Oui Madame! owners, Rosane Mazzer, Jerome Pigeon (r) and Stephane Femenia (l)
Oui Madame! seems to have risen out of the ashes of another east end hotspot in the noughties – how did that come about?
Rosane: Well I'm half Brazilian and half French. We used to have a Brazilian place for years called Favela Chic – two places actually. Shoreditch was the second phase of it, and from 1995 to 2005 in Paris. We got fed up with it in the end because it became too big, shareholders, too much money involved. It became all very boring, so we wanted to take it back and do something creative. We decided to sell our shares in 2011 and make a change which is like what we've done with Oui Madame!
Who's on team Oui Madame!?
R: There's three of us, Jerome, my partner in Favela Chic and Stephane who was a friend that we'd been working with at Favela Chic for 10 years, so it's all the Favela chic guys again, really. All the French!
What was the main idea behind Oui Madame!?
R: The idea was to have a cool, French spot. Not posh, more like an East Paris vibe. We like good wine, good food and good art so we thought let's bring all that together. I don't believe in this concept about writing down and specifically designing an idea, that's not us. We like things just to happen the way they do. Maybe in 30 years we'll see clearly what Oui Madame! Is! It's starting to take shape.
How did you decide what sort of food to cook?
R: At the beginning we had a Bordelais chef, which was quite traditional, good food. Then Marcelo, our new chef started to work with us. He's got a completely different story, with his background in fashion - aged 40 he decided to quit it as food really was his passion. And he does French food with a twist. We're really happy letting go and seeing which direction he's going to go in.
Why did you move from Shoreditch to Stoke Newington?
R: We really love the area. We've been really surprised by people coming by and saying “Thanks for organising a real quality place”. It's cool because it's also a really artistic area too.
Yeah, the place is covered in art works, where are they from?
R: The wall of clocks is a collection from Paris that we had already and the framed pictures come from a collaboration we're doing with the Hang Up gallery up the road, they're great. Stephane is the curator, so he's done most of the decoration with pieces he's brought from France.
They really help you give your own unique stamp to the restaurant.
Yes - Would you like some pinot noir?
Oh yes please.
It's really good. It makes us really happy.
With all the jazz nights and club nights downstairs, Oui Madame! is also becoming famous for its music too. Was that always the idea?
Jerome: Yes, always
R: We could not survive without music.
J: Back in Favela Chic, we released four compilations and the Seu Jorge's first record. We're party people. We want to keep the party going here.
I love that the mini club downstairs is so hidden away.
J: It's nice to have such a intimate space. In Paris and in Shoreditch, they were big clubs, sometimes 700 people on a Saturday night. It's good to have a place now for 40 or 50 people. My friend and I DJ downstairs.
Any other interesting club nights down there?
J: We have jazz every Thursday night, tonight on Thursday we have La Culotte, something that's a bit more groovy and psychedelic, not strictly jazz. We grab the best French guys when they come here to play.
It seems that perhaps people aren't going out clubbing as much and prefer to go out dining instead, so that mixture of restaurant and night spot works well for you guys.
J: Yes – the thing with us was this was a way for us to mix a kind of conviviality, so eating, drinking, dancing, kissing, whatever.
Rosane – you also spend your time working on a music festival in Brazil. How did that come about?
R: I was already like a godmother to a social project in a favela in Rio, in the Tijuca forest. There is very small community there, very isolated and the local leaders there are very strong and intelligent so they are pushing eco-tourism and gastronomy from the forest and things like that. So I would throw parties at Favela Chic. Then I met the guys that does lots of social engineering projects across the globe and now I curate some projects for them. We do a festival each year called Encantado to put this place on the map, as the area is forgotten. There's musicians like Matthieu Chedid from France and Seu Jorge from Brazil, some DJs. It's small, but we put together people from the Favelas and A-list people, which never happens. It's the third year of the project now.
What would you say is the signature dish here?
J: The rump steak with sauce is really unmissable
Stephane: And the confit of duck, too
R: We're about to launch a classic part of the menu, with the dishes that are sort of the “best of” from our first year being open. Because we change the menu every day with three different options, a different starter, main and dessert and now we'll keep six classics that people love the most. One thing that they love here is the confit. Which is a classic bistro thing. On the weekends what works really well is the classic steak frites. On Saturday and Sunday it works really well as it's really relaxed.
Anything on the menu that people haven't gone for?
J: Of course. You have to experiment, we change everything every day, that's the point of the new menu. Sometimes we try something and it doesn't work. It happens. We're changing things now as we're going to keep the set menu at the weekend but we also want some more affordable prices for the classic six a la carte dishes.
S; They're all going to be between £11 and £15
J: During the weekend, if you want to party or celebrate your birthday or something, the set menu is good. But on a Tuesday night if you want a main and a glass of wine, we want it to be affordable.
R: The idea is you can spend £25 on a good dinner and some wine in total then.
You all seem a really tight family working here – and you're all French. Was that the idea to keep it super authentic or has it just worked out that way?
J: No, all the team that started the project were all French, but all the new people who are working with us.
R: We don't want any more French people, haha!
J: We've got Danish, Austrian and British now. It's good.
You're launching a French classic – the Croque Monsieur – onto the menu now, how come?
R: Croque Monsiuers make everyone happy.
I guess it's the equivalent of a cheese toastie in Britain. Everyone loves them.
S: Oh yeah, we can do them on a Saturday or Sunday with a slice of foie gras.
J: We like the idea of chopping it up into four pieces, so it's bite-sized. When I used to live in Pigalle there was a famous restaurant called where they used to do that for an apero. And then you can share your Croque Monsieur with four friends. And then you end up buying more as you only get one piece each!
