Claude Bosi and Samyukta Nair have hit on an underrepresented cuisine with their French bistro Socca. Andy Lynes discovers how the pair have found common ground in taking the provincial upmarket in Mayfair
At first glance, opening an upmarket bistro inspired by the French Riviera on the site of what was the long-running Richoux in Mayfair isn't the most obvious choice for a collaboration between award-winning restaurateur Samyukta Nair and chef Claude Bosi.
Nair's LSL Capital restaurant group, which she runs with her father Dinesh, includes stylish Indian restaurants Jamavar and Bombay Bustle (opened on the former site of Bosi's Hibiscus restaurant, which is how the chef first came into contact with the Nair family), the opulent MiMi Mei Fair, specialising in Chinese cuisine, and the contemporary izakaya Koyn. Bosi, born in Lyon, is world-renowned for his intricate, spectacular and wildly creative haute cuisine with subtle global influences. However, when you learn that both are regular visitors to the south of France and that they both share a love of the local style of food (which is underrepresented in London) then Socca makes a lot of sense.
"I love the south of France. My father-in-law's got a family house there and we're lucky to visit every year," says Bosi. The chef worked in the region for two and half years in the early 1990s and it was where he first tried socca, the chickpea pancakes the restaurant is named after (the restaurant's logo is a drawing of a chickpea flower). "I worked in a little family restaurant in Gassin just outside St Tropez," he says. "It was amazing. We used to cook bouillabaisse, grilled fish and rabbit. I loved it and I learned a lot there."
Nair worked with designer and long-term collaborator Tom Strother of Fabled Studio in East London to ensure Socca's interiors reflect the region. Taking inspiration from La Colombe d'Or in the Riviera hills and Villa Santo Sospir in Cap Ferrat, the glamorously understated front dining room features stucco walls hand-painted with blue and white motifs in the style of artist Raoul Dufy's French Riviera-inspired work. The walls are lit by bronze scallop shell lights and will be hung with around 60 pieces of work by young British and European artists. There's a marble-topped raw bar, wood panelling and polished wood floors, as well as comfortable banquettes, booths and bespoke powder-blue chairs at linen-covered tables.
A small bar area features a black and white mosaic tiled floor, typical of the south of France, and wall decorations in the style of Jean Cocteau (an artist associated with Nice and Menton) that leads through to a second, more intimate, dining area, part of which can be screened off for use as a 12-cover private dining room. There are high-quality finishes and impressive attention to detail everywhere you look, that will no doubt delight the restaurant's well-heeled clientele, who will pay on average £85 a head, but which has obviously come with a considerable price tag, one which Nair isn't willing to disclose.
"The site was something I've wanted for a really long time," says Nair, who is a Mayfair resident. "It was something I really lusted after because it was part of my childhood and I think putting a price on something like this is not possible because it has more sentimental value. To make it part of the Mayfair community has been the most important priority."
The renovation work of the 89-cover restaurant (with 79 inside, including four in the bar area, and a further 10 on the pavement-side terrace) has entailed more than even the extensive interior redesign, a key factor in Socca's delayed launch, which was originally scheduled for summer 2022. Richoux's ground-floor kitchen was demolished to create more dining space, but before a new one could be installed in the basement, a vault dating back to the building's previous incarnation as a bank had to be removed.
"The site has been very challenging. It's a Grade II-listed building. It was a restaurant but wasn't completely functioning as an elevated dining experience. Grosvenor is quite particular in terms of what it expects a tenant to comply with and those processes also take a long time. It's cost us a year but I think it's well worth it," says Nair. "Despite the delays, the concept has always remained the same: convivial familial dining and home cooking with refined skill has really been at the core of this offering and it still remains true."
With development woes in the past, Bosi has been able to concentrate on building the 22-strong brigade for the restaurant that will be open seven days a week. Eight chefs will work per shift; six in the kitchen and two in the raw bar in the dining room (staffed by a front of house team of 15) who will also serve some pastry items, including baked-to-order orange blossom madeleines with olive oil ice-cream.
"We are trying to balance it between life and work. We want staff to be happy and not work too many hours," says Bosi, who has appointed Rogerio Pereira as head chef. "He's been working with me for three years at the George hotel on the Isle of Wight where I'm a consultant. He's an amazing chef – he worked for Eric Chavot for a long time. I trust him 100%. His wife and his son are working here, and I'm very, very lucky to have them with us.
"I will do some services in the beginning, but I can't be everywhere. My flagship is Bibendum and I have to be there because my name is on the door, but this is something Sam and Mr Nair were very happy about from the beginning. Nothing's going to be changed on the menu without going through me. I will do all the development and the tasting and everything will be signed off, but I've got a core team that is consistent enough to deliver every day."
