How did you meet?
Nicolas (N): We met seven years ago at Scott’s where we were working together.
Paulo (P): I was a maître d’ and Nicolas was the bar manager.
N: We worked together for a year, I left for Dubai and Paulo went and opened Bar Boulud. I came back and we started to talk about this project.
What made you decide to embark on a new adventure together?
P: We were contemplating about what London has and what it needs. If you look back 20 years, there were a lot of great Italian restaurants. And that dramatically changed. There aren’t many great high-end restaurants. We thought about having Italian food, traditional and original, and play with the 21 regions of Italy. Italians do everything with a lot of passion, clothing, cars, food. We’re going to have the best front of house London has ever seen with amazing Italian food and a wine list that represents the reality of people’s lives.
What is your vision for the interior design?
N: It’s been great to work with the guys from Fabled Studio because they understood our vision and where we wanted to go. We told them what we didn’t want to use in terms of materials and colours. There are these trends and you kind of see the same things everywhere. We want an elegant restaurant and create something that is there in 100 years and look good. We want to use noble, beautiful materials that are part of the heritage.
P: It’s almost like putting a big wedding together – a lot of planning. We told them our vision and exactly what we want to do. We talked about designs we are inspired by: La Dolce Vita, Marcello Mastroianni, Gio Ponti or Carlo Mollino. They really understood what our vision was and the material that we wanted and the story behind it.
There’s a lot of psychology behind what we do [in a restaurant]. We can see things happening before they happen, hear people say something before they say it. The feel of things, the height of the seat, the length of the table, the way the door opens, where people are looking, the lighting – it’s a very detail-oriented thing and it’s so hard to get it perfectly right because we’re dealing with humans.
Tell us about the location and the whole ambiance of the restaurant.
N: It’s 45 Great Queen Street, facing the freemasons building.
P: We have 104 seats and there is an area on street level and downstairs. You have the main floor, beautiful design, six windows and a lot of light. Downstairs will be as bright and beautiful. You can come in the early evening and you go downstairs and have charcuterie and a glass of wine – downstairs has a little more buzz and the music can be a little louder, more relaxed, very much “New York”. Upstairs is the kind of place where, when you finish your dessert, you want to go downstairs.
What can we expect from the food?
P: We were looking for an Italian chef and found Maurizio Morelli who has an impeccable background and we love him. There is a lot of choices of carpaccios, antipasti, charcuterie, olives and risottos and there will be lots of options to order them small or large. A great selection of meats, everything from rabbit to duck and beef. A lot of Italian restaurants are so limited. Italian food is a lot more than a red table cloth. It’s been represented extremely well in America, but not so well here in London. Our food will be designed from the customer’s perspective – whatever it is, we make it happen.
N: We want to take all the worries away. From the moment you arrive, the way you are greeted, the way you are sat, but also when you look at the menu. We don’t see salad as a starter only, you can have it as a main. We have two sizes for a lot of things, salad, pasta, risotto. The menu is flexible and flawless. And it’s important to recognise the producers who spend time making quality. People feel the quality of a tea cup, of water glasses, the cutlery – without realising it you understand it’s quality. And it’s the same with what you eat and drink. Quality will always win, regardless. But it’s a difficult path to take.
How does your past experience inform this new project?
Nicolas: I started working in restaurants on the west coast of France when I was 15. So from an early age I have been immersed in this industry. I went to catering school and worked in restaurants and bars before I came to England. I moved to London and started at Scott’s, working my way up to bar manager. After a stint in Dubai I came back to Scott’s as a head waiter. After Managing School I became manager at Balthazar, then general manager, then moved to Alain Ducasse to open his new restaurant in London. After a year I went back to Mayfair to La Petit Maison, where I was restaurant manager.
I was working with Tim Hughes, Mark Hix, Russell Norman, Keith McNally, Alain Ducasse, Raffael Nonte, all these people. You learn so much from them. And going through life is all about learning and passing it on.
Paulo: I was born in Brazil and grew up in New York. I went to work at restaurants when I was 15 and worked myself up from washing dishes to chef de rang. At the age of 18 I moved to San Diego where I started my own company, a production company for nightclubs, events and fashion shows. We became big promoters and from there we opened a restaurant. I did that for many years before I moved to Los Angeles because I always wanted to be an actor. But whatever I did, something was always pushing me back to the restaurant business. I moved to London in 2005, worked with Jesus Adorno from Le Caprice and from there I went to work with Chris Corbin and Jeremy King, who convinced me to be maître d’ at the Wolseley. Then I went to Scott’s where I was the maître d’ for several years until Daniel Boulud, a three-Michelin-star chef with 19 restaurants, asked me to open Bar Boulud. I learned so much from Daniel Boulud – he has truly been an inspiration.
Why did you choose London as the location for your restaurant?
P: London has surpassed Paris and is now the capital of Europe for food, when, 25 years ago, you couldn’t even eat here. Now you have amazing chefs and restaurants that multiply. But still, if you compare it to New York City, we’re way behind. Why? Because it’s not just in Manhattan that they have amazing restaurants, but everywhere in New York. Food is great everywhere and service is part of the nature and core value. The more you give, the more comes back – it’s simple and people don’t seem to understand that. Pass it on – inspire! That’s what we came here to do.
How did you decide on the name?
P: Naming a restaurant is like naming a child. You have to come up with the best name that is out there. Names should not have anything to do with the restaurant – just because the restaurant is Italian you don’t necessarily have to call it Francesco. Margot is my mother-in-law, we loved the name and it has a meaning for us.