December 8 2013 Latest news:
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
In our latest feature about the businesses of NW3, we speak to a restaurant owner who is not bowled over by celebrity
Pop legend George Michael must be used to getting the best table at any restaurant he visits, however busy it is.
But at one new eaterie in Hampstead he was recently treated like any other prospective customer – and politely shown the door because the place was full.
Having no idea who he was, the manager at La Provence in Heath Street, Hampstead, blithely turned him away, to the amusement of the diners present.
The Highgate-based pop legend had perhaps been keen to taste La Provence’s modern French cuisine after reading a glowing review from famously discerning and hirsute Ham&High food critic Joseph Connolly.
Chef and owner Davy Kibodi, 37, said: “Two weeks ago on Saturday, we were fully booked and one gentleman came to the restaurant and my manager didn’t have a choice.
“After he left, all the tables sitting around starting to ask my manager, do you know who that is? She had no idea it was George Michael.”
He added: “For the moment he has not been back, but I hope he will be. I think next time she will recognise him.
“It’s not beautiful to refuse a person a seat if it’s a celebrity or not, but when you have no places to seat them, you have no choice.”
Experienced chef Mr Kibodi, 37, launched the venture in June to realise a long-held dream for a restaurant of his own.
At first he found it tough going to cope with the added pressures that come with being the boss, beyond simply cooking good food.
But he was helped along by a resourceful manager – and Mr Connolly’s positive write-up in pages of this newspaper.
“In the beginning it was really difficult,” he said. “I’m trying to achieve my dream, but it’s not so easy. It’s one thing to be a chef, it’s another one to be a businessman.
“Slowly I started to learn, to understand what I need to do. Now it’s much better.”
Mr Kibodi was born in Congo, where his parents are from, before moving to France at a young age and growing up Lyon.
He worked in kitchens while studying engineering and quickly realised his future lay in food.
He trained at the renowned Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon and has worked in St Petersburg for eight years and at London’s Michelin-starred Sketch restaurant.
“I wanted to discover something different with different people, a different way to work,” he said of his time in Russia.
“It was quite good, now I can speak Russian, I can write, and still have a lot of friends there.”
His simply philosophy should win friends in Hampstead too.
“Basically I want to make people happy,” he said. When people tell me they liked what I cooked, I don’t end anything else.”
n La Provence is a member of the Hampstead NW3 Business Association. To find out more about the organisation and its work, email firstname.lastname@example.org, visit www.nw3hampstead.com, or follow @NW_3Hampstead on Twitter.