What brought you over from Paris?
I spent a lot of my twenties in London, including working at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, and I love the city, so it seemed a good idea to come back. I have two children who have grown up in Paris but I want them to experience the double culture of the two cities.
Describe the process
It happened very organically. I’m friends with the guys from The Experimental Cocktail Club and they put me in touch with the landlords that were looking to develop the food offer in Covent Garden – I met them when they came to Paris to look at a hotel and they said they had a spot for us. I went to see it in December 2014 and before I knew it I had agreed to take on the lease. I didn’t even look at any other sites.
How has London changed from when you last worked here?
It has changed dramatically. It’s just crazy now – I can’t keep up with the number of new restaurants that are opening up every week. People are much more educated about food than they were, too. Londoners are much more demanding and have higher expectations than before.
So more of a challenge...
Everyone in France thinks London is great and that it’s so much easier to run a restaurant than in Paris because there’s lots of people and there’s a good going-out culture, but there’s also a lot of competition. People always think the grass is greener. In reality it’s a very fierce market in London. You really need to get your shit together to make it work, and it’s taken a lot of hard work so far.
What’s been the hardest thing?
Finding skilled chefs in London has been harder than anticipated. There are so many choices for where people can work that people move around a lot, which makes it more complicated than Paris. We’ve had a lot of people who haven’t stayed very long with us even though we offer good working conditions, and I’m getting a lot of CVs where people have only stayed about three months in each job before moving on. It’s been very hard to keep a regular team but we understand this now and it is getting easier.
Has this impacted on the early days of the restaurant?
We want to be open seven days a week but at the moment we’ve only been open for five. We didn’t want to push it and risk our teams not being ready. We will open on Sundays from the 27 March and then finally be open seven days a week a few weeks after that. We also haven’t changed our menu as much as I’d have liked because of our staff numbers.
How does London’s Frenchie differ from the one in Paris?
The decor, the food, the atmosphere are all different. We’re not down a side street in the Rue du Nil as we are in Paris but in the middle of a bustling city, but we have always adapted to our location. Each place has its own identity; we serve street food at Frenchie to Go, and one place is a wine bar, and we don’t like to copy our places.
I like to create restaurants based on where I like to eat. The original Frenchie is seven years old and I don’t aspire to those same places any more, which is why this one is different. It’s also the first time we’ve had a blank canvas to play with so we’ve been able to make it more bright and more comfortable. I describe its look as understated chic – it’s special without being bling. If London didn’t have the same name as Paris it would appear to be a completely different restaurant.
You’ve been open for about eight weeks in London now. What tweaks have you made?
We are very lucky because we’ve been busy – we’re in the honeymoon period right now. But we are taking on all the customer comments and those of the critics and fine tuning our offer. The food at Frenchie is centred around a selection of dishes that can be large or small portions and eaten as a starter or main, but this message has been hard to pass on to the customer. It is very clear in our heads but it can be quite confusing so we’ve changed the layout of the menu to help. People in London like to have rules. We are also going to start changing our menus more often now.
What are you most pleased with about your new project?
The space. It can be challenging to make downstairs areas work, but the open kitchen there works well for lunch and dinner, as does the ground floor level with the bar.
How will you split your time between your restaurants?
At the moment, because London is open for only five days a week, I spend Sunday to Tuesday in Paris and the rest of my time in London. Once it’s open seven days I guess I’ll just have to figure that out.