As many of you will know, La Petite Bouchée, our very unique and friendly French restaurant, has just moved from south east London to Witheridge, in rural mid-Devon. We thought that some of our newest followers might like to know a bit more about the story behind mid-Devon’s most recent foodie! Over to Caroline for part one of our story …
‘In the early hours of a morning in May 2014, I was woken to Anita-Clare (A-C) wanting to talk about an idea she'd had for the Citroen Camper we'd just bought. We had originally bought her to showcase products from our artisan food company, Heaven Preserve Us.
My wife, however, had very different plans. This new vision involved red checked tablecloths, mussel pots and bottles of fizz. I thought it was an excellent plan and named her La Petite Bouchée, translated literally as ‘The Tiny Bite’. This theme also tied in with the size of the brasserie and by morning she had a URL, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts.
The next few months involved renovations, decoration then finding a place for her to work from and passing health & safety, hygiene and personal licence exams. Finally, on my birthday at the end of July, Anita-Clare handed me the scissors to cut the ribbon to declare her officially open.
Next came the logistical challenges of working somewhere without electricity and running water. All of these things were quickly overcome and our outdoor camp kitchen developed. All the meals would be cooked under canvas using gas camping stoves.
Water would be supplied using 10L containers and light? Light has been supplied by battery operated lights, fairy lights, car headlamps. A-C has even cooked a guest’s favourite sole cooked in a simple beurre blanc by the torchlight of two iPhones!
Fast-forward to early August 2014, launch night. The rain was torrential, the generator we bought a non-starter and eager guests awaiting moules frites. A-C had never cooked fries in hot oil on a gas stove before. That night she did, she made mayonnaise in a monsoon and came home like a drowned rat, soaked to the skin, but beaming from ear to ear. We'd done it, we made our dream into a reality.
We had no idea how popular La Petite Bouchée was going to be. News spread mainly via word of mouth and social media and, before long, our beloved vintage camper had made quite a name for herself.
The introduction of Sunday brunch and a fixed price menu only made her even more popular and she was booked out virtually every weekend. The reviews were sensational. The business model was a winner, but there was still more that could be done.
In April 2015 a customer booked a birthday event for 30 people. Afternoon tea. This was our chance to really make her shine. We already had one member of staff at the time but we needed someone else and that is when Neil Hudson-Baising walked into our lives.
Neil, an event manager in his own right, wanted to earn some extra money for his wedding. Catering for 30 guests in a park with no amenities wasn't going to bother him. He made everything look so effortless, he charmed these 'interesting' customers, led the team and A-C’s stress levels went down because she could focus on the food. It the start of a very beautiful partnership.
Between them Neil and A-C have created their very unique brand of La Petite Bouchée magic for private events, parties and residencies, opening each week come rain or shine for delighted guests ever since.
We estimate we've cooked nearly a ton of mussels, served up favourites including navarin of lamb, skate beurre, noisette, tartiflette and bavette for the past two years and seven months, and in November last year the hard work paid off when we were awarded the Time Out Love London Award for best restaurant in our local area. We were ecstatic. Neil and A-C travelled to the award ceremony to collect this prestigious award voted for by the public and returned triumphant with big plans to celebrate.
But our bubble was very firmly burst when we woke just 72 hours later to the news that she'd been vandalised. The windows were all broken. Nothing else disturbed. It was a very bitter pill to swallow. A defiant A-C found the window company who'd assisted us before and everything was replaced by lunchtime that day. We sent a clear message out on social media condemning the attacks and announcing that it would be business as usual at the weekend.
Sadly, all our dreams were crushed that evening when the perpetrators returned and completely wrecked her. We were all heartbroken. This level of deliberate and premeditated vandalism was definitely the act of someone sending a clear message. The police were in agreement. November 15, 2015 was the last time La Petite Bouchée was seen publicly in London. We removed her from the park, hid her from view and went away to lick our wounds.’
Next: Our very own little piece of France.....