Tondo’s turning point in Paris

The young Sardinian chef took over an emblematic bistronomie restaurant and increased the ambition in his cuisine

05-05-2017

The entrance to restaurant Tondo in Rue de Cotte 29 in Paris. Sardinian chef Simone Tondo opened it on the 11th June 2016, in the same location of Petter Nilsson’s Gazzetta, the pioneer of Parisian bistronomie with Iñaki Aizpitarte

Paris, 2006. Chateubriand on the 11th arrondissment and La Gazzetta on the 12th open only a few weeks apart. Iñaki Aizpitarte and Petter Nilsson, a Basque chef and a Swedish one, open the season of the bistronomie, a tornado of freshness arriving on the global capital of fine dining and of hyper-super-noble tables.

These places simplify service to a minimum, remove any pompous ritual and cancel the allure separating chef from client. They serve dishes free of ploys, rather elementary constructions with daring and sometimes brilliant combinations. There’s a large use of seasonal vegetables and tasting menus, a trick which, by eliminating the à la carte list, helps to empty the fridge, keep prices low and thus create a young, curious and faithful clientele. A generation that will feed the fire of this small revolution.

Soon (or rather soon), the first epigones of Iñaki and Petter arrive: Sven Chartier (Saturne), Bertrand Grebaut (Septime), Grégory Marchand (Frenchie), American Daniel Rose (Spring), Stéphane Jégo (L’Ami Jeane), Italians Giovanni Passerini (Rino) first and Simone Tondo (Roseval) later.

A photo from 2011 snatched from the Guardian with the leaders of Parisian bistronomie: left to right, Gregory Marchand, Iñaki Aizpitarte, Daniel Rose, Giovanni Passerini and Stéphane Jégo. (copyright Denis Rouvre/The Guardian)

A photo from 2011 snatched from the Guardian with the leaders of Parisian bistronomie: left to right, Gregory Marchand, Iñaki Aizpitarte, Daniel Rose, Giovanni Passerini and Stéphane Jégo. (copyright Denis Rouvre/The Guardian)

Ten years later, we cannot speak of a crisis for the bistronomie format because Paris is still a city where, more than anywhere else in the world, you can dine well without spending a fortune. Yet the sparkling and fertile initial anarchy has evaporated a little, broken into many restaurants that have given a too free and cunning interpretation of the original score (this doesn’t apply to A Mére, Le Servan or Virtus, the most promising new-borns).

Meanwhile Aizpitarte has partly lost his way (his restaurant, 11th in the 2011 50Best is now 93rd), Nilsson is back in Stockholm (Spritmuseum), Rose in New York (Le Coucou) and Chartier, Grebaut and Marchand have acquired a more business-like approach, opening second and even third restaurants (Clown Bar or Clamato are the most successful ones).

As for the Italian division of the movement, we’ve already written of the beautiful conversion of Giovanni Passerini into neo-osteria. In this case we’re speaking of the new adventure of his ex-pupil Simone Tondo, a chef who stood out in the three years (2012-2015) at bistronomic Roseval. On the 11th of June 2016, after a long research, the Sardinian 29-year-old took over Petter Nilsson’s Gazzetta in Rue de Cotte and named it after him, Tondo. The choice is an implicit acknowledgement of filiation as well as a way to detach the umbilical cordon of bistronomie and look for new challenges.

«In 2008», Tondo recalls, «I was doing an internship with Cracco in Milan. I read an article about Gazzetta in Gambero Rosso and decided I wanted to learn from this gentle chef who blended north and Mediterranean with elegance and no frills. I had already been admiring him since the days of Les Trois Salon in Uzès [Paolo Marchi wrote about it in  2005]. I still recall a dessert we used to make at Gazzetta: Gelato with milk, cucumber and fried fish skin. But also the Tortelli with crab broth and marjoram. He could make all sorts of things. We had plenty of clients. And they were thrilled». Please note: the price for lunch was 16.50 euros and in the evening there were two tasting menus for only 38 and 49 euros. An insult to the multi-starred temples of those days.

Simone Tondo with dining room director Stephanie Crockford

Simone Tondo with dining room director Stephanie Crockford

«When one year ago they offered me to take over the old Gazzetta I didn’t hesitate at all. Out of romanticism, obviously. But most of all because, what with its spaces and elegance, it’s still one of the most beautiful restaurants in town». The time had come to change format, both with reference to Petter’s Gazzetta and the previous experience in Ménilmontant: «Of course I couldn’t cook Soups of smoked potatoes with caper leaves and scampi for ever [the signature dish at Roseval]. I wanted to build something sounder and more ambitious. I wanted to grow».

Tondo seats less people than Gazzetta but twice as many as Roseval. Contrary to Passerini, his concept is much more gastro than bistro: tablecloths are back, there’s nice cutlery and flowers stand out from large vases. In the dining room, there’s no longer the slap-on-the-shoulder yeah-yeah staff there used to be, but discreet Stephanie Crockford, previously at Fera at Claridge’s and Brasserie Blanc, a giant when it comes to set the rhythm of the service with a smile, helped by Danish-Japanese sommelier Jos Kjer, ex Chateubriand.

However, the staff in the kitchen still shows the Gazzettan mark: with Tondo there are only 3 people cooking (including quick Matteo Testa, son of song-writer Gianmaria): «It’s expensive to train cooks in France», complains the chef, «if I could have some interns like in Italy it would be much simpler». Like in the days with Nilsson, the format still has accessible prices: 25 euros per lunch (for 3 entrées and a main course) and a tasting menu in the evening for 60 euros and 7 courses. He’s gradually introducing a menu, a bit of a violence for a bistronomic-tasting-menu character like him: «People have changed their taste, compared to 10 years ago: today many want to choose what to eat». It’s no longer time for chefs imposing themselves with a white foulard and a red face.

Pumpkin, mandarin and sea urchins by Simone Tondo

Pumpkin, mandarin and sea urchins by Simone Tondo

These days people go to Tondo for a generous cuisine based on products and market availability, which translates into more thought-of dishes, tidier in their building. Sound techniques that come from Italy but without any territorial dead weights as they’re free to draw from southern Mediterranean, northern Europe or Japan. The format always begins with a trio of entrées: a warm welcome (broth), a fried dish (ethereal mushroom tempura) and a fresh product, either cooked or raw (the Sheep’s milk ricotta smoked in hay with zabaglione with vinegar, spinach purée and garlic flowers was spectacular).

Then come the main courses with meat (Pigeon, rhubarb and beetroot, with the bird cooked traditionally, French-style, with no ovens or vacuum) and fish (Turbot with pil pil peas). Perfect cooking and a very personal complexity of flavours and structure. Desserts follow: the first that usually resets the palate (Rice with tapioca milk and vanilla, coffee and vinegar) and the more luscious for last (Chocolate cake with hazelnuts). The menu ends with a choux pastry. The best farewell as it forces you to come back. 


Sections

Zanattamente buono

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