From the Casa Pepe Book of Spanish Cooking
I have a copy of this 1957 book, signed by the author. When I searched the Web for more information I found nothing about the author or his various London restaurants. So here is a chapter from the book as a contribution to history on the Web.
Joseph Solsona (Pepe is a nickname) was born on the 28th December 1902 in Bell-lloch, a small village in the province of Lerida in north-west Catalonia, which is in turn in the north-east corner of Spain. His parents were small farmers and, with a family of six, could not afford more than a rudimentary education for Pepe, the youngest. At the age of nine he became apprenticed to the Hotel España in the town of Lerida and worked there, in the kitchens, for three years. In 1914, at the age of twelve, he moved, still as an apprentice, to the old Hotel Colon, Barcelona, and at the age of fifteen finished his apprenticeship and became a rotiseur at the Ecuestre Club, Barcelona, where he stayed for three years before joining the Spanish Navy for his compulsory service. During his three years in the navy as an officers' cook he cooked for both King Alphonso XIII and Colonel (later General) Franco. After leaving the navy, at the end of his compulsory service, he spent a year at the Hotel Majestic Inglaterra, Barcelona, before going as the chef to a new hotel in Rosas, where he met, and became unofficially engaged to, his future wife. After a short period back at the Majestic he came to England in 1926 and worked as a head cook at the Martinez restaurant in Swallow Street-remember he was still only twenty-four years old! In 1928 he returned to Spain, married and brought his wife back to England and continued to work at the Martinez.
In 1931 he joined another Spaniard to open the Barcelona restaurant in Beak Street. In 1932 his only child, a daughter, was born, and in 1933 he branched out on his own and opened the "Spanish Garden Club" in Leicester Square. But neither he nor his wife were happy, as there was so little scope to indulge in cuisine and so, in 1936, they opened the "España" restaurant in Wardour Street.
By the time the war broke out this little restaurant had built up a considerable clientèle, but on the evening of the 12th October 1940 all the results of their hard work were shattered by enemy bombers. Miraculously, none of the customers, who were packed into the restaurant, received even a scratch, and by the 15th February 1942 Pepe had found, furnished and opened new premises in Dean Street, which he called "Casa Pepe". This new restaurant went from success to success, and in January 1950 Pepe and his wife opened another "Casa Pepe" in Fulham Road, Kensington. In February 1955 the basement of the Kensington restaurant was re-decorated and opened as "La Taberna", where there is now a continuous cabaret of both Spanish and English artistes.
Despite his unceasing hard work, Pepe's vitality is as great as ever and his popularity and charm appear to be never-ending. Never was it truer to say that: "From little acorns big oaks grow."