P. Franco is Eater London’s Restaurant of the Year 2017. This is not an exercise in counter-intuition, but recognition for what has become the most interesting, unusual, surprising, and innovative place to eat in London this year.
The space is (or was) foremost a wine shop and bar, which eighteen months ago — after a number of small, industry-focused events — elected to pilot a food programme that went beyond the typical cheese and charcuterie boards most often associated with wine bars.
The results have taken it from a curio among London’s natural wine fanatics and lovers of Parisian-style cave bistronomie to a genuinely thrilling place to eat restaurant-standard food. Food, belonging to no particular cuisine type, which more often than not, competes with the most forward-thinking establishments in the capital.
In many ways, it can be a restaurant whose food, wine and ethos defines this particular moment in London’s culinary history; a place whose apparent insouciance belies genuine passion and seriousness.
Here’s everything to know about P. Franco, Eater London’s Restaurant of the Year 2017:
A (brief) history
P. Franco opened at 107 Lower Clapton Road, on the site of a former Chinese takeaway, in March/ April 2014. The owners are Liam Kelleher and James Noble, the directors of Noble Fine Liquor — a company which has retail-only shops on Broadway Market (2012) and in Farringdon, adjacent to The Quality Chop House shop (2016).
The moment things changed and the food got serious was after Phil Bracey, the now manager, started in July/ August 2015. In November of that year, William Gleave, a chef connected to 40 Maltby Street, Brawn and who was head chef at Garagistes, in Tasmania — a restaurant that, according to Bracey, was then “the best restaurant in Australia” — took up residency. To P. Franco Gleave brought a new dimension and a style of cooking that was clever, refined and remarkable given the chef’s means onsite. Anyone who cooks there must do so with the use of two induction hobs and nothing else. Suddenly the food industry, as well as the wine industry, were hanging out at P. Franco.
It refers to the latin “pie franco” (pronounced pee franco) — the process whereby vines are grown on their own (European) root stocks: wines from vines that were not affected by the decimating bug phylloxera and thus were not re-grafted on American root stocks. I.e. they are wines from very old — indeed “noble” — vines. “Pie” was not selected for the obvious associations the owners feared would be made in the UK.
The “X” in the branding is more by accident than design, since the official way to write the name is P [dot] [space] Franco. Apparently James Noble did the graphics himself but for it purchased only a demo font, which excludes all punctuation. The X stuck and still features on all official branding.
After Gleave came Tim Spedding (autumn 2016 – winter 2017) who left The Clove Club as sous/ acting head chef and is now in charge of food at Coombeshead Farm in Cornwall. Spedding helped the former earn its first Michelin star as well as a place in the World’s 50 Best.
Giuseppe Lacorazza (winter/spring – summer 2017) from WildAir in New York City, came next, before the current incumbent, Giuseppe Belvedere, head chef at Brawn, took over the hobs in August this year and will be in place until the last week of February next year. The announcement of the next guest chef will be made on Eater London in January.
Anna Tobias, formerly of (Jeremy Lee’s) Blueprint Cafe, The River Cafe and Rochelle Canteen — and one of London’s most exciting chefs without a restaurant — has made a number of memorable, periodic guest appearances, too.
The food highlights
Will Gleave: Squid noodles with XO sauce / crab, smoked haddock and Le Coste olive oil (from a winemaker in Lazio, Italy).
Tim Spedding: Brussel tops faggots — stuffed with pheasant, chestnut and bacon / burnt clementine granita
Giuseppe Lacorazza: Pollock tamal / spring onion, jersey royal and yoghurt soup.
Anna Tobias: devilled Crab and monk’s beard / clam, pea, courgette and pasta soup.
Giuseppe Belvedere: Guinea fowl agnolotti in brodo / Monzo di pozza, caesar’s mushrooms and parmesan.
The financials are straightforward; no appearance fees, just a profit share. The guest chefs, as contractors of sorts, take a majority of the profits from all food sales. It is for this reason that customers who come in to eat usually take precedence over drinkers when it comes to getting a seat at the sharing table — high value restaurant real estate at the back-end of the week.
In Bracey’s words: “Pop-up in Tokyo with Svante Forstorp at a place that hasn’t opened yet called Downstairs with Svan. We hope to do more pop-ups outside of P. Franco in the next year. Planning one with La Buvette in Paris, and we want to do one in New York.
“Sounds silly but part of the spirit of P. Franco is the lack of plan. We never planned to do food properly but the opportunity arose so we had a crack and it worked. Each chef residency has come about organically, never advertised or anything. We’re learning as we go. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves — we really just want good wine and good food. We also want to make it all as accessible as we can.”
How P. Franco evolves next will be fascinating to observe.