A French Toast

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Russian artist OP Fedotov’s 1973 artwork, ‘Autumn Still Life’, hangs in the main hall of L’Opéra’s Art Café on MG Road, which recently opened its doors to patrons. It is a good fit for the pastel grey colour scheme, its Impressionist techniques in classical ‘nature morte’ (the French term for dead nature), bringing the fruits separated from the tree back to life.

“By using a water jar and bright yellow colours for the tablecloth, Fedotov reintroduces the two essential elements of life, namely the sun and the flowing river, into his composition. The green fruits towards the top of the painting mature into the more reddish, rose and fuchsia of the ripened apples in the centre of the painting, symbolising life itself,”

L’Opéra co-founders Kazem Samandari and Christine Samandari, who joined TMS for a chat, explains. The couple are Fedotov fans. There are other Fedotov artworks– the ‘Old Italian City, Chembalo’, ‘Oriental Still Life’ and ‘Autumn in Tuak Valley’– in this café.

The combination “of reflection and practicality” is ideal for an art café, and the curation is by Vladimir Zeitsev, a Russian who lives in Delhi. They are available not only for admiration but can also be purchased, allowing visitors to take home a piece of art that resonates with them.

The Samandaris: from left to right,
Laurent, Christine, Kazem

European landscapes
The colours used in the paintings are soothing, the themes are peaceful, and the style transitional– neither too classical nor too modern–above all, it is very European. “We wanted to have a European touch in harmony with the French character of the L’Opéra brand. It so happened that a sufficient collection of European paintings inspired by European romantic landscapes was readily available in Delhi. So, the decision was easy,” says Kazem.

The paintings are in “harmony with the style and aesthetics” of the art café, which draws inspiration from France’s architecture, he points out. For instance, ceramic floor tiles are a key element of traditional bakeries located in the heart of Paris. With its woodcarved furniture, marble table tops, the pastel shades on the walls, overhanging yellow lights, potