The restaurant officially opens today (29 March). How does it feel?
I’ve been waiting for it for a long time. It’s great to be back in the kitchen. There’s an oyster bar downstairs and a restaurant upstairs and we’re focusing on upstairs at the moment. In the beginning, we wanted to do both at the same time but it was too much to do at once. We’re starting slowly to make sure we don’t mess it up.
And you’ve gone back to a la carte…
At Hibiscus I made a mistake with going tasting menu only. It’s not how I want to eat any more. A tasting menu only is boring in my style of food - if you’re Rene [Redzepi] or Ferran [Adria] then that’s fine because there’s so many details with their food. More and more people these days want to choose what they want to eat and what they want to pay.
So the tasting menu is dead...
We still have a tasting menu for people who want it - but we have to be able to offer more than that. I hope that people won’t come in and have just one course and go though, otherwise I’ll be bust in six months. But this is the risk you have to take.
Is a la carte more challenging?
Yes, but I want to be able to cook more instinctively. I wanted to go back to a real kitchen with heat and get a bit of sweat on my forehead.
And you’ve got trolleys too?
We have a pudding and ice cream trolley, and a carvery trolley. I want customers to see the waiters slicing meat in front of them or prepping Dover sole because it gives them a connection with the food. Pudding is the part of the meal that always brings a smile to your face and you can do that with the trolley. The carvery trolley is beautiful. It’s from 1928 and uses water to keep the meat hot, so you’ve got to have the right size joint to make sure it doesn’t dry out. It’s a big challenge but it’s part of the fun. I haven’t used a trolley since my days at [Alain] Ducasse, a long time ago.
It adds to the theatre of the restaurant...
Fine dining still has that image of a very formal, boring and expensive long lunch or dinner - it shouldn’t be like this. I’m French, I like top-end restaurants, but I don’t want a place where you have to wear a jacket. I want the food to be of the same standard as at Hibiscus, no question, but I don’t like the idea that fine dining has to take two hours. People don’t have the time any more. I want them to come for lunch and have a slice of meat from the trolley, a glass of wine and a coffee for £25 and go. Our starters begin at £15, the main courses start from £20. The lunch menu is £36.50 - you can come for lunch with half a bottle of wine and coffee for under £50.
Is there something still to prove at Bibendum?
This is a style of restaurant I want, but I’m not showing off - far from it. I’m 45 years old now, I’ve come to an age where I just want to do what I like. I’m in one of the nicest rooms in London, cooking what I like to eat.
Were you sad to say goodbye to the Hibiscus name?
I didn’t want to take the Hibiscus name with me, but rather start from scratch again. I was happy at Hibiscus but I was trying too hard there. [At Bibendum] I’m cooking the food that I started with at Hibiscus 16 years ago. But then I took it in a different direction ‒ why I don’t know. I was younger and trying to show off. Now, I’m going back to the beginning.