Celebrating its 15th anniversary in June 2015, Chef Claude Bosi originally opened Hibiscus in Ludlow, before relocating to London in October 2007. The personal signature from the kitchen brings together classic French cooking with modern techniques and the finest British ingredients – a successful formula which has garnered a customer following and numerous culinary accolades. Hibiscus has held two Michelin stars since 2003; it has a 9/10 rating in the Waitrose Good Food Guide 2015, and is ranked 5th in the UK; has five rosettes in the AA Restaurant Guide 2015 (retained since 2003) and is a member of Relais & Chateaux.
Claude found time to speak to Simon Carter of fine dining guide to profile his 15 years of experiences at Hibiscus, his philosophies as well as plans for the future. Interview took place June 4th 2015.
The picture above combines the 15 years anniversary tasting menu (middle, faded but hopefully readable) with an image of Claude (Left) contemplating what to put on that menu and then right three dishes from the menu. Throughout the interview Q&A there are further food pictures taken from this celebration menu. Booking essential, menu only available lunch and dinner until 30th June 2015.
It must feel good to reach your 15 year anniversary with Hibiscus at the top of the restaurant world?
Fantastic, it seems to have gone so quickly. If I stopped and thought about it too much I might feel old (Laughing)
How have the Ludlow and London years compared?
Ludlow to start with was a mix of local clients including those who had stayed with me from my previous employer (Overton Grange) and then progressively more destination restaurant clients.
The London years have been about accumulating private as well as business clients, I am lucky that a good proportion of my customers are loyal and regular. There are also naturally tourists who may be recommended the restaurant by their hotel concierge. There is of course the constant for twelve years of two Michelin stars, which brings in interesting clients who have sought out the restaurant.
And since 2013 you have become your own boss?
After completing the deal to buy out the financial backers at Hibiscus (29 Maddox Street) in 2013 I am delighted to be my own boss. It has not affected my mentality in any way in that I was as dedicated at being successful with those backers as I am for myself. I am grateful at having had the opportunity here with Hibiscus.
I also no longer have any focus on the pubs so 100% of my time, drive and enthusiasm goes into Hibiscus.
What is the make-up of your staffing at Hibiscus?
We have 14 chefs in the kitchen per service and we can seat 46-48 covers upstairs, the private dining room downstairs can seat up to 18 and the chef’s table six. Front of house is around 12, so that’s 26 staff in the restaurant, four receptionists and two in the office – so it’s a business of 32 people overall.
What has the response of your customer’s been like to your 15 year anniversary June tasting menu idea?
I was really amazed by the response, I didn’t know what to expect, maybe one or two replies when we polled our guests, but we had a lot of replies. In the end we chose the best summer combinations that naturally complemented each other across the menu. This special tasting menu is only on offer through the month of June to coincide with our 15th anniversary of Hibiscus.
What do you think of the move toward tasting menus in the top end of the market generally?
I understand why. When you consider the number of staff required to maintain a busy restaurant; the cost implications for staff and produce; the control and consistency opportunity that tasting menus offer, then a restaurateur or head chef would be foolish not to consider such menus.
Personally, we tried it here at Hibiscus and were not ready for this move – the older I get the more I like to try fewer courses rather than more, so I’m delighted to have a three course a la carte, a three course set at lunch times (£49.50 including half bottle of wine and coffee) as well as a six and eight course tasting menus.
Something I have noticed is that customers in the modern age are less likely to spend 2-3 hours plus at the table so also giving an experience that people can enjoy in 45 to 90 minutes becomes important.
It might appear that people today have less available time for everything so in some ways we want to break from the perception of ‘fine dining’ meaning spending too much time in a restaurant: We wish to welcome as many as possible so this perception may put off some potential new people from coming into the top end restaurants.
So yes, fewer courses is perhaps a counter trend but being accessible on time and courses does not mean compromise on food – I will source the very best produce and prepare it to the best of my kitchens’ ability, that idea will not change.
Is the Michelin Guide still the force in the industry for chefs and consumers? (And Why?)
Michelin remains the most important guide, there is no doubt about it! When I got the first star at Overton Grange I thought I was dreaming because for me only people you worked for and looked up to received such accolades. Customers definitely look at the guide; the demand, the customer type, the expectations all change and therefore so does your business at each star level.
In recent times it has perhaps been to Michelin’s credit that they have shown that two stars can be achieved in the relaxed and accessible surroundings of a pub (where Tom (Kerridge) has done fantastically.)
As a restaurant we are first and foremost serving quality food but then equally this must be in the context of wonderful hospitality. We want customers to feel good about themselves, to make it easy for them to enjoy every minute; be welcomed and treated warmly and with respect. It is as if you are coming to my house, yes a difference is you get a bill at the end, but I want you to feel that warmth of hospitality at Hibiscus.
Is a third star something you are working/aspiring towards?
Anyone who is close to a star wants a star, anyone who has one star wants two and anyone who has two would like three; this is only natural. I do think about the dream of three Michelin stars but I do not work towards it as it might change the way I think about food and the way I go about preparing menus. I might spend too much time looking at other restaurants that have three Michelin stars and wondering whether I could implement things they are doing into my repertoire. This would be wrong for me…
I do what I think is right, right for me, for my style of food, for my front of house and my hospitality philosophy. If I get three stars this way it would be real for me and I would be very very happy. If not to be, then also fine.
What is your view of the increasing volume of (immediate) online feedback for restaurants?
Interesting and scary at the same time. People can have strange expectations and write unpleasant things based (on at best) misunderstandings. Generally if the feedback is positive you know you are doing OK and if it is consistently negative then maybe it can help you to change in some way. I’m pleased to say that the ‘social media’ or ‘information age’ appears to be working well for us at Hibiscus.
What are your plans for the future?
Keep busy, a lot of openings and a lot of closings in London. So keep my head down be busy and focus on Hibiscus.