Gianpaul Becci, owner of Casa Becci, on his relationship with food
Interview: Ellie Costigan
1. We’re one of the oldest businesses in the area—this has been in my family’s hands for about 30 years. When we first got it, it was a traditional greasy spoon. We changed it two or three years later. Closed it, renovated it, and turned it into a restaurant.
2. I was born and brought up in Marylebone. I went to primary school in the area and my kids now go to that same primary school. We all worked here from an early age, my sister, my brother and me. We might be buttering bread before we went to school or making scotch eggs. Then after school we’d come here and have our dinner. We’d be working then, involved, always talking to customers.
3. We’ve got lots of regulars—a lot of them feel like friends and family. Some people we don’t give menus to, because we know what they’re having, down to the small details like if they want cucumber on their salad. We know what wine they like—if they’ve booked, the bottle will be ready on their table.
4. There was a period, when all the chain restaurants were sprouting up, when I was asked: “When are you going to change it, when are you going to modernise, when are you going to introduce pizzas?” I’m not. It’s gone full circle now: people aren’t interested in chains, they’re interested in traditional restaurants. Good food, good service, at a good price. No bullshit.
5. We are from close to Parma, in the north of Italy. We used to spend all summer there, with the grandparents. There’s a specific area called Borgo Val di Taro which is known for having the best porcini mushrooms in the world. In the season, people talk about mushrooms from the beginning of the morning, to the night. All day long, talking about mushrooms, drying mushrooms, preparing mushrooms, eating mushrooms.
6. I am the maintenance man, the cleaner, human resources, accounts. I’m the sommelier. I do everything basically. I choose the wine. And I drink a lot of the wine. That’s one of my favourite bits of the job.
7. Everything on the menu is stuff that I like. If I don’t like it, it’s not on the menu. Apart from one thing: liver. It’s hugely popular with my customers, but I can’t stand it.
8. Almost all the produce we use is Italian. We use very good ingredients: fresh lobsters, fresh fish, extra virgin olive oil. I could increase my profits by buying cheaper stuff, but I just won’t. I’d rather not do it.
9. We’re quite a small restaurant. In large restaurants, if you ask for a bottle of wine, they might write it down, go to a computer, type it in, that goes to the bar, the barman gets the bottle of wine and puts it on the side, then the waiter has to go and get it and bring it to the table. That can take 15 minutes. Here, you’ll give me the order, I’ll go to the bar, I’ll get it and come straight back with it. That’s it. I think that’s appreciated.
10. We don’t give you a limited time slot, unless you book at the very last minute and I know I’m going to need the table back. Otherwise, I don’t think it’s fair. Kicking people off a table is just wrong—it’s against my principles of what dining out should be.
11. One street down there’s another restaurant very similar to ourselves, a traditional Italian restaurant that’s been there maybe even longer than us. We’re on very good terms: if I run out of something, we get it from them, or if I’m busy I’ll send them customers and vice versa.
12. Our spaghetti bolognese is great. We’ve got one guy who’s been chief exec of several big companies, so he’s been around, and he swears it’s the best spaghetti bolognese in the whole of England.