In 2014, the following announcement appeared in The Argus:
The announcement is deceptively bland. It gives very little clue to the life of this charismatic man, chanteur and chef/owner of the Laughing Onion Restaurant in Kemp Town.
If you read no further, watch Stephen Matthew’s wonderful short video about Jean-Jacques
Jean-Jacques looked every bit the French pin-up ‘boy’ of the time and spent 18 months in the early 1960s performing in Britain.
Jean-Jacques was of the same age and style as Sasha Distel but preceded Distal as a French heartthrob in England by at least 10 years. However, J-J never enjoyed the television and recording success of Distel. Yet his manner was distinctly and seductively Gallic:
Jean-Jacques toured the world before returning to England in 1967 where he made a good living for several years, touring clubs and other intimate venues. He was often to be found performing on the same bill as such luminaries of the time as Vince Hill (Burnley Casino Club), Hughie Green (Wythenshaw Golden Garter Club), Eve Boswell (Southport Casino) and Ted Ray (Manchester Palace). Occasionally, as in this advert from the Coventry Evening Telegraph in 1966, he was the headline act.
But by 1973, engagements seem to have dried up. He no longer had an agent and was advertising himself for ‘gigs’ in the trade paper, The Stage.
Then perhaps inspiration struck. In 1976 he opened a restaurant, The Laughing Onion, at 30 Ship Street, Brighton. He was to be chef and main singing attraction, although he also hired other musicians to entertain his diners whilst he juggled the pots and pans in the kitchen.
Soon the little restaurant moved to 80 St George’s Road where is flourished for many years. At the start of the 21st century, opening hours began to reduce. J-J would perform only on a Saturday. The Gallic charm had become perhaps a little dated.
Writing in The Argus in 2002, Louise Ramsay describes J-J as he was in later life. The restaurant is crowed, the deserts have been served, much wine has been poured and drunk, but where is the star turn?
In 2002 J-J was 70 years old… and still passionate.
The restaurant closed definitively in 2006. J-J had devoted his life to entertaining his public. Brighton had been the last beneficiary of his talents.
Footnote: Brighton is fortunate to have a successor to Jean-Jacques Jordane. Visit Jane Bombane’s tiny restaurant at 24 George Street, Hove – you will be in for a treat … and probably a surprise.