1883 Magazine

Most known in the U.K. as Cheryl Cole’s estranged ex-husband, Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini is moving away from this distant link to cement his name on the London restaurant scene. With CosyBox already under his sleeve, a series of pop-up restaurants that have secured a regular appearance at Cannes film festival, Fernandez-Versini moves on with his new business venture, Versini. The French restaurant will open in London following a series of pop ups in big cities around the world, a newer and trendier version of the CosyBox culinary pop up!

A passionate entrepreneur keen to make French restaurant’s ‘sexy’, we spoke to the charismatic Frenchman about Versini, taking over the world and the secret to finding the perfect restauranteur.

So, tell me about CosyBox, how did you come up with the concept?  

CosyBox was my first venture which we started 12 years ago. My partner and I wanted to create a hub and a meeting point for those in the film industry, for everyone from writers to actors. Now, I feel that we need to change, so we have decided to create Versini, a better version of CosyBox that is a little more elaborate. The concept is similar to a French restaurant but with an Italian twist, mixing in some concepts we found following our time in Venice.

Versini is your new venture, how does this differ to CosyBox?

CosyBox has an establishment in Cannes, certain clientele go there and mingle, it is a party scene with people coming from everywhere, like New York and L.A. Versini is more of a hub where we create something that is more selective and harder to get into, like a members’ club. Everybody in the movie industry can mingle and everything is more refined from the design to the food. We try to create a unique platform and location where people feel special.

You work with a lot of big brands, can you tell us more about this…

Following the film festival that has a fine clientele, we work closely with big brands where we serve their products, such as in Cannes, we work with the Bacardi Group and Grey Goose.

We have created menus that pair alcohol with our food, for example, Oysters are served with Grey Goose. In Venice, we work with Martini where we do the same thing and pair a Martini with Ceviche, another is a desert made from Martini. We try to create a platform for these brands and incorporate them into our business. This is why I moved from CosyBox to Versini because I wanted to try and be more high end.

This idea works well, we’ve partnered with big names in Cannes such as Grey Goose and NME.

How did studying Business at NY University help shape or give you the inspiration to go on and make these businesses?

A lot of people who work in the restaurant industry start because of their love of food or interest in restaurants, I began after studying finance and very quickly I started working behind the desk and I wasn’t so sure of this life. I like working with people, to be surrounded by people, I like to socialise. I like, when I come into my restaurants, to see my friends happy and having a good time, satisfied with their food and being sociable, these are the aspects that I enjoy about the restaurant business. I like the environment, the restaurant business for me is more like a social platform where I like to see everyone happy. Obviously, the bad world of finance makes me view the restaurant industry differently and I tend to run it from a slightly different angle. I consider what, if I walk into this restaurant, would I like versus what wouldn’t I like. The business side of it makes me a bit more of a negotiator.

A lot of your restaurants and pop ups are centred around late night partying, do you plan to combine this nightlife scene into Versini? 

No no, it’s very selfish what I am about to say right now, but I like to wake up early. When I was younger, at 23, I could stay up until 6 in the morning but now, at the end of the day, people come to a restaurant to enjoy the food and music. For me, I would rather have a restaurant with a good bottle of wine and some spirits and ensure people enjoy their meal and have my restaurants move away from the late-night scene.

What is unusual about about your concept in comparison to other exclusive fine dining restaurants?

It’s an entirely different structure. We are going to Cannes, we are doing Rome, Berlin and another in the U.S. before heading back to Cannes. We try to always have a different alcohol sponsor depending on the country. The first, Grey Goose which is a vodka we did in France, in Rome we did an Italian spirit. One feature we have in the restaurant is that we try to partner with the sponsor and do something nice for them. For example, we are also working with an amazing watch company this year called Zenith Zenith. I fell in love with the company, I have one and you feel like you are special and different from other people. This is why we are proud to have them on board, they are in line with our company. In Venice, we really explain to clients why they are special and about the brand. We try to bring on board the brand and make them part of the restaurant experience, something I have not found in other places. I think many fear that bringing the brand to the forefront of the business experience will cheapen it or worry it will fail, but not if it is done in an elegant way.

I read that you collaborate with artists and have some exhibitions also?

We did that very intensely with CosyBox, which was all about artists, we currently are not at the same point with Versini but we are getting there. We need to find artists who are on another level. We’ve been overwhelmed with work and locations for Versini, as we’ve been asked to do Venice, Rome and Berlin, so things change. But yes, supporting artists has always been something that we have done.

So Versini will not just be opening in London?

The London Versini will be opening, but sometimes in life things and plans change. After Cannes, the plan was to focus on London but we had such a success people said to me, why don’t you do Venice? So, I took a plane and went to Venice by myself, knocked on people’s doors, walked around the city and found this beautiful location and that was that, I decided we were going to do Venice! After the successful reactions to our pop up in Cannes we have Versini pop ups in big cities around the world over the next six months.

What makes Versini stand out from other French restaurants?

The difference in Versini in London against other French restaurants is that there are no other sexy French restaurants. Nowhere, not in London, New York, there are none. If you go to a French restaurant these days you expect amazing food, amazing wine, a funny accent from the waiters but you are expecting to be bored! You are not expecting to have fun, if you want to go to a restaurant to have fun you are never going to choose a French restaurant.

In my restaurant you have amazing music as I spent 10 years in New York listening to hip hop. We have avant-garde design which in my mind is close to Chanel and Tom Ford, something sexy. As a woman, you feel pretty in the restaurant and as a man you feel like you are in a movie, like James Bond. It is a combination of cool music and trendy design, nothing French, the only French aspects will be the food and restauranteur, everything else is international. As soon as you walk in and have the right combination of food, drink, design and music it’s a winner. A lot of different countries have done it perfectly, such as the Japanese with Nobu. The French have amazing restaurants with amazing food but I don’t go to a French restaurant and have fun.

What was the most challenging aspect to setting up your business?

Finding people that have the same motivation and love for what you are doing. Not the same inspiration, as different views on the same topic is important, I like people to be different from me. Finding hard working people who don’t look at their watch and who have a big vision. In every business, if you can have a team that are as motivated as you, that is amazing. Teamwork makes the dream work, right?

So, what’s your secret to finding the perfect chef?

You want to know the secret? Taste a lot of food! If my Grandmother was still alive I would take her, the best food I have ever had in my life was from her in the South of France. I am originally from Corsica so we are the perfect mix between Italian and French, food is amazingly rich with astounding flavours from Italy but products from France. My Grandmother was the best chef I have ever experienced 

Where do you see your business ventures moving in the next 10 years?  

We are going to take over the world, No? A little dream inside of me is that I always wanted a chain of French restaurants but in the way, I see French restaurants to be. We are starting with a pop up, which is amazing to test the water. Having a pop up is like having a restaurant, you build it up for 10 days and then destroy it. To set up a restaurant it can take 6-8 months but with a pop up you have a gap of one or two months, you understand how intense it can be. I would like to have five Versini restaurants all over the world in the right cities, but no more, as I would like to be able to jump from one city to another and to be there, I think it is important to be involved. We have a good formula, we need to adjust some details, but eventually we will get there!

For all the latest on Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini and his pop up restaurant concept head to www.versini.co.

Words by Miranda Bunnis

Photography Erica Bergsmeds


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