Boulestin’s Legacy

10 Jul 2013
3 min read
In September 2013, Joel Kissin, co-founder of Conran Restaurants, is to revive iconic London restaurant Boulestin. Four Magazine takes a look back at the man behind the name and considers the influence Xavier Marcel Boulestin had on the London resta…

Boulestin, which closed its doors in Covent Garden after nearly 70 years, in April 1994, was once known as the most expensive restaurant in London.

In September 2013 the name is to be revived at a new restaurant in St James’s. The all-new Boulestin will comprise of a 60-seat bistro, a 39-seat private dining room and a 30-seat casual dining space called Café Marcel. Though not a replica of the original, Boulestin’s rich history will be present in the food, design and ethos.

Joel Kissin, the man behind the venture, was the co-founder, managing director and a shareholder of Conran restaurants. With his then partner Sir Terence Conran, Kissin brought restaurants such as Quaglino’s and Bluebird to London. Together, Kissin and Conran were credited with changing the face of the London restaurant scene.

Since Boulestin’s name is about to be brought to a whole new generation of food lovers, we reflect on why the name became synonymous with the London restaurant scene in the first place.

Born in Perigord, France, Xavier Marcel Boulestin was educated in Poitiers and later Bordeaux. Although a law student at the time, Boulestin used his years in Bordeaux to develop his creativity amid the higher echelons of society: he frequented concerts and operas, wrote music, and published his first book. After a brief period of military service and a quick dalliance with various careers in Paris (among them, secretary, ghost writer and actor), Boulestin moved to London.

Widely accredited with first bringing French cuisine to England, the self-confessed anglophile never received any formal culinary training. He did however have a natural flair for cooking, wrote countless books on the subject and became the first ever television chef.

Boulestin had long been a fan of the English and once in London, he immersed himself in the idle occupations of the excessively rich – frequenting music halls and theatres, keeping company with controversial and well-known characters of the era, such as Lord Alfred Douglas. He made a comfortable living by writing for a magazine before opening an interior design shop in Belgravia. In true Boulestin form, the stock was fabulous, eclectic and international, but the shop was ahead of its time. Despite a few relocation and reopening attempts, the shop did not prosper and was soon forgotten.

Often turning to writing as a means of financial support, Boulestin was asked to write a French cookery book for publishing house Heinemann. The book became an instant success and was reprinted six times between 1923 and 1930.

On the back of his first book Simple French Cooking for English Homes, Boulestin opened his first restaurant. Originally in Leicester Square under the name The Restaurant Français, within two years it had moved to the more desirable Covent Garden address, rebranded as Boulestin.

Boulestin immediately developed a reputation for food of superlative quality. So high were Boulestin’s standards that the restaurant failed to turn a profit and Boulestin had to supplement his income with copious food articles and further cookery books. The restaurant attracted the crème de la crème of British society and was appreciated for its Parisian interiors as well as cuisine.

On the back of this success, Boulestin was invited to become the world’s first television chef. In the fledgling early days of the BBC, Boulestin could be seen on the small screen demonstrating top dishes from his restaurant’s menu, down to basics, such as essential components in a picnic.

When WW2 broke out, Boulestin’s personal success was cut short. On a summer holiday to France in 1939, he found himself unable to leave the country after the German invasion. Boulestin moved to Paris where he became ill and died soon after, in 1943, at the age of 65.

The restaurant Boulestin remained in the same location for a further 51 years before closing in 1994.

The new Boulestin will concentrate on bistro style dining. This was very much the thinking when Kissin hired Andrew Woodford as the head chef. Prior to this appointment, Woodford was head chef at French restaurant of the moment, Café Colbert in Sloane Square. The menu will reinterpret French classics such as Oeuf en Gelée and Poulet Sauté.

Boulestin’s influence goes beyond a name on the London restaurant scene. Boulestin got people talking about food. His plethora of cookery books, still used today, enabled less accomplished cooks to tackle previously considered complicated ingredients and produce high quality cuisine for everyday purposes. He made cooking more sociable, more of an event, and paved the way for a future of television chefs. His London revival will ensure a new generation is aware of the Boulestin legacy.

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