A bright, inquisitive spirit lies behind the opening of Datsha Underground, “an eclectic establishment where people get together to share a unique culinary and sensory experience”. Alexandre Rapoud has turned one of his many ideas into the main working residence of the talented chef Alexia Duchêne. Whereas the establishment’s name is inspired by traditional Russian holiday homes, his own is designed to be eclectic, as defined by Balzac in the 1839 work ‘Fille Ève’. At 57 Rue des Gravilliers, you will find not only a restaurant offering an adventurous tasting menu. But also a choice of dishes from the excellent Banya menu, on the first floor, and soon a “cosmic” bar, the underground Spootnik, where the entrepreneur, fascinated by space, promises us an immersive experience to the sound of the Distrikt Paris collective. A place to eat and drink, and above all a place full of life, Datsha Underground is an ambitious project involving many people that Alexandre and Alexia hold dear. Friends and members of the family, artists, sous-chef, pastry chef… each has a story linking them to one of the two cheerful ‘bosses’. A cohesion that can be felt in the dishes served, with a masterful if daring association of flavours, and also in the decor where both noble and raw materials are enhanced by carefully chosen music playlists. Datsha Underground; it’s all or nothing. Its story is only just beginning, and promises to be as surprising as it is deliciously imperfect. Just what we needed to feed our imagination.
Datsha Underground, 57 Rue des Gravilliers, 75003 PARIS. Open Monday – Friday, from 7pm to 11pm. Reservations: by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or online at www.datshaunderground.com
Alexia, Alexandre, can you introduce yourselves, please?
Alexandre Rapoud, I’m 27, and I’m the owner and founder of the restaurant Datsha Underground.
Alexia Duchêne, I’m 24 years old, I’m the chef at Datsha Underground.
How did you meet? Why did you decide to set up a restaurant together?
One night with a full moon! I got Alexia’s contact details before Top Chef Season 10 aired. I was looking for a chef, someone young, talented, ambitious and capable of handling the restaurant in the “maison éclectique” – the “eclectic house” – I’d been dreaming about. Alexia impressed me immediately. When I met her, I knew immediately that she – and no one else – could personify this place. I decided to give her a completely free hand.
After that famous phone call and two or three meetings, there was a real connection between us. I felt as if we were speaking the same language and had the same vision. Datsha Underground is, above all, a human adventure. For me, for this first project, it was essential to be with someone who would let me express myself.
How did your family environment and your education, foster your interest in the world of gourmet food?
My family and I have always taken an interest in our regional wines and local products. I grew up between Paris and the Basque country. Originally, it was my ambition to create a sharing cuisine in the form of small plates. Offering a tasting menu like this is more than I could ever have hoped for!
I’m Parisian, but also half English on my mother’s side. I grew up in a very eclectic family. My grandfather was Italian-Syrian, my grandmother was English, and my mother grew up in Cairo and then in Athens. I’ve been exposed to different cultures since I was very young. I didn’t really grow up with Sunday chicken dinners! We made vine leaves, Egyptian rice and chicken livers. I was already quite involved in the kitchen, and I think it was this shared experience with my parents that propelled me into this job!
Alexia, how do you express your dual nationality in your dishes, your management style and your general outlook on life?
My dual nationality is transmitted subtly on the plate. I don’t think that people taste my cooking and say “it’s clearly Franco-English”. It’s more that I don’t put up any barriers, I draw on lots of different cultures. My way of cooking is very uncomplicated, without fear of judgment. In management terms, I think I have a very Anglo-Saxon approach, I like to do everything I can to improve my team’s working environment so that they give 1000% of themselves to their work. I give a lot to get something in return!
Who did you gather around you for the opening of Datsha Underground?
My family, François and Christine to whom I owe a lot, and people I hold in high esteem, Sveto (my architect), and Patrice for the structural work. And then there’s Alex as director, Alexia for the restaurant, my sister Pauline and John Lenoir for the audiophile and mixology bar, my friends Traumer and DJ Deep, Mandana for the sounds in the restaurant and finally my collective Distrikt Paris for the audio aspect of the bar.
The first person I brought into the kitchen was Joao, my sous-chef, with whom I had already worked at Passerini. For me, it was essential to have a trusted right-hand man who has the same perception of management and cuisine as I do. Next came Stan, my pastry chef, I’ve known him since I worked in London. And then I recruited two people on Instagram, Paul and Martin, and I have to say I’m over the moon. I really feel I have a team and we’re all facingin the same direction. It feels great!
Why the name?
Balzac said: “Paris is the only place in the world where there are these eclectic houses where all tastes, all vices, all opinions are received with a decent stake”, and in the light of this quote, Datsha made sense. And “datchas” are also Russian second homes. Underground is more for the underground part which will be born very soon with the Spootnik Bar. So it’s going to be an eclectic house full of surprises.
How did you find this location and this restaurant with its unusual interior architecture?
Xavier, an estate agent and a close friend of my father found us this unique location. As far as the architecture is concerned, we rethought, and custom-built everything with my architect Sveto. I owe him a lot.
How did it contribute to the atmosphere you wanted to create?
Datsha Underground will be open 7/7 but in different forms. The restaurant will be open from Monday to Friday in the evening with two offers; the tasting menu at 80 euros on the ground floor and Banya, à la carte on the first floor. The playlists (mainly hip hop, funk, jazz, 80′ & 90′) will be created by Cyril (DJ Deep), Romain (Traumer) and Mandana, and they’ve pushed the boundaries beyond what they’re known for. Spootnik, the cocktail bar for audiophiles will be open from Wednesday to Sunday and will be in the basement. You’ll be able to taste seasonal cocktails created by John Lenoir and Pauline Rapoud. A selection of music will be played from 18:00 to 22:00, and then there will be DJ sets every evening from 22:00 to 02:00. Electronic music all its forms will be in the spotlight, and my collective Distrikt Paris will have a very important place! And, being an eclectic house, I’ll also certainly be open to other programmes. Welcome to a heavenly world!
What sort of food does your restaurant offer?
The restaurant is divided in two. There’s the six-course tasting menu on the ground floor with a view of the kitchen. Upstairs we have a more convivial atmosphere with sharing plates. We renew both these menus every month and potentially make changes due to a particular arrival or a special request.
Which products have you been especially proud of introducing to your customers and which have they fallen in love with?
I really like to introduce customers to different combinations such as beetroot, dill and rice desserts. Or re-working porridge, which doesn’t necessarily have a good reputation as a garnish with lamb.
Which combination of tastes has surprised you the most lately?
Watercress, rhubarb! This is the new pre-dessert in the February tasting menu. The peppery side of the watercress works superbly with the acidity and sweetness of the rhubarb.
Scallops, horseradish, raw cream and smoked chives is a favourite.
What new horizons you would like to explore in the kitchen in the near future?
I really want to get down to the essentials and still retain my central themes, which are acidity and sauces. But to try and push things further, and not rest on our laurels!
And finally, what would be your dream experience in food terms?
I dream of going to Mexico to explore the culture. It fascinates me, and I’d like to draw inspiration from there for the restaurant. Food is a fantastic way of re-creating the emotions we felt on our travels!
Photography: Valerio Geraci – Text: Caroline Balvay @thesocialitefamily