Walk up to the second floor of Galeries Lafayette Champs-Elysées in the French capital and you’ll soon stumble upon a glorious setting of Mediterranean bliss where summer reigns all year long. This is Oursin, a restaurant by fashion designer Simon Porte Jacquemus and hospitality group Caviar Kaspia that opened last September. Conceived as a Mediterranean haven in the heart of Paris, the restaurant was designed by Jacquemus in collaboration with Galeries Lafayette Champs-Élysée’s creative director Clara Coret down to the last detail. From Jacquemus’ interior design and décor, to Chef Erica Archambault’s seafood-rich menu, to Athenian ceramist Daphne Leon’s bespoke tableware, the restaurant is imbued with the eternally summery allure of the South of France.
Born and raised in Provence in the south of France, the Mediterranean countryside is a constant source of inspiration for Jacquemus, as attested by Café Citron, the designer’s first restaurant for Galeries Lafayette Champs-Elysées located on the first floor. But whereas the latter has the outdoorsy feel of a Provençal village, Oursin has a more intimate vibe. Featuring undulating whitewashed walls playfully punctured by sculpted alcoves adorned with an eclectic collection of colourful Picasso-esque vases, bowls and other decorative objects that Jacquemus handpicked in flea markets or pried from his own personal collection, the space transports guests into a rural courtyard in the South of France, to the property of some artist and gourmand perhaps, where art meets gastronomy.
Oursin’s sculpted, whitewashed interior undoubtedly evokes the vernacular architecture of Southern Europe. It also however draws inspiration from French architect Jacques Couelle whose sculptural, grotto-like house in Provence Jacquemus has vacationed in, and multidisciplinary artist and South of France native Valentine Schlegel whose work combines organic abstraction with modernist simplicity. A vine tree climbing all the way to the ceiling at the centre of the room and the abundance of sunlight flooding through large windows reminiscent of Cezanne's Aix-en-Provence studio, further imprint the sense of the Mediterranean summer as do the handmade wooden rattan chairs and the sand-coloured serpentine banquette seating.
The restaurant’s artisanal bona fides are not just limited to the handmade furniture and pottery filling the alcoves around the dining area as it’s also embodied in the decorative plates that greet guests when they are seated. Each of the 45 plates that Athenian ceramist Daphne Leon has hand-sculpted and hand-painted is unique, uncannily featuring a different dish or produce from the Mediterranean, from crab claws, scallops and sea urchins, which the restaurant takes its name from, to asparagus, aubergines and peaches, the latter delectably “served” pitted and sliced.
Playfully tiptoeing between naturalism and expressionism, Leon’s vibrantly coloured and glazed ceramic dishes are the product of a spontaneous process. Although colours and glazes were thoroughly tested in advance, she sculpted “everything in the moment which is very interesting because you don’t really know what the outcome will be until you open the kiln”, Leon says. “I didn’t want them to look real or perfect” she explains, as her aim was to add a funny note to the dining experience.
Inspired by ancient Greek and byzantine ceramics, Leon’s creations for Oursin, which also include all the serving plates, share the aesthetic of the Picasso-esque ceramics that Jacquemus has filled the restaurant’s alcoves with, but also serve as a whimsical prelude to Chef Erica Archambault’s Mediterranean-based menu. Dishes such as fried artichokes with Greek yogurt and lemon zest, lobster salad doused in caviar and grilled octopus, and linguine with clams and Sicilian salsa are followed by refreshing deserts like white peaches cooked in verbena syrup, and fresh figs with honey ice cream - which in their slice-of-summer perfection - delectably conclude Oursin’s Mediterranean-steeped dining experience.