He shows me around the compact but gleaming and well-equipped kitchen, pointing out some delicious looking Menton tarts ("like pissaladière but without the anchovy") that will appear on the hors d'oeuvre section of the seasonally changing menu, and indicating a tray of stuffed lamb's stomachs that will be combined with lamb's feet to make the classic pied paquets Marseillaise. It will be one of three favourites on the menu, alongside grilled andouillette with olive oil potatoes, and gratin of tripe and cuttlefish. They represent the more robust side of the region's cooking, which may surprise some customers who may be expecting salad niçoise, which is also on the menu.
"When Pierre Koffmann read the menu he said: ‘You know Claude, the andouillette, the pied paquets, only you and I will be able to eat that', and I said, I'm fine with that," says Bosi with a laugh. "But no, I'm excited for the whole menu, there's good diversity on it. One of my favourites is the rabbit a l'ail. Very simple, very beautiful, the leg and breast roasted and braised with garlic and onion. We serve it with a soft polenta that gets cooked for two and a half hours, very slowly. It's delicious."
Another of Bosi's favourites is the hors d'oeuvre the restaurant is named after. Until recently, the chef hadn't cooked socca since his time working in the south of France and has taken pains to ensure the recipe is authentic.
"I did a lot of research. I went to an old restaurant in Nice where they make it in a wood fire. I made Koffmann taste them here and I thought, I've just made a big mistake, he's going to destroy me, but he said ‘I like that, that's very nice', so I knew I was going in the right direction. But everything is new for me. I haven't made bourride [a type of fish stew] for a long time so I've made an interpretation with snails and I'm really excited about it."
For Nair, accessibility is equally as important as authenticity. "My endeavour at LSL Capital has been to build community, neighbourhood restaurants. There's an influx of international tourists that come to Mayfair, but there's also people who live, work and entertain here. To give them something that is part of their sort of DNA and that they know and would enjoy is essential. I think the food offering is accessible and that was really important because there are very few places in the area you can go to on an everyday or weekly basis that seem relaxed and welcoming."
With Bosi just announced as the chef director of Brooklands, the rooftop restaurant at the soon to open Peninsula hotel at Hyde Park Corner in London, the chef has a packed schedule, but neither he or Nair are ruling out working on more projects.
"There's always plans," says Bosi. "Let's do this one properly, see how it goes and see if people like what we are doing. I've got a busy year coming up and this is more than enough for the moment."
The brains behind Socca
Bosi apprenticed at Léon de Lyon in his native Lyon before working in a number of Michelin-starred kitchens, including La Pyramide Fernand Point, Restaurant Chiberta, L'Arpège and Restaurant Alain Ducasse. In 1997 Claude moved to Shropshire to head up the kitchens at Overton Grange, where he won it a Michelin star, his first at the age of 24. In 2000 he opened his own restaurant, Hibiscus in Ludlow, Shropshire, which won a Michelin star just nine months later and received its second in 2004. In 2008 Hibiscus relocated to Mayfair in London. In October 2016 Bosi closed Hibiscus to become head chef at Bibendum in London, which was awarded two Michelin stars in 2017. He won the coveted Chef Award at The Caterer's Catey Awards in July 2018.
Last month it was revealed Bosi had also been appointed chef director of Brooklands restaurant at the Peninsula London hotel, which is due to open imminently. Brooklands will be a rooftop restaurant offering seasonal, contemporary European cuisine sourced from the British Isles and beyond, alongside a selection of cigars curated by Manu Harit.
Nair started her career as a design and operations associate at the Leela Palaces, Hotels & Resorts (the company founded by her late grandfather, Captain CP Krishnan Nair). After working her way up to the position of head of design and operations, Nair launched the luxury sleepwear and lifestyle label Dandelion in 2015. She first combined her twin passions for gastronomy and design with the launch of Jamavar in 2016 and Bombay Bustle in 2017. MiMi Mei Fair followed in 2021 and Koyn in 2022.
From the menu
- Orkney scallops with blood orange and Parmesan
- Blue fin tuna ‘au poivre'
Starters and salad
- Cauliflower couscous with raisins, pine nuts and pecorino
- Mediterranean octopus, harissa, preserved lemon and parsley
- Green olive tapenade
- Tamara with cured egg yolk
Pasta and rice
- Rigatoni of octopus Bolognaise
- Shellfish rice
- Troncon of turbot, sauce Romesco
- Grilled sole, Menton lemon and caper butter
- Beef cheeks Provencal
- Slow-cooked lamb shoulder, jus Nicoise
- Ratte potatoes, garlic and herb butter
- Green beans, shallot and thyme confit
- Tourte aux blettes
- Menton lemons; iced and sorbet
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