It soon strikes us that there's a game to play in this Chelsea oyster bar and restaurant: count the Michelin Men. They really are everywhere.
It's not a quirk dreamt up by the proprietor; rather, Bibendum was the HQ for Michelin Tyres, as well as a stop-off destination for motorists. And what a stop-off it was:
Michelin House, as it was then, opened as the Michelin Tyre Company's headquarters in 1911. It also become perhaps the grandest place in the world in which motorists could get their tyres changed.
Around the outside of the building, and inside the lobby, tiles depict motor and cycle races from bygone eras.
Even though we're talking about turn of the century motorists, there are some familiar names.
In the mid 1980s, the building was snapped up by publisher Paul Hamlyn, and Terence Conran, who created an oyster bar downstairs, and a restaurant above it.
Bibendum, by the way is the proper name for the Michelin Man — one of the oldest trademarks anywhere.
Bibendum is honoured in the main restaurant upstairs, in these luxuriant stained glass windows. Luxuriant, not only, because this was essentially a tyre depot, but because he's toking a fat cigar while cycling (no hands):
Perhaps it's a metaphor for burning rubber. Two other stained glass windows up here punctuate the room — one where we think Bibendum's hula-hooping with a tyre (while puffing another cigar, natch):
And the other, in which he sloshes down what we assume is a kind of engine oil martini. 'Bibendum' is also Latin for 'drink'. Above our fat friend here, you can see the motto 'Nunc est bibendum' — now is the time to drink. Not ideal advertising for passing motorists, you wouldn't have thought — but then again, no-one would have to worry about those kind of laws until 1967.
Two other windows are etched with maps of the streets of Paris.
And there's (just about) every copy of the French Michelin tyre guide published:
Elsewhere, Bibendum pops up in figurine form, in front of the kitchen (giving you a great excuse to peer in, and see what all the swearing's about)...
...in pump form (hang on, is our caoutchouc chum getting squiffy on gas now?)...
...and in other little details scattered around the restaurant.
He's even referenced in the building's glass cupolas, which look very much like Bibendum's rubbery head:
Abundant with grandeur and and good food, Bibendum has hosted dinners for many a great; Alec Guinness, Lauren Bacall and Alan Bennett once sat down as a party of three. In March 2017, the restaurant reopened under French chef Claude Bosi, taking the name Claude Bosi at Bibendum.
Ironically perhaps, the restaurant has never had a Michelin star to its name. That's something which may well change; Bosi himself earned his first Michelin star when he was just 26, and now has his eyes on the prize here.
For the best deal, go for a lunchtime three-course set menu — £36.50.
Just don't come here too often, otherwise you'll end up ballooning like the restaurant's namesake.
Claude Bosi at Bibendum, 81 Fulham Road, SW3 6RD