really hard and get everything right. When we got those two stars back it was an amazing feeling. Yes, definitely better the second time around.

I would love one day to have three stars. We are in a tough market and I need to stick to what I do, keep enjoying it and build up a solid customer base. If it comes it comes. It would be a huge honour to represent the restaurant industry in London with three Michelin Stars. There is only one Michelin three star restaurant in London today, and a good few chefs that are pushing forward, so it will be interesting to see what happens.


Kai Mayfair ,Lunch Carte, Restaurant Review July 2009

Posted on: July 11th, 2009 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood

Removed as much from the typical Gerrard Street eatery as elegant Mayfair is from Bohemian Soho, Kai shines as one of three Chinese restaurants which have been awarded a Michelin Star. Smaller in size and less cutting edge in design than Hakkasan and Yauatcha; its beige and brown lines create a more formal setting, with banquettes, high backed chairs and linen table cloths. Traditional fish tanks and giant Buddha heads are offset by modern glass pillars, spotlighting and red tiled show-plates. Wall decorations range from framed black and white photographs to huge colourful mural portraits. Upstairs has a business-like feel, whist downstairs is more intimate, with the addition of two private dining rooms.

Reading the menu notes will enlighten you on the origins of cold starters and Peking duck, the ranking of meats, and other culinary anecdotes. Despite the presence of “comfort” dishes such as spare ribs, crispy duck and sweet and sour pork, the diner is urged to opt for the more adventurous, sometimes fusion, dishes. Exotic sounding offerings include “The Great Tiger of the Spice Route,” king prawns with Indian and Chinese flavours, whilst “Buddha jumps over the wall,” a luxurious soup featuring abalone, shark’s fin and gold, requires five days’ notice.

All dishes are noted for their clean flavours, a balance of contrasting tastes and textures, impeccably sourced first rate ingredients, and precise timing. Spicing in the fusion dishes is gentle but clear, enhancing not overwhelming in its effect.

This was clearly evident in the starters. Juicy soft shell crabs were encased in lightly spiced tempura batter with a julienne of green mango. A huge steamed scallop – the biggest the reviewer has ever eaten – arrived in its shell with a piquant sauce of garlic, chilli, shallots, coriander and honey on top of a bed of glass noodles. The accompanying king prawn was an indulgent but unnecessary addition to this fine dish – a meal in itself! Another star attraction was Wasabi King Prawns, the delicate shellfish enlivened by a not too powerful wasabi infused mayonnaise.

Main dishes also show of the kitchen’s skill to the full. No apologies are made on the menu for the use of Chilean sea bass for a dish that saw its fillet garnished with snow leaf and an innovative shrimp crumble in a light miso style broth. The fish had an exquisite melting quality, its rich succulence being preserved by accurate steaming.

Sirloin with black pepper and garlic flakes did full justice to the cubed marbled Buccleuch beef that formed its main component. Saucing and spicing were again finely tuned, whilst contrasting crispy texture was provided by tiny Chinese croissants.

A warm salad of Oriental vegetables included crisp stir fired bamboo stalks and asparagus spears, whilst steamed ginger rice and poached lobster essence noodles provided contrasting side dishes

In their execution and presentation, desserts and petit fours would be worthy of any Michelin French restaurant. An assiette of intensely flavoured parfait, ice cream and sorbets saw these iced versions of banana, mango, coconut and pineapple at their optimum texture and taste, providing a most refreshing end to a meal. Contrasting texture was provided by the accompanying orange shortbread. Peranakan Mango cake, with a hint of ginger, was a well judged fusion of tastes and textures: fresh mango cubes topped the moist cake with gula Melaka and coconut milkshake and ice cream acting as a sauce and garnish. A tray of petit fours confirmed the skills of the pastry section.

The set lunch menu is a bargain at £19. Otherwise, prices are realistic given the quality of ingredients, the skill and innovation in cooking, the location and décor and the professional service. The assistants are knowledgeable, efficient and friendly, every detail being overseen by the charming manager, Theresa Wong. The sommelier succeeded in the difficult task of matching eastern food with western wines. Of special note was the Premier wine list uniquely giving one colourful and detailed page per bottle.

Executive chef Alex Chow’s evolving menu has brought Kai a host of accolades of which the Michelin Star is the most overdue. A meal here is a real experience, satisfying all the senses, as the menu states: “A truly fine meal is enjoyed not once but three times – in anticipation, in consumption and in remembrance.”

Review by Daniel Darwood, August 2009

July 2009: Fine Dining Guide July Newsletter

Posted on: July 4th, 2009 by Simon Carter & Daniel Darwood is pleased to announce the continued success of a free iTunes podcast series. The latest episode – Viral Marketing: Today’s Sensation or Yesterday’s News? features a review of the role of social networking platforms in the restaurant industry.

You can access the podcast series (free) by typing “fine dining uk” in the main iTunes Store search box.

Tom Aikens

Tom Aikens

Our lead feature for this newsletter is an interview with Tom Aikens.

Tom talks openly about his early food memories including those that would prove inspirational to his career.

Part II opens with Pied a Terre and moves forward to the present day. It is the longest interview the site has ever conducted and the semi-autobiographical piece makes compulsive reading. We also Review the eponymous restaurant.

In this issue we feature an interview with industry leading Sommelier Ronan Sayburn (MS). For eight years Ronan was Global Executive Head for the recruitment, management and training of some sixty plus sommeliers. The article is insightful to professionals and restaurant enthusiasts in equal measure.

Twitter. Since the last Newsletter the fine dining guide Twitter Page has grown to over 650 followers. During that time It has changed focus and is now a fine dining restaurant scene news service As such the content has been deemed relevant to the site so a Twitter Badge that allows the reader to scroll through the 20 latest Tweets is now available on the News Page General Website Updates: We have updated the popular Michelin 3 Star Restaurants in Europe list to reflect Michelin European Guides published for 2009. There are also a number of new additions to the Restaurant Picture Gallery including a trip to The Amalfi Coast, Italy.


The food photographs are there (as always) but in recent visits fine dining guide have been asking the kitchen to participate and we trust the results are interesting to our readers.

There have been around 65,000 page views from 20 plus thousand unique visitors since our last newsletter and as always a steady stream of correspondence.

Opinion/News: On two recent trips abroad it was noted that in Michelin level restaurants, the wine lists had a heavy accent on wines from the local area – Austrian wines at Steirereck in Vienna and Campania wines in three Michelin restaurants along the Amalfi Coast, Italy.

This is perhaps symptomatic of the ever expanding level of quality, sophistication and diversity available around the world. Several leading sommeliers have said that the United Kingdom is unique in the level of choice with quality offered by our supermarkets, never mind stocked in our restaurants.

To an extent United Kingdom Sommeliers are challenged and excited by the opportunity to explore the ever expanding New World – to uncover hidden gems. Sommeliers are, after all, as passionate and able as the chefs in the kitchen. The chance to display their knowledge is always welcomed.

There will be the Old World traditionalists who do not stray, however for those willing to experiment, the rewards may be significant. Should white Burgundy be your usual thing then try asking your sommelier for a big, rich, unoaked chardonnay (or similar) from the New World.

You may just be pleased with the quality and price of the result.

For a surface level view of the complexity in choosing a white Burgundy see An Introduction to Burgundy

Until next time, Happy Eating and Happy Drinking!