What's your favourite dish on the menu?
R: It changes every day, so every it's a surprise. But I really loved what Marcelo did last week, the risotto with strawberries and champagne.
Is that not like a dessert?
R: It's not a sweet dish, it's a savoury dish.
J: It's a very gay dish! We love it.
R: It's the last dish we made here that I really loved. What I'd really love to sell now – which we're tasting – is the sharing plates. The pork cheeks are also really good and so is the homemade foie gras, all the French people praise that, it's a classic dish.
Is the food here from a particular region in France?
J: The food in France, there are specials everywhere and we mix things up from everywhere.
R: It's more like food from Paris, because they bring food from all over.
J: Well, not everywhere. The Parisian bistros don't take food from Alsace, for example, like choucroute.
R: That's true.
J: We take a lot of things from Bordeaux, this is the real place of food in France.
S: No! Bordeaux, Marseille and Paris are.
J: For me, the best food in France is from the south-west of the country.
Are you all in agreement on that?
R and S: No!
S: What about Marseille, the bouillabaisse?
J: Normally we say Lyon is the best place for food. Historically, it's been the city with the most Michelin starred restaurants. And still there are more Michelin starred restaurants in Lyon than in Paris. All the big chefs, that's where they're from.
It seems like the restaurant is a real collaborative effort – you guys seem like a family, almost.
R: Yes, and we have Charlotte, who is in charge of all of the wines who's part of us too. We just want to work with people that we really like.
That's the dream really isn't it, running a company where you only have to work with people you get on with?
J: It's not just that difficult to put a blank slate on the table. It's just better to do it with friends.
Last meal on earth?
J: Chocolate profiteroles. I love them. It's extremely rare to get good ones though. I've had huge arguments with people in kitchens before about them. The chocolate has to be very hot and very compact, the choux pastry has to be fresh and the vanilla cream inside has to be very cold.
Marcelo Hirata, head chef
How did you end up in Oui Madame!?
I've been working her for a year. I'm from Brazil, originally in São Paulo. I was always interested in cooking, I used to cook with my mum, I was always in the kitchen, asking her what she wanted to do.
What sort of things would she teach you to cook?
My mum is a really good cook, she cooks everything. She loves stew, salad and vegetables and would cook these a lot at home.
Were you trained professionally?
No, I'm self taught.
Did start work in any restaurants in São Paulo?
No, actually I started here in London. I worked at L'Escargot. It was a really good start for me. My friend was a general manager of the group and before that I was working in fashion.
In fashion? What were you doing in that industry?
I was a fashion editor for 17 years. I was freelance and worked with all the big publications, Vogue, Marie Claire, V Magazine...
What made you move from fashion to food?
I always loved to cook. To cook for me was a real pleasure. At least three times a month I was doing dinners for friends at home, those sort of things. One day I did a really good job in London but I just thought “maybe it's time for a change', you know? I got to a point where I was working on a job with a famous brand and I thought it was time to do something else. I asked my friends “Could I go and work in the kitchen” so I went to work with Marco Pierre White.
How did you swing that?
My friend was working with him. I only worked with him for a short while because he doesn't stay in the restaurant much, he's always out and about. I worked with him for about a week and a half when he was changing the menu. My friend said: “I can see if you can go and work in the kitchen and see if it's something you'd like to do” and I said: “Yes, that's what I'd like.” After three weeks the head chef gave me a position. I was working for free at that point and he told me I was very talented. I was like: “Oh, really?” I was very surprised.
What did the fashion world say when you handed your notice in? Did they go into mourning?
It's quite funny because some of the people I worked for already knew me for the food I had cooked for them at home and they said: “Oh, that's good!”. My father is Japanese and I have this Japanese thing to be very precise with details.
So you're half Brazilian and half Japanese?
Yes, but my mum is also from Switzerland.
What a mix.
Yes, definitely. But I think L'Escargot picked up on my precision so they started me on the pastry as I took a lot of care with that. After a year I met Stephane in the park and he said to me: “Oh, we need a sous chef as the head chef is really busy” so I said: “Oh, maybe I could do it?” and he said: “But you work in fashion?” and I said: “No, I started working with food instead”. After two days I called him and said I'd like the job and he said: “I thought you were joking in the park?” I said “no!”. So I came to the kitchen and to test me I had to make a sauce and the chef said: “I like you - take your place.” So I left L'Escargot and two days later I started working here.
How would you describe the menu you've created here?
I think our menu is comfort food. The base of the food of course is French, but I don't think it's pretentious. It's a French food that reminds you of food your mum might cook, or your family, all those kind of flavours that remind you of your childhood. That's why we're doing the Oui Madame! Classics on the menu. People are saying: “Oh, I want to try that dish again as it reminded me of what my mum used to make”
People are creatures of habit really, aren't they?
Yeah. I will keep those dishes on it because of that. But I'm also changing up the menu here every day.
What would you say is the signature dish here?
We have a few here, but I would say the rump steak, that's the one everyone comes back from. It's really good meat – I choose the best suppliers of Aberdeen steak. It's not cheap but everyone says it's the best meal they had. If you go to a French restaurant, you have to have good steak. And duck too, the duck confit leg is quite hard work but you end up with something that people really love.
What's the one ingredient you couldn't do without in the kitchen?
Cream, butter and really good olive oil. Olive oil is the most important as it has to taste good. If you use a cheap one or not strong enough you can lose the taste of it.
Last meal on earth?
I think rice, beans and fried eggs.