"Now is the time to drink!" That's the literal translation of "Nunc est Bibendum," the Michelin Man's classical Latin tagline, and within the skylighted dining room of London’s newly opened Claude Bosi at Bibendum, those words could as easily apply to the copious consumption of sunshine as champagne.
The restaurant revives the long neglected upper floor of Michelin House, a former office building revered for its heritage architecture and trio of azure stained-glass windows featuring a life-sized rubber-bodied Monsieur Bibendum at leisure. At the time of the building’s construction in 1911, Chelsea was the ideal location for the French bicycle tire manufacturer’s U.K. headquarters, but as the neighborhood grew into one of London's most affluent residential enclaves, the company chose to relocate. Thirty years ago, the British design magnate Sir Terence Conran (of the Conran Shop and Habitat) acquired the landmark building and opened the original Bibendum restaurant as a crown to his flagship store situated around the corner in the former Michelin tire factory that stretched down Fulham Road. "Ever since I opened the first Habitat shop in 1964, I dreamed of owning the Michelin building," recalls Conran. Now, his latest aspiration for the historic property is the only totem of the brand it's long lacked: Michelin stars.
For those, Conran turned to chef Claude Bosi, a bona fide Michelin man, who earned two stars for his previous restaurant, the 16 year-old Hibiscus, in Mayfair. "I never thought I could have a restaurant here," says Bosi, who's now an equal partner in the project. He was brought on for a top-to-bottom renovation of the building last spring, which also included a re-envisioning of the beloved but dilapidated oyster bar on the ground floor. "I told him, ‘You need someone who will be involved all the time,’ and I said it would be easy for me to move upstairs—I just sold my restaurant."
Conran's only request was that Bosi maintain some classic French dishes that pay tribute to Bibendum's first chef, Simon Hopkinson, whose buttery continental cuisine showcased unprecedented simplicity and ushered in a new wave of restaurants that stripped down the stuffy grandeur that defined the dining scene of early 1980s London. "Conran loved the philosophy of the old menu, especially offal, which I love. So we have my mother's tripe dish, we have veal brain and calf liver—dishes that made this place quite famous."
But Bosi has added his own stamp with creations that balance the refinery of Hibiscus with the hearty fare he’s crafted for gastropubs like The Swan Inn (which he co-owns with his brother Cedric). A precious amuse bouche of trompe l’oeil olive arrives under a miniature olive tree, which doubles as decoration throughout the meal, sharing the table with dishes like Loire Valley asparagus with butter and a smoked hay Hollandaise sauce. A 42-day dry-aged rump of beef is carved tableside and paired with Yorkshire pudding stuffed with a jam of spiced braised shoulder.
In a space dedicated to the reclamation of the wheel, it's no surprise carts are everywhere. Six trolleys are rolled out at any given time heralding the arrival of aperitifs and cheese alike—another offers five rotating flavors of ice cream, dolloped with a silver spoon into a bowl with a miniature Michelin Man at its base, holding the goblet on high. It's worth smearing the housemade whiskey ice cream onto a warm madeline as your own tribute to Bibendum's legacy.
That legacy is told through artifacts, too. On the walls hang vintage advertisements that predate political correctness, and on sideboards stand Michelin mascots of historically fluctuating girth. The signature Latin phrase, in fact a pull quote from Horace's Odes, appears etched on glass above waiters stations, and servers keep it alive by treating diners like the only thing better than family: the type of inspector that just might decide to finally grant Bibendum a few of those coveted stars.