Romée, Pierre-Charles, Olivier, could you introduce yourselves, please?
We are three childhood friends (we’ve known each for 25 years!) who, ten years ago, decided to open the first cocktail bar “not within a hotel” in Paris. Ten years on, we operate several establishments from Paris to London via New York and Ibiza.
Where did you get the idea to found the Expérimental Group? What kind of places did you want to create through this plan?
We wanted to create proper cocktail bars inspired by what was going on in New York at the time. Quality spirits (giving customers a choice was practically unheard of at the time), rigorous measuring, smartly dressed staff, plus an eclectic atmosphere with DJS, etc. Our philosophy of hospitality built up from there. The idea behind it is to put our customers at the centre of the offering and not to think twice about shaking them up a bit by surprising them. The Expérimental Group is based on three basic pillars: the design, the offering itself (what you drink, what you eat, the way you are welcomed) and the music. Each of these elements must be surprising.
The flavours of Jerusalem have never been so popular. How is Le Balagan different?
We are probably the first restaurant with a full offering of Israeli-inspired cuisine with restaurateurs from Jerusalem itself (Assaf Granit and Uri Navon). This style of cuisine tends to be relegated to street food, in little places with a takeaway offering. The sort of thing you eat on a Sunday while you’re watching the TV or on the day after a party. We wanted to take it to the next level and offer it in stylish surroundings, in a proper restaurant, because this cuisine is breathtakingly rich. However, Balagan offers more than “simple” Israeli food, in a manner of speaking, it offers a cuisine of the Levant. Iranian spices, Iraki plants, Lebanese mixes, Palestinian breads, Syrian dishes, not forgetting nods towards Egypt. Everything there is blended and borrowed. In a nutshell: the whole Levant is at Balagan!
Tell us about how you met and your association with the famous chefs Assaf Granit and Uri Navon. Why them specifically?
We only work on gut feeling. We loved Barbary and Palomar, their London restaurants and as they used to drop in for a drink (or several!) at the end of service in one of our establishments, we launched right in and asked them “would you like to open a restaurant in Paris? “. They said “yes”, on one condition, that we should come to Israel to get a true understanding of their cuisine and their history.
At the Balagan, you can dine just a few centimetres from the ovens and be served by the chefs directly.
What are Le Balagan’s signature dishes? Which are the most popular?
All of them! The deconstructed kebabs, the Moroccan-style oysters, the breads, the sweetbreads, etc.
Dorothé, how did you get a hold on this place, on the ground floor of the Renaissance hotel?
We (the Expérimental Group and I) went to Israel a year ago with Assaf Granit and Uri Navon, to get an understanding of the roots of Israeli cuisine and to draw inspiration from it. We travelled across the country, attended conferences on the multicultural roots of the cuisine, visited the markets and, most of all, ate and drank a lot to make the most of this joyous, festive and unparalleled culture. So it was this spirit that I tried to reproduce at Balagan, that feeling of celebration when you eat together.
What were your inspirations in creating it? Who did you work with?
I reused some of the features I discovered over there: sky blue that draws you in and bids you “welcome”, geometric elements, brass suns as a reminder of the Mediterranean, traditional, natural, organic materials, like handmade ceramics, beaten earth, enamelled lava from the Auvergne, linen and cotton. But also a scenography that encourages sharing and conversation, facing the open kitchen where you can dine just a few centimetres from the ovens and be served by the chefs directly. I designed the benches in the restaurant, taking inspiration from those you often find in the Maghreb, Near and Middle East: a low structure in carved wood that rests on the floor with big cushions to sit on. The panelled design on the walls echoes the diamond shapes of the tops of the Jardin des Tuileries that you see in perspective at the end of Rue d’Alger, and the mirrors and the rounded niches of the bar echo the Rivoli arches.
What projects have you got in the pipeline?
Photography: Constance Gennari – Text: Caroline Balvay @thesocialitefamily