"The planets have aligned," says Aurora Storari, a young pastry chef from Rome who moved to Paris shortly before the pandemic. Through fits and starts, she has forged ahead in her professional journey, positioning herself today among the most promising figures alongside Flavio Lucarini, a talented chef with whom Aurora shares much more than a professional adventure. While one is a pastry chef and the other a chef, they form the couple leading a new restaurant in the seventh arrondissement, close to the Assemblée Nationale and Palais Bourbon. The name "Hemicycle" refers to the semi-circular chamber where debates are held. Physically close but distinct in spirit: "Here at the restaurant, there is our vision," say the two. And thankfully so.
The new restaurant: Hemicycle
A brand-new establishment, part of Stéphane Manigold's Éclore group (the entrepreneur behind Braise, Substance, Contraste, Liquide, Michel Rostang, Bistrot Flaubert, Granite — all top-tier establishments) occupies a historic space. Over the years, it was once operated by Dominique and Bernard Loiseau and earned a reputation as a meeting place for political figures. However, for the past couple of months, it has reopened shedding some old habits to embark on a new season that has already sparked significant interest beyond the borders, so much so that they have already been included in the Michelin selection, not the only Italians: last year, Martino Ruggieri earned a Michelin star, and the year before, another couple did: Alessandra Del Favero and Oliver Piras.
Thanks to the talent and personalities of the team leading this project, mostly young Italians and 80% Roman natives, the credit goes to their abilities. However, it's important to note: "It's not an Italian restaurant," with no typical dishes, more or less revisited, and no references to the Peninsula. Moreover, both of them have a path that's not particularly Italian but rather highly personal, even though, of course, "there's an Italian palate." Flavio, in Paris for eight years, previously worked at Passerini and then as a sous chef at Le Gabrielle before landing at Bistrot Flaubert, where Aurora also worked during a break from Le Clarence. She was there until she began contemplating her own project for pastry, something akin to the German dessert restaurant Coda. This project will eventually integrate into Hemicycle.
Three Italian floors in the heart of Paris
Three floors with different independent areas that will gradually come to life. Hemicycle marks the group's arrival on the Left Bank with an incredible project: a restaurant on the ground floor, a wine room and dessert bar on the first, and a cocktail bar on the top floor. With about thirty covers in the dining room and at the small chef's table, the restaurant is the first area opened—elegant, with neutral tones and vibrant materials (alongside a nod to Roman travertine). It's a sophisticated and understated space, with a very clean design and meticulously planned lighting.
An elegant abode for a group of daring and enthusiastic young individuals, whom some have already dubbed as punk chic. Despite the framework of fine dining, they aim to break the aesthetic and gustatory codes of haute cuisine by firmly pressing — and strongly — on the accelerator. They do so coherently, starting with their hospitality: the service, friendly and never stiff, is an expression of what they call "an Italian sense of hospitality and welcome" projected into a typical French gastronomic setting. Yet, without embracing all the unwritten rules, notably in their food offerings—something not so common in Paris anymore—they accompany tasting menus with à la carte options.
What's on the menu at Hemicycle?
Structured with entrées, inter-courses, and main courses, the menu includes an item that's a free space, halfway between appetisers and main dishes—hinting at the typical Italian progression—with offerings that may be present today and who knows tomorrow. Sometimes, they play with Italian tradition, like a raviolo that resembles more of a gyoza than a typical Italian pasta or a rice dish that's just a distant relative of risotto. There are numerous vegetable options that "aren't necessarily vegetarian" because the stances here are of a gastronomic nature: "Today, I believe it's more interesting to work with vegetables." Mushroom dishes are already signature items, and then there are the cheeses that transform from the classic end-of-meal selection into a crafted dish, Aurora's territory, effortlessly moving between sweet and savoury, always with a highly personal vision. Audacity is the common thread throughout the meal, from the first bites to the petits fours: "No comfort zone, from the mise en place onwards: as soon as we feel comfortable, we change." Armed with an awareness of their own abilities, techniques, and ideas. The work on sauces, on cooking methods, forms the basis of a solid gastronomic identity unafraid to take risks. "My vision of pastry might be intimidating, perhaps. I use any ingredient—seaweed, vegetables, celeriac, miso. I know it has to sell, but I believe in my pastry. It's a choice of conscience and courage."
Tailor-made tastings and the choice of ingredients
While there's a lunch menu during the day priced at 49 euros (quite good for the seventh arrondissement), in the evening, guests choose from three tasting menus: a 4-course option, essentially an à la carte formula, 6 or 8 courses (priced at 85, 105, and 125 euros respectively) named after the consular roads, emblematic of the journey that brought them from Rome to Hemicycle. However, the menus are practically customised for each table, a challenging but bespoke formula ensuring a service tailored to each guest and optimisation of the ingredients. "This way," Flavio explains, "it's easier to rotate ingredients and tailor the menu based on guests' preferences or allergies, as well as the ingredient availability." The bespoke and dynamic offering is, in fact, a tool serving a market-driven cuisine that seeks the best products processed at the right moment—not the most luxurious, but the tastiest: "We believe that in 2023, one can focus on other things. It's not a spoonful of caviar that makes a place luxurious, but everything else."
It all starts with a meticulous process of supplier selection that began well before opening, aiming to avoid the usual well-known names because "if a product is good, you can find it anywhere and it's not as exclusive anymore." Hence, there's the farmer for heirloom vegetables and aromatic herbs, and the farm supplying the cream used for butter: "We process almost all the products ourselves to make them unique," a choice shared among the kitchen, pastry section, and sommelier for alcohol-free pairings, based on cordials, fermentations, extractions, infusions, clarifications, all prepared in-house. Leading the wine list and all beverages is Giacomo Gironi, possessing both expertise and a charismatic personality. He's the one who curated the wine cellar, which now boasts around 500 selections, half of what will, at full capacity, be available to customers.
The rest of the project
While we wait for the coming months for the full implementation of the entire project, when the restaurant will be up and running, starting from December 12, the dessert bar on the first floor will begin to welcome guests at its counter for the meal's sweet ending. As of today, the adjacent wine room—effectively a private room within the cellar—is available for pre-dinner or after-dinner drinks for restaurant patrons. The 4.9 cocktail bar on the second floor, a speakeasy whose name refers to an article of the constitution that fast-tracks the approval of a law without debate, is also open. Translated, it could mean "no fuss, drink what we say." Doesn't that sound intriguing enough?
Hemicycle - Francia - Parigi - 5 rue de Bourgogne - +33 0140629804 - www.hemicycle.paris/gallery/
Cover photo: Thomas Dhellemmes