Young and coffee in varying degrees, Kat also says stuff @ThoroughlyMode
Published January 17th 2011
There are some pretty special buildings in London, and quite a few of them now have part of their floor space taken up with a restaurant. But the Michelin garage on the Fulham Road has got to be one of the most unique – especially seeing as it now houses one of London's most consistently good restaurants/ cafes/ oyster bars: Bibendum.
This lovely piece of beautifully decorated Art Nouveau (or proto-Art-Deco) architecture, with the wonderful stained glass Michelin man in pride of place in the main front window, did actually start its life as a garage for motor cars in 1909. It was also the headquarters of the tyre company, hence the appearance of the friendly face of the Michelin man in many unexpected places. But it doesn't explain all of his appearances. Since it's become a restaurant (circa. 1985), Mr. Bibendum Michelin, for that's his name, has diverged his interests a bit, and can now be spotted in tile mosaics as well as in stained glass, and in the process of riding a bike, boxing and even dining in the crustea bar, as well as in his more familiar poses.
Sir Terrance Conran was one of restaurant's buyers and he's had many of the show garage's original features restored. Which work surprisingly well in a restaurant setting. Which Bibendum's corpulent figure also seems to go with.
You can't help but start with the décor when talking about Bibendum, but that's just because that's the first thing you'll encounter – when you're nearing the facade. The next thing you'll come upon is the flower market and crustacea stall, which are now in the bit where the cars would have driven in. Here they'll sort you out not just with an oyster, lobster or smaller shellfish varietal, the also sell fresh fish. And if you need any advice on how to prepare your purchase they'll help you there as well.
Bibendum's cafe is inside – where the cars would have had their tyres changed. It's an upmarket place to pick up a coffee, sandwich or a pastry, but you can also have a glass of wine or champagne, and the surrounds are nice, so it's probably quite a bit nicer than your local cafe, even if your local cafe is nice. You'll also find the oyster bar here, which has impressively colourful offerings, light, crisp lunches and some quirky tile work, yes, it's good old Mr Bibendum Michelin again.
The restaurant proper is upstairs and is much quieter than the rest of the building. Here the linen is crisp and white, the glasses sparkle and there's plenty of natural light coming in though the stained glass windows. Prices mean that the restaurant is more for special occasions, unless you have a generous household budget, but the food is good and the portions decent sized – even on the prix fixe menu, which usually offers a good selection and is well worth exploring before you consult the a la carte version. Roast chicken with tarragon for two comes highly recommended, it's one of the restaurant's signature dishes. If you're worried about what you'll have along side it don't be – there are something like 800 wines on the list – and some of them are quite reasonably priced.