Josephine Bouchon, London: ‘Beautifully executed’ – restaurant review

<span>‘This is restaurant as stage set, with enough wood panelling to make buying shares in Pledge seem a smart proposition’: the dining room at Josephine Bouchon.</span><span>Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer</span>
‘This is restaurant as stage set, with enough wood panelling to make buying shares in Pledge seem a smart proposition’: the dining room at Josephine Bouchon.Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Observer

Josephine Bouchon, 315 Fulham Road, London SW10 9QH. Starters £8.50-£19, mains £21-£44, desserts £8-£12, three-course menu £29.50, wines from £27

It starts with a terracotta bowl filled with salty nuggets of deep-fried pork fat. We are in a French bistro, so naturally they have a mellifluous name. They’re called grattons Lyonnais, which sounds like a grade three piano piece, but in truth describes scratchings without the tooth-threatening crunch. Regard them as a culinary declaration of intent. As their name suggests, we are in a restaurant celebrating the cheek-smearing, cellulite-encouraging, winter-challenging dishes of Lyon, where even the local salad comes with a poached egg and thick pieces of fried bacon. Perhaps none of this sounds like your thing. What a shame. I thought we were friends.

Josephine Bouchon is the third restaurant in about a year from Lyon-born chef Claude Bosi and his wife, Lucy. It’s also the one I was waiting for. Last February he opened the shiny, over-engineered Socca in Mayfair, offering a few nice Provençal dishes, delivered with performative service at trust-fund prices. October saw the arrival of Brooklands atop the Peninsula Hotel at Hyde Park Corner, where three courses excluding service cost £145. It picked up a brace of Michelin stars within months, to go with the two he has at Bibendum.

Now we’re on London’s Fulham Road, where there’s a shop selling only Le Creuset, and even the next-door steakhouse is called Sophie. But do come inside to the restaurant as stage set: half-linen curtains at the windows; enough wood panelling to make buying shares in the manufacturers of Pledge seem a smart proposition; amber-hued tulip chandeliers; French vintage posters, and a white-bearded wine waiter with an accent to match the art. He comes armed with a ruler to measure the amount of the house wine you have poured from the bottle plonked on the table. A few glasses in, I conclude all wine should be measured by ruler.

Josephine Bouchon is a beautifully executed act of remembrance. Josephine was the name of Bosi’s grandmother. The word “bouchon” refers to a venerable kind of bistro originally frequented by Lyon’s silk workers, where the wine comes in thick-bottomed glass pots and animal fats are a form of religion, devoutly observed. Rest assured, there are asterisked dishes across the menu, denoting the availability of vegetarian versions, but it is a mark of the traditional French approach to these things that there is not a vegetarian version of the soupe à l’oignon. It is made with beef stock or it is made not at all.

Then again, alongside the oeuf mollet en gelée and the soufflé au Saint-Félicien there is, among the starters, leeks vinaigrette. It’s an old stager which gets sorely overlooked, and which here is made with joyous precision: the whites of the leeks have been cooked until soft, and cooled. There’s a frothy, nose-tickling mustard dressing and a sprinkle of chives. Oh, my aching old-fashioned heart. Everything here really is an indulgence but, as with the leeks, it’s also precise. Behold, the sharp-edged disc of perfectly dressed steak tartare, with its herb-flecked slab of fried bread. Admire the rise on a burnished vol au vent, filled with chicken and mushrooms and up to its comely thighs in the sort of cream-based sauce you would find listed in the old edition of Larousse Gastronomique.

It would be wise to expect lunch here to be ruinously expensive, given it is Bosi on the Fulham Road, and you could indeed knock up an impressive bill if you went for the £16 terrine to start and the £44 veal sweetbreads with morels to follow. But those leeks are £7.50, the steak tartare is £10 and the vol au vent is £24. Plus, there’s the menu de canut, named after those silk workers, which is £29.50 for three courses. There you will find brawn or arse-stinky andouillette. You will find black pudding with apples and the cervelle de canut, which translates as silk workers’ brains; a cheery title for fresh curd cheese mixed with shallots, herbs and garlic.

From that menu I have a wispy quenelle of poached pike mousse in a thick sauce Nantua, made with crayfish and honking of the docks. It’s a dish rarely seen in London because both elements are tricky. It’s a thrill to meet it again. I follow that with a crisp, gelatinous pig trotter croquette in a lake of mustard sauce. You may hanker after sides, which will swell the bill. Then the £18 dauphinoise for two will arrive, and you will stop caring: potatoes, cream, garlic, cream, fresh herbs, cream, all of this bronzed. Statins probably no longer optional.

At the end comes a sweet summer cloud of poached meringue and a spoon-coating crème anglaise. It is sprinkled with pieces of rose praline, as much a signifier of Lyon as the piggy grattons at the start. Beware the stealthy approach of Will Smith, once the general manager of the Arbutus group, who now runs the room here with a touch as light as the poached meringue. He may come to you with the temptations of the rum baba trolley. Try saying no to a slab of that, from a ring savarin which has already been syrup-soaked, to which is added another shot of dark rum. There is chantilly cream. Well of course there bloody is.

Recently I was interviewed by a French journalist who was writing about the apparent London boom in traditional French bistros, serving dishes rarely seen even in Paris; places like Bouchon Racine, 64 Goodge Street and Les 2 Garçons. I wondered about the imperative in Paris to look forward, to constantly innovate, which perhaps means taking the classics for granted. Whereas here there’s space enough to revel in them. Then there’s our historical relationship with these dishes. Some of the first food served from beyond our shores came from France. But what I really wanted to say was, “Because this stuff is really nice.” The world is a messy place right now. The maniacs are in power. And while new experiences are great, old things can be so much more comforting, as long as they are done with commitment and panache. That’s what’s happening here. Josephine Bouchon is a hand rested lightly on your back, telling you everything will be all right.

News bites

One for beer fans. Kirkstall Brewery in Leeds is taking over the city’s Tetley, the art deco-style building first opened in 1931 as the headquarters of Tetley Brewery, once the world’s largest producer of cask ale. It closed in 2011 and for 10 years from 2013 operated as a contemporary art gallery. From May it will reopen as a ‘showcase of the very best of brewing in Leeds’. As well as featuring beers from Kirkstall, there will be offerings from other breweries in the area including Leeds Brewery and North, the latter recently acquired by Steve Holt, founder of Kirkstall. At

Any nostalgic types who have been up before magistrates in Liverpool and want to revisit the experience now have the perfect opportunity to do so. A former magistrates court in the city is being converted into a 111-bedroom hotel. The biggest suites will occupy the judge’s offices, while more standard rooms will be in the former cells, which have been knocked through. It warrants inclusion in this column because it will have a restaurant. Think of it as a companion to the Oxford Malmaison which is located in a former Victorian prison.

And news of a very quick closure, even by current standards. GrassFed, which was opened only last summer by chef Paul Foster of Salt in Stratford-upon-Avon, is no more. The restaurant, which occupied a railway arch in London’s Camden, focused on high-quality grass-fed beef. Meanwhile Salt, which won a Michelin star in 2018, has moved from a tasting menu only model, to a sharing plate menu. The tasting menu will move to the chef’s table. Visit

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