“Have you got a table at Frenchie?”, alert foodies in London will soon be asking. That’s been the question in Paris since 2009, when Greg Marchand launched his tiny 20-seater bistro on a narrow cobblestone pedestrian side street in the Sentier (garment district) near Les Halles.
Since then, Marchand has more or less taken over Rue du Nil, alongside Samuel Nahon and Alexandre Drouard’s Terroir d’Avenir organic butcher, fishmonger and épicerie shops and Hippolyte Courty’s Coffee Atelier, which, of course, all supply Frenchie’s kitchens – not only with the finest products, but also with their friendship.
Across the narrow street from the original bistro there’s now Frenchie Wine Bar, as well as Frenchie To Go (inspired by Marchand’s wife Marie) – and a spin on fish and chips, deli food, Reuben sandwiches and “the hottest dog in town”. Recently Frenchie Caviste launched, selling excellent wines by independent growers.
And in February, Marchand, Marie and the team – including sous chefs François Roche, Matteo Nardin and his friend, ex-Frenchie Brit Harry Cummins – decamp to Covent Garden. “London’s my second home. I’ve worked at the Mandarin Oriental, Savoy Grill and Electric House, Portobello Road. While I was at Fifteen (where he became head chef), Jamie Oliver called me ‘Frenchie’ and I guess it stuck,” Marchand explains. He also worked in Scotland, Hong Kong, Spain and the USA, and says his cooking style is the result of world travels. “I cook what I’d like to eat when I go to a restaurant.”
In Covent Garden the light, bright, two-floor 68-seat restaurant and bar (formerly The Covent Garden Grill) has decor by set designer Emilie Bonaventure, who also planned the Paris addresses. Although the space is much larger, as in Paris the walls are whitewashed, there’s exposed brickwork and interesting vintage copper, brass and Scandinavian lights sourced by Marchand in Paris and Brussels flea markets. Cutting-edge tableware and cutlery is by Paris-based Corsican artisan Simon Ceccaldi. The basement space seats 16 to 18 and can be configured for larger group dining or individual tables. “Here you’ll be able to see the ballet of the chefs at work – there’s a real wow factor down there, the space is so exciting,” says Bonaventure.
“When you open a restaurant it reflects who you are, where you’re from,” says Marchand. “I want Frenchie London to become a ‘lieu de vie’ where people have fun, enjoy good food and want to return. “I’ll be there three to five days a week, living round the corner on Neal Street,” he says in perfect English.
Marchand has decided that unlike Rue de Nil, Covent Garden will be open for lunch (£22-£28), as well as dinner and chic cocktails. Dinner (£40-£100) will have a tapas attitude – a culinary postcard of Greg’s time spent in Spanish kitchens. There will also be patriotic references to Nantes, northwest France – the chef’s home town, where he grew up and graduated from the Ecole Hôtelière.
Expect starters of duck foie gras, quince, caramelised endives and nuts or red mullet, seafood and bouillabaisse with fennel and saffron. Mains will include venison, parsley root, pickled pear and crusty chestnuts; or scallops, black rice, Jerusalem artichokes, black pudding and vanilla. A delicate touch of acidity is Marchand’s signature umami style. The carte-blanche menu will be about £50, and with wine pairing, £80. Desserts include baba au rhum with orange sherbet, Mikana mandarine and kumquat.
“I’ll be using a lot of British ingredients, and travelling around meeting new suppliers. I’m already a big fan of Tom Wilson, aka The Ginger Pig, and Neal’s Yard Dairy and we’ll house-smoke meats and fish,” he says. There will be a wheel of organic Laguiole cheese from Lionel Sabre on the bar and an eclectic wine menu focusing on natural wines such as Kelley Fox’s poetic Oregon Pinot Noir 2013 and Peter Hahn’s 100 per cent Chenin Blanc Le Clos de la Meslerie, Vouvray, 2013, as well as old-world wines and artisan beers, and Rudy the mixologist will shake seasonal cocktails.
“I’m looking forward to rediscovering the best of British, both the produce and the people,” Marchand smiles.