French Chef Who Worked With Jamie Oliver Returns to His Own London Kitchen
French chef Greg Marchand and his wife, Marie, have picked London for their first establishment outside Paris, where their fashionable Frenchie restaurant and neighboring wine bar are regularly packed.
The menu at Frenchie Covent Garden, scheduled to open in February, will reflect its Paris counterpart on Rue du Nil in the 2nd Arrondissement, where Marchand's creative cooking and laid-back style is influenced by his experience in the U.S., Spain and the U.K., as well as by French tradition. He will use mainly British ingredients.
Marchand is a veteran of British kitchens: Frenchie was the nickname given to him by Jamie Oliver when he worked in the TV chef's kitchen at Fifteen restaurant. He also worked in London with chefs Hywel Jones in Foliage at the Mandarin Oriental and Simon Scott at the Savoy Grill, as well as with Soho House owner Nick Jones at the Electric, before moving to New York to join Gramercy Tavern. He opened Frenchie in 2009.
French restaurateurs don't have a great track record in London, where Inaki Aizpitarte lasted just a few weeks before Le Chabanais closed earlier this year. How concerned is Marchand about his reception in London?
"I'm very scared because I understand that the market in London is much more competitive and complicated than in Paris," he says. "The economy is much better, people have much higher spending power, there are so many restaurants here and the level of expectation of customers is much higher in London than in Paris. But I don't think other French chefs have spent as much time in the U.K. as I have.
"I spent years here and I now have an apartment in Covent Garden. I've spent three days a week here for the past month and at the opening it will be five days." He plans to return to Paris at weekends to see his son Tom, aged seven, and daughter Lily, who is four.
The London restaurant, designed by Emilie Bonaventure, will feature an informal ground floor restaurant and bar with whitewashed walls and exposed brickwork, similar to the Frenchie Bar a Vins and Frenchie to Go in Paris, with 18 seats available at the bar for walk-ins. The basement will be home to an open kitchen with tables, where a tasting menu will be served along with a la carte options.
He aims to keep prices down, with a set lunch priced at about £22 ($33) and three courses for about £28. He is expecting average spending (including tax and service charge) of about £40 at lunch and £60 at night.
Marchand says he and his wife will own 100 percent of the establishment, for which they received financial backing from Bpifrance, the French state-owned investment bank. He says he has spent months scouring flea markets with Bonaventure, a stage designer, and that he's involved in every detail of the restaurant. He says it was a similar story when he opened Frenchie in Paris, where Rue du Nil is now home to several food businesses.
How did the terrorist attacks in Paris affect him? Was he there?
"We were at the restaurant and heard about it on the social media," he says. "It was quite far away, but then the news was they are still free and they are coming your way. So we closed and we got all the people in cabs, staff and guests. We opened Saturday morning for breakfast at Frenchie to Go and then we never closed. Obviously, we're not in the epicenter of what happened but it was just a way of saying ... we are going to go on living.
"So I asked my staff if you don’t want to work I understand. But we all got touched.
"The butcher on the street got two bullets in his arm and his girlfriend of 14 years has died. Today is the funeral. My head chef girlfriend's best friend died. She was at the Bataclan. So we all got touched to a certain degree. The atmosphere in France right now is not great. I could really see it last week, when I came to London on Tuesday and I went back to Paris on Thursday. And it was grim and gray, and it was terrible.
"People are starting to get over it little by little. People are out again, sitting on the terraces of cafes. Let's hope it stops now."
Frenchie will be at Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 8QH.
Richard Vines is chief restaurant critic for Bloomberg. Follow him on Twitter @richardvines