london 1820

Josephine Bouchon

Chelsea, SW10

Back in 2012 – when London hosted the Olympics and still had international respect – London was the sixth biggest French city by population. Whether the French population has waned since then due to you-know-what, many French citizens have remained, further consolidating a reciprocal appreciation of our two cultures, dating back to the Entente Cordiale (which just had its 120th anniversary). A wonderful by-product of this is the number of London quartiers with go-to casual French places, whether set up by British Francophiles or French natives: Clerkenwell has Bouchon Racine, Bermondsey has Casse-Croûte, Tufnell Park has Authentique Epicerie, and there’s Les Deux Garçons in Crouch End – all of which serve their local communities but are also worth crossing London for.

In Chelsea though these have been somewhat lacking; after the candlelit charm of La Poule au Pot at the Sloane Square end, things have tended to fizzle out towards Fulham.

That has all changed now that Claude Bosi has opened Josephine Bouchon on the Fulham Road. Bosi has been busy; perhaps inspired by fellow countryman Alain Ducasse, he has quickly grown a little empire that ranges from the vertiginous heights of Michelindom to the more quotidian. Bosi’s portfolio may not be for everyone though. I wasn’t particularly impressed by last year’s opening Socca – a Provençal restaurant in Mayfair that felt as cold as yesterday’s lobster bisque, whilst both Brooklands and Bibendum require several side hustles just to pay for the side dishes. Great though the latter two are, sometimes you just want steak frites and a glass of splishy-splashy at a fair price point.

But Josephine – co-owned with Claude’s wife Lucy – fulfils that brief perfectly. Not only is it a distinctly family venture (named after Claude’s grandmother), it also feels refreshingly authentic, from the if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it Lyonnais cuisine to the centimetre gap between tables. Indeed, dining with my Fulham-based French friend, the first thing he observed was, “this isn’t one of those London restaurants cosplaying as French – this feels like home.” We spent the rest of the meal testing that initial impression, concluding at the end that it passes with mention très bien. 

I actually couldn’t fault anything. Well, perhaps the pastry base of my lemon tart was slightly overdone. There’s also a cover charge on top of the 15% service charge which isn’t revealed until you pay (presumably for the bread and butter which is served automatically). But such issues are so ludicrously benign when eclipsed by truly memorable food and great service.

Sometimes you go to a restaurant and just want to go back immediately

We both dived in with the delicious Saint-Félicien soufflé – too good to share, and probably good enough to order for starter and dessert (as per my old tradition of double-ordering the Soufflé Suissesse at sorely-missed Le Gavroche). It may not be as decadent as Michel Roux’s cloud of cheese, but was still a heavenly dish of umami loveliness (and in any case, it wasn’t advertised as a “Suissesse” so the comparison isn’t exactly fair).

Onto mains, my fillet of beef was served simply as a slab of rested meat, then bathed in a peppercorn sauce by one of the waiting staff. Such apparent simplicity belies extremely skilled cookery. Fillet can be tricky to get right due to its lack of fat; this cut was clearly of excellent provenance and cooked accurately. But crikey, that Rorschach test of butter-enriched sauce was a true showstopper. As is well-known, French chefs take years to master sauce making, and whilst the head chef here is actually Italian (the very competent Matteo Degola), Bosi has guided him well. This sauce had a reflective sheen that Narcissus could use to style his hair and studded with peppercorns that had a satisfying crunch. For the herb-leaning French, this is about as spicy as their palates get but this was enough to make your eyes water, literally and metaphorically.

Meanwhile, my companion devoured the vol-au-vent à la Lyonnaise; this wasn’t the type of mini puff pastry tartlet that do the rounds at British weddings and funerals, but a generous croustade loaded with chicken and mushroom, wallowing in a paddling pool of chicken jus. On the side, a bubbling dish of gratin dauphinois from the “PDT” part of the menu devoted entirely to potatoes. How Gallic.

There was only one way to go next and that was the platter of cheese. Five were offered, from the goaty to the mouldy, with more bread (never crackers, which are anathema to the French). And to finish, a textbook choux à la crème Chantilly and the aforementioned lemon meringue tart, both a perfect coda to the meal.

None of this is breaking any boundaries but there’s something so reassuring about a place that just peddles the classics and does so with aplomb. But, as always, it may not be for everyone (there is little on the menu for vegans, for example). And some may be put off by that, er, ‘distinctive’ whiff of andouillette (though I didn’t see anyone order it).

Yes, being a Bosi restaurant in this part of town, the prices can be punchy, such as £19 for frogs legs – steep for a dish that traditionally has less meat in it than a Chicken McNugget. However, this is offset to some extent by the ‘metre wine’ offering, where the amount of house wine you have is measured by a ruler (and very good house wine it is too). There is also the “menu de canut” which is currently £29.50 for three courses, and daily specials at £15.50.

The friendly service also has to be factored in to the whole experience. Leading the floor is Will Smith, an experienced maître d’ formerly of Arbutus and Wild Honey, and we found all the staff, from a number of nationalities, very pleasant and professional. And unlike many other restaurants that try to emulate a French vibe with warbling Edith Piaf songs in the background, the hubbub of happy diners drowned the gentle pop soundtrack (though “Yes Sir, I Can Boogie” by Baccara became quite discernible as we were paying the bill – boogie nights indeed, or perhaps “Bosi nights” is more appropriate).

Sometimes you go to a restaurant and just want to go back immediately. I long to return on a Wednesday to try their plat du jour, ensconced in a banquette, scoffing on blanquette de veau. If only I could get another table.

Josephine Bouchon
Food & Drink5.56
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315a Fulham Road
SW10 9QH

May 2024


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