Update: 4.03.2020 — Thierry Costes is no longer an investor in Folie, a spokesperson told Eater.
A new brasserie, designed not just for London in the twenty first century, but explicitly for Soho right now, will open at 37 Golden Square in the summer 2019. It is project run by front-of-house Guillaume Depoix, a Frenchman who moved to London in 2014.
Depoix has worked in the hospitality business since he was 18 years old, starting out as a food runner at Cafe Marly, a restaurant owned by the Costes family, close to the Louvre museum in the French capital.
“I’ve always wanted to open my own restaurant,” he tells Eater London, smiling with only the slightest bit of apprehension. “It’s always been a dream.”
Depoix’s trajectory was not ordinary. By the age of 25 — after completing his studies and following a stage at Alain Ducasse’s three-Michelin-starred restaurant at the Plaza Athénée — he was back working with the Costes family, now as manager at Cafe Marly: evidently a self-assured and precious talent who’d earned the loyalty of his first employers. Depoix tells me the Costes family — specifically his mentor Thierry Costes —
is an investor in the Folie project.
Having left France, Depoix travelled — to India and Costa Rica. But, it was in London, four years ago that he decided to settle. “The capital city of food and restaurants,” he calls it.
His roles in London have been serious, if unremarkable: going from operations manager at the Boundary Hotel in Shoreditch, working under the legendary Sir Terence Conran and Peter Prescott, before moving to the other side of the city where, with Juan Santa Cruz, he managed Casa Cruz in Notting Hill. The impression given is that Depoix was working for the credits, figuring out the business of restaurants in London, always biding his time for an opportunity that would become his.
Earlier this year, he found that opportunity. “The dream site,” as he calls it. It’s easy to understand why. It’s in the middle of Soho, right in the centre of London. It’s surrounded by offices of the creative industries — ad agencies, film production studios, and communications firms — the corner site on the edge of one of Soho’s three green spaces. “There are also very few cars,” he says, further emphasising his win.
The building’s redevelopment means that Folie will replace what was a Pizza Express, ironically one of a group of casual dining chains apparently unharmed by the shifting appeal of high street restaurants.
And yet, Soho itself is a case study in astronomical London rents and over-supply. Independent restaurants, as well as the chains, have been forced to close in the past twelve months. But even though Depoix is not complacent, he seems unfazed — both about the fate of many in his industry, as well as the incoming realities of Brexit. He is a French citizen, who would, in theory, be heavily reliant on labour from European workers. “I’m sure there’ll be a way and I believe in this city,” he offers, pointing to the semi-mythical notion of London’s ability to bounce-back in the face of adversity.
As for the economics. He says he is “trying to be recession proof” and would be “very stressed” if he wasn’t opening in the heart of London. Based on Depoix’s description, the best way to think of Folie is somewhere between Chiltern Firehouse, Brasserie Zedel, and Granger and Co: A true all-day-dining establishment that wants to service the breakfast crowd with coffee, through business lunches, special occasion dinners, and cocktail drinkers and DJs late into the night.
And although Depoix is not — and nor does he think he is — reinventing the wheel, it’s hard to think of somewhere in the centre of town that can meaningful call itself a competitor. Dean Street Townhouse, maybe, but nowhere that fresh, and nowhere that doesn’t ask for membership. In some ways, the New York City interpretation of the brasserie, less the French progenitor itself, seems like a more appropriate reference point.
Depoix himself, as a front of house, is focused on the culture and the environment he hopes to create. In a conversation that lasted for just over an hour, he uses the word “impeccable” at least four times. He aims to balance class with approachability. And to that he wants to have a staff that feel at home, and remain loyal. He says that as well as money, the things which incentivise workers today are access to training, sustainable working hours (he’s contemplating four day weeks), and continuity.
“Folie” refers to 18th to mid 19th century garden annexes which extravagant architects designed (outside of Paris) solely for the purpose of revelry, decadence, and fun. The design will draw on the St Germain of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Cardin: a place that isn’t too nostalgic, but which nods to the 1960s and 70s. Depoix says he hopes to attract what he calls the “good crowd of Mayfair — the ones who cross Regent Street.” Not, perhaps, the loyal patrons of Novikov and Park Chinois.
It will occupy two floors — a 100-cover ground floor restaurant and bar with a basement kitchen beneath. “Not too big,” he says. “I wanted a place where I could still understand what’s going on in the restaurant.”
As for the food, Depoix says that although he has not appointed his head chef at this point, he has some candidates under consideration, and that he’ll make a final decision in March.
Whoever it is will need to believe in a what already sounds like a fixed vision. Depoix knows what he wants: it will be seasonal, it will feature a selection of freshly baked goods from 7am, a good croque madame, a salad niçoise, scallops, fillet of sea bass, ratatouille, and sea urchin. “All very simple and uncomplicated,” he pledges.
And while he’s more than aware of the contemporary dining and lifestyle habits of his would-be clientele (there’ll be vegan options and “food reworked for the wellness generation,” according to marketing materials), Depoix wants to please everyone. He subscribes to one of the fundamental principles of the brasserie: that it’s inclusive.
It makes sense, if you can make it work, in a competitive part of town, to start out by at least appearing to be open to everyone. Within reason, of course.
For one, at lunch, Depoix says the restaurant will offer a “market menu” priced at £20-£25 for two courses, which will be competitive in Soho, especially if it’s good. Moreover, the average spend per head he’s aiming to hit appears comparatively modest: £15 at breakfast; £28 at lunch; and £55 at dinner. The higher spend at dinner will be collected from “very spectacular” sharing dishes, such as cote de boef, leg of lamb, whole roast chicken, seabass, and whole turbot.
When asked what he thinks Parisians — including friends and family still there — will make of his solo debut, he smiles, again with only the slightest hint of apprehension outweighed by self-belief, and says: “Finally [they will have] found a place that they come — at any time of the day, which isn’t too fussy.”