The clichés are enough to set you dreaming. One of the most ambitious hotel projects of recent years can be glimpsed beneath these...
Foodies rejoice! Restaurateur Micael Memmi and Denny Imbroisi, a tireless young chef whose reputation is already established, take us on a new journey with Epoca. A journey to dishes full of colour, where one talks with one’s hands, where the wine flows generously and one can enjoy “carcioffi alla giuda” (Jewish-style fried artichokes), “polpette al sugo” (meatballs with pecorino) and “gemelli alla boscalliola” (mushrooms with pine nuts). A mouthwatering menu with Italian cuisine taking centre stage. Delicious, traditional food with no unnecessary flourishes that offers an alternative to the classic pasta and pizzas. At Epoca, a modern trattoria with a thirties-style decor, its Émilie Bonaventure who orchestrated the look of the place. Carefully designed from the plates to the ceiling, she pays homage to the Belle Époque of our beloved Parisian bistros, blending velvet, marble, opaline and shimmering sunny colours. A winning formula for this new restaurant, located on the corner of Rue Oudinot and Rue Rousselet. Fully booked since it opened in late September.
Epoca : 17 rue Oudinot, 75007 Paris
Denny, Micael, can you tell us your story?
I fell into cooking very early on, when I was 14 years old. My father was himself a cook in a restaurant in Mantova. For me, it was obvious that this passion was the way to make a living. Two years after taking part in Top Chef, as a former sous-chef at the Jules Verne to Alain Ducasse and William Ledeuil, I started out on my own account, going back to my roots by reinterpreting Italian dishes to offer a unique, creative kind of cooking. Ida is my showcase, where I create my signature cuisine. The restaurant was completely refurbished this summer to emphasise its status as a gourmet venue. On the other hand, with Epoca, which has just opened in the same neighbourhood, the positioning is very different: traditional Italian cuisine with authentic recipes, the true taste of Italy made with fresh regional produce.
I got into cooking by the back door. I learned the job bit by bit, on the job and by watching what other restaurants did. In fact, when I went out to eat with friends, most of the time I wasn’t really with them: I was busy checking out the crockery, the decor, the menu, and so on. I spent my entire childhood in Tunisia until I finished high school. The only TV channel that existed at the time was RAI, Italian public TB. Therefore, I grew up with the language, the culture, and of course, the cuisine. I studied accounting so that I could start out in a job that had been planned for me through my family – dealing in grain. I went to the USA for a final semester. Once I had returned to Paris, in 1997, I decided to take a break from my role as a cereals trader to pursue a dream I had had since the age of 14: to open a restaurant. In September 1998, ZO opened its doors in the 8th arrondissement of Paris, behind the Elsysee Palace. It was a concept that blended two types of cuisines: Japanese and French with an Italian twist. In 2003, I worked with my best friend, Carrie Bruel, to launch an Italian fast food concept with an initial outlet that was just a few metres away from ZO.
Could you tell us about the concept for this restaurant and how it came about?
At the market on Avenue President Wilson, we met each other at Joel Thiebault’s stall, who is a star greengrocer. We quickly became firm friends. Lots of things bring us together. Our shared passion for cooking, and travel, particularly to Rome. Gradually, we quickly got to the point where we both wanted to work together on a project, something different.
Why did you choose the Epoca name?
Epoca is about discovering the history of Italian cuisine and with it, the story of Denny Imbroisi’s own roots. Epoca allows traditional Italian recipes to emerge, both from different regions and from times gone by.
Tell us about your cuisine – what features on your menu?
Authentic cuisine in generous portions with unique, comforting flavours. At Epoca, the signature dish on the menu is “Carciofi alla Giudia”, which is a Roman recipe with roses of fried artichokes with soft, melting hearts. “Spaghettoni Cacio e Pepe” (goat’s cheese and black pepper), “Pollo alla Diavola”, which is grilled chicken in a spicy, reduced jus, and “Gnocchi alla Sorrentina”, served with a sundried tomato and mozzarella sauce. The Docli are also irresistible. These include “Tiramisù Originale”, made to a family recipe, and “Gelato al Momento”, a seasonal flavour of gelato to share.
Why did you opt to work with Émilie Bonaventure?
In fact, in 2016, I spent a wonderful year moving between Paris and London. One day, wandering down a back street in Covent Garden, I came face-to-face with a newly-opened French restaurant, Frenchie. When I went inside, I was instantly attracted to the decor. Everything was perfect, and nothing was left to chance. I asked the manager for the name of the decorator: Émilie Bonaveture.
Emilie, how did you come up with the concept and the design for this project?
Denny and Micael’s brief was quite clear: they both wanted a warm, relaxed setting, with a bistrot feel, with some Italian references without going overboard with the trattoria cliche. When I visited the location for the first time, the precise image of what I wanted to do immediately came to my mind.
My challenge was to avoid breaking down the structure of the location while optimising it, both in terms of a working restaurant and the ergonomics.
Where did you find your inspiration?
The property was, in some respects, already firmly anchored in the traditions of Parisian bistros and the Art Deco period. I therefore wanted to retain this aspect while reusing and maximising the effect of the existing brass lighting, as well as the opaline bulbs – while adding an Italian touch by focusing on ochre, mustard and bronze tones. The choice of black marble for the bar was also consistent with the historic references. The same applies to the selection of the furniture, with a Thonet design for the chairs, another design that is inspired by Thonet with a twist, and velvet benches.
Which aspect are you most proud of, or what’s your favourite?
On this project, there were a lot of things like that. I love the pattern of the ceramic tile flooring, which is a key distinguishing factor for Epoca. However, I also like the striped wallpaper which, when combined with the mirrors, creates an effect of depth with a “cinemascope” view of the space.
How would you describe Epoca in a few words?
It's a warm, friendly, well-lit Italian bistro, chic but free from ostentation.
Photography and text: Eve Campestrini – Translation TextMaster @thesocialitefamily