It took Claude another two years until he was completely satisfied with his cooking style. ‘It’s only in the past five years I’ve really become happy with what I’m doing and know exactly what I want to do,’ he says. ‘I’ve had Hibiscus for fifteen years; for the first eleven I was cooking good food but I can’t say it truly represented my style. It’s only now that I have it the way I wanted it to be.
‘My style these days is very similar to what it’s always been like, but before there was a lot of complicated things on the plate which I’ve now taken off,’ he continues. ‘I went to Japan in 2008 and it was only there that I truly understood how important produce is. You always think you know, but in Japan it really hits you in the face. Ever since then I have had a new approach to cooking; get the finest produce and cook it as best you can.’
In 2012, Claude changed the look and feel of the restaurant (‘it used to be a bit stuffy and traditional, and I wanted somewhere for people to relax and where the service is friendly’) to better reflect his approach to food, and built a development kitchen in the basement (‘so we no longer have to treat the diners as guinea pigs for some of our dishes’). The menu was also given a revamp. ‘We now focus on two or three ingredients and make sure they’re the best quality and absolutely bursting with flavour,’ he says. ‘It might look simple – someone might see a piece of fish and some puree and wonder why it is worthy of two stars, but to hell with them; it’s what we do. If it’s the best fish you can get and you make sure the flavours go together, then it will be perfect. I want people to see the simplicity in my cooking.’
Many of Claude’s contemporaries believe he deserves a third Michelin star, and it can’t be too far from his mind when the results are released every year. But Claude says he is focused on other things. ‘I’m hoping for all sorts, but keeping busy is my main goal,’ he explains. ‘There’s lots of competition in London and it’s a tough market – places are closing every day. I’d like to do other things on the side but I’m in no rush; I’m very happy at Hibiscus and it keeps us very busy.’ With over 115 suppliers knocking on the kitchen door throughout the year, delivering truffles, scallops, foie gras and game at all times of the day, we’re not surprised.
Keeping it in the family, Claude also runs a hotel in Ludlow with his brother Cedric called The Townhouse.
When on holiday, Claude will usually use the spare time to do a stage in a different restaurant around the world, to develop his style and discover new techniques.
Claude is an avid game hunter, and spends much of his free time during the game season in the British countryside on shoots.