The French House is one of the great establishments of Soho, dating back to its opening in 1891 as ‘York Minster’. A firm favourite for some of the best known names in showbusiness, it’s something of a treasure trove for gastronomers as well, thanks to its no nonsense, beautifully cooked menu. 

Neil Borthwick is the Head Chef at The French House. Paul and Debbie sat down with Neil to talk about The French House, his appreciation for the basics, the impact of Brexit and home economics…


Neil Borthwick (NB): 

Have you got the paper there? I’ll write the menu…


So much has changed since Brexit – all our systems are changing and we’re adapting the menu on a daily basis.


Debbie Missing (DM): It’s a nightmare apparently.


NB: Yeah, everyone you speak to says the same thing, more and more suppliers are having problems getting produce over and getting enough to harvest in time. 


DM: This is where the similarities are between you and us, we feel – the weather has been so wet that the flax crop has been reduced by 30%, the Chinese are now buying up all of the flax because of that and so the cost is going to go up significantly, but then you can’t pass that cost on to the customer, so I think we’re experiencing the same kind of thing.


NB: Yeah, so we’ve started using a different fish supplier that’s a bit cheaper. They’re pretty honest and they give us a cheap a price as they can, but when they’re buying for £23 per kilo at market, selling for £27, it’s not a massive price increase when you think about the pay for the petrol, pay a guy minimum wage to drive up 12-14 hour shifts…


DM: It’s all those invisible things that people don’t actually think about to get the food on the plate. 

So does what’s available dictate what’s on the menu?


NB: Yeah, especially last week – it was after the bank holiday, and there was bad weather, so the Dover Sole was on at £54. I mean, people paid it. I don’t think people mind paying as long as it’s a good portion and well cooked. But I think more and more, people will go somewhere, pay and it will be average and they’ll not want to go back.


DM: I feel the same way and I think you do too Paul, that we would sooner do things less often and really enjoy them rather than frequently and average.


Paul Missing (PM): Definitely. I remember coming here a little while ago with my son and there was a Bavette steak and chips. It was quite expensive, but that was the best steak I’ve eaten for a very, very long time.


NB: What here? Was I cooking??


PM: I think so! But the Bavette, it’s not the best cut of meat really, but it was absolutely delicious.


DM: It’s what you did with it Neil, clearly!

DM: What’s your favourite London restaurant, do you think?


NB: Oooff, that’s tough. Not that it’s a conspiracy, but I do think Lee at Black Axe Mangal, aka FKABAM formerly known as Black Axe Mangal – you always have delicious food there. It’s good fun, it’s a good atmosphere as well.


DM: It’s about the environment as well, isn’t it?


NB: Yeah totally. Where else? Such a tough question to ask a chef! 

Som Saa is always good and Sabor as well. She’s great.


DM: I’ll take a look. We’ve had some really great meals, but other things contribute to make these meals memorable. Great food, the people you’re with and the atmosphere in the room as well, it all counts and I actually think it makes the food taste different, you know, it’s a psychological thing.


NB: Yeah definitely. So, who else have you got doing this?


PM: Endo. He’s just opening a new restaurant, so we’re going to shoot him soon. We’ve got Max and Noel from Three Sheets in their Soho Bar, Will Bowlby from Kricket, Sollip.


NB: So quite a few then?


DM: And we’ve already done Forno and Spring.


NB: I really need to be more up to speed with what’s happening in the chef world.


PM: It’s a nice, varied range – so many different characters and everyone caring so much about the same things and also different things – it’s a great mix.


NB: Absolutely. I do think, speaking to suppliers, the way the world is now is different.


DM: It’s so much about relationships.


NB: Really is. We’ve got some suppliers we’ve worked with for years and  started using a few new suppliers, one new butcher and they’re good, they’re always really happy when you call them.

There was one delivery where they sent some pork chops, really really lovely, and then they sent the next lot which were not so good, so I called and they said “We’re not going to lie to you Neil, we were running out the door for the staff party and wanted to get something to you.” And credit to them, they credited half the amount and said it wouldn’t happen again.

And it’s good from the point of view that they send the invoice on recycled paper and it’ll have the name of the farmer and the breed of the cow, pig or the sheep. It’s important to show the customer where things come from. I’ve been lucky to have worked in France and you see lots of different ways of working there, but provenance was always key.


DM: Was that a big influence working in France?


NB: Oh yeah, 100%. It was the only academic subject I was good at at school, my Mum and Dad paid for a private education and when I turned around and said I wanted to be a chef they were like “F**k’s sake”! But I wasn’t wasting money and made it count.


PM: Was that in the days when Home Economics still existed?


NB: Oh yeah. My rock buns were so good in Home Economics I actually sold them for like £1.50 each! Yeah, it was great. None of that now though, which is shite…


PM: It’s so short sighted, it’s such a key skill, a life skill. 


NB: Yeah, really is.


DM: How long were you in France?


NB: Four years. It was great and then I was offered Japan.


PM: We’re actually going to Japan in September, so we’ll need some top tips.


NB: Oh yeah, where are you going? Tokyo?


PM: Yeah, Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.


NB: Nice. How long are you going to Kyoto for?


PM: About four or five days. We’re there for three weeks in total.


NB: I’d say three days is enough in Kyoto! We spent five days there, and it was just so much f**king templed out! I mean it’s beautiful, but another temple after another that looks the same as the last.


DM: But Osaka’s supposed to have a really huge food scene?


NB: Yeah it’s the old capital isn’t it? Yeah, the food is great, you’ll have a fantastic time.


DM: Yeah I’m really looking forward to it. We’ve been talking about it for about twenty years, but never got there.

PM: Neil do you have a favourite image in this room (The restaurant):


NB: Drink more gin? They’re all quite good.


DM: How do you choose them?


NB: It’s all Lesley, I’ve done nothing to the Dining Room really. Some people say it’s the best dining room in London and some people still drink downstairs and don’t know about it really.


PM: I’ve definitely drunk downstairs a few times too! I love the Tommy Cooper picture.


NB: Yeah, that chef one too. Francis Bacon. They’re all fun really. Terry who works here is up to speed with who they all are. 


Team comes in and talks about the MISSING pieces… A few samples get tried on…

Kitty: They’re really comfortable! I spend my whole July in Greece and would live in this there. I love the indigo. This is really, really nice. 


DM: It’s amazing isn’t it? The way that if you reverse the yarn you get a different colour. 


KG: It’s amazing.


PM: Yeah, so we’ve reversed the weave to give these two different colourways.


KG: I love the sheen of it too. And I love that it’s Made in England.


DM: Made in London!


KG: Really! That’s even better – that’s so rare!


DM: That’s what we were saying to Neil – the similarities between what he and you guys are doing here – sourcing everything from this country – and what we’re doing.


NB: This is much thicker, does it have a lining?

PM: Yeah, so we have a few stockists in Japan and they previously only thought of linen as a summer item, but as you can see, that extra layer of lining means it works for winter too.


NB: It’s really nice. Let’s go get some fish oil on it!


Heading up to the kitchen…

DM: So this is where the magic happens?


NB: Yeah, let’s get stuck in.


PM: How many guys max do you get in here?


NB: Four max.


PM: Do you have any Gordon Ramsay moments?


NB: Me?? No! Do I?? (asks the team) I’m pretty sure it’s normally them shouting at me!


PM: It all looks so good. Have you got a favourite tool?


NB: Yeah probably that knife there. Japanese. I took the guys to a Japanese knife sharpening class and it was so good.


PM: When it comes to the ingredients and the prep, how does it work?


NB: You don’t need to do much at all with the right ingredients. Just cook it nicely and you should be okay. 

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

Neil wears the M02 Chili 3 Pocket Jacket and the M02 Cadet / Klein 3 Pocket Jacket.


16th April, 2024



49 Dean Street, Soho, London, W1D 5BG



LUNCH: 12-3pm Tuesday – Saturday

DINNER: 6-9pm Tuesday – Saturday


Photography: Izy Dixon

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