A Roseval in Italy? Impossible

A Sardinian chef, a trendy bistro in Paris and the cultural dining differences between Italians and French

Sardinian chef Simone Tondo, 26, in the kitchen of

Sardinian chef Simone Tondo, 26, in the kitchen of his Roseval, a successful bistro in Paris, in Ménilmontant, opened 2 and a half years ago. During a long chat, we tried to understand whether the format can be replicated in Italy. The answer is no, for many reasons

This post is not to restate how good the food and the atmosphere at Roseval in Paris are. Literature and awards have been overflowing for a long time, in Italy and abroad. Nor will we try to understand what has happened since chef Simone Tondo took over his ex-partner Greenwold a few weeks ago. Now he owns the whole place.

We would rather want to understand why a bistro with such a success is located on French ground and not Italian. If this format is truly impossible to replicate South of the Alps. And, if not, why so. «To tell the truth, I cannot give a thorough answer, I never tried to open something in Italy», the 26-year old Sardinian tells us on a sunny morning, walking around Ménilmontant, his chosen neighbourhood in the 20th arrondissment. Once a village, now a suburb. Less and less popular, increasingly bourgeois.

What do you remember of the early days at Roseval?
I was 23 and a half. 250K euros were necessary. My ex-partner and I together put 50K. My father helped me out for my part. Banks granted us most of the money. We have 7 years to pay off this debt. If we will not do so, there will be increases.

Would this have been possible in Italy?
I do not have any evidence, you should ask my colleagues. I have a feeling that they wouldn’t have even allowed me to speak. Banks suffer the crisis. There’s no trust, least of all in the restaurant industry.

Roseval’s dining room can hold 30 guests maximum, very close to each other. The menu includes 6 courses for 45 euros. Bottles are often shared between tables

Roseval’s dining room can hold 30 guests maximum, very close to each other. The menu includes 6 courses for 45 euros. Bottles are often shared between tables

Do you pay high taxes in France?
I was discussing this with my colleague Cesare Battisti of Ratanà. It’s not that here in France taxes have a smaller bearing than in Italy. You basically need to work hard to pay them but I don’t back out from this task. Besides, of course I do not have the pressure of a gourmet restaurant, I don’t have to manage great expenses and great budgets.

How do you manage your costs?
The set menu format is of great help, with 6 courses for 45 euros. Every day I know I need to spend a certain amount of money to buy 6 kilos of fish and 6 of meat. The fridge management is rather constant and there are no wastes: by Friday night I must have cooked and used everything. It’s a question of maths: if one night I have 30 reservations, I know I will need to buy 15 pigeons, 1 kg of beef for the carpaccio entrée, a certain amount of king crab. And perhaps I will have to play with vegetables or include a pasta or risotto dish to remain under my margin.

How about serving small portions?
No, that is a mistake: the dimensions always need to be acceptable because a bistro is something in between an Italian osteria and a gourmet restaurant. I cannot and do not want to serve tiny portions.

In Italy, bistros that only have a set menu are very rare.
Because in Italy there’s no desire to listen to and share. Clients, after all, are little interested in exchanging words with the chef. In getting to know him, understanding what and why he cooks that dish. They’re the same people who visit the Louvre only for the Mona Lisa. Were they able to, they’d even change films’ endings in a cinema.

Mackerel with currants and raspberries, a small masterpiece currently in the menu. Moderate fatness, acidity, roundness

Mackerel with currants and raspberries, a small masterpiece currently in the menu. Moderate fatness, acidity, roundness

The other night, at your restaurant, there were some small children at the table. Is it frequent?
Yes, this is another huge difference: in France, there are often children aged even 2 or 3 at the table, something almost unthinkable in Italy. In Paris, dads and mums tempt children to taste even liver or fish monk. On the contrary, I only remember pasta with tomato sauce as a child. Food education needs to be promoted in the restaurant right from the start, not after post-graduate masters with impossible-to-pay fees. Restaurateurs, over here, know this well. This is why they give up on a few extra euros to make more space for babies. Babies who, as adults, will be informed and regular clients.

In Italia we have pizzerias, is it a good or a bad thing?
Pizzerias relegated restaurants to the edge. How many offer a truly good pizza? One in a thousand. In Macomer, where I was born, there’s a million pizzerias and only one restaurant. In Alghero there’s been only one establishment with a Michelin star for many years, Andreini. Now the chef has moved to Russia, everybody suddenly misses him.

At Roseval you’re all very young.
Clement, the dining room manager, is 27 and Danish sommelier Martin is 24. I receive many CVs from Italian young people and this makes me very happy. After all, why shouldn’t they take some responsibilities right from the start? Who says one needs to wait for decades, sweating in gigantic teams, one internship after the other? In many cases it must be a very good training but internships are often an excuse not to pay young people. And they generally produce chefs with little character, robots without a personal vision.

We were struck by the minimal distance between guests and the fact that the same bottle was casually passing from one table to the other.
Once again, it’s a question of sharing. In Italy going to the restaurant is very often a way of showing off one’s social status: what you order is only yours, only you can afford it, there’s no way you’re going to divide the same bottle. It’s a property-anxiety, the same that happens when you fight for a sun umbrella on the beach or people kill each other for a parking place. French people are more calm. And they share.

Left, 27 year-old Clement Boutreux, dining room manager at Roseval and sommelier Martin Ho, 24

Left, 27 year-old Clement Boutreux, dining room manager at Roseval and sommelier Martin Ho, 24

Does this apply among chefs too?
Sure, for me it is essential. I always try to confront myself with colleagues, something that even the greatest chefs here have understood. I’m lucky enough to be a friend of Jean-François Piège, someone who has understood how fertile exchanges between generations can be. For sure, we young people make heaps of errors more than they do, but the exchange is always useful on both sides. I have a feeling that in Italy it’s more a question of castes. Impossible to reach, closed, something to look at with deference. Castes, however, never produce anything good.

During the service you often come out in the dining room, is this a choice?
It’s the nice thing about my job and also a duty, of course. I do so because my client always wants to see you and because I want to communicate what I do: like the hosts in Italian trattorias, I always try to bring and illustrate at least a dish to everyone. The place is small so it’s as if they were coming to my home. Before, I would spend more time in the dining room because there were two of us in the kitchen. Now I do it less.

Do you ever skip a service?
Only if I’m forced to. Making sure people will find you in the kitchen is a necessary form of respect. Even here, something less frequent in Italy than in France. After all, if I spend my money to go to a Rolling Stones concert and then Mick Jagger isn’t there, I’ll be very annoyed.


Zanattamente buono

Gabriele Zanatta’s opinion: on establishments, chefs and trends in Italy and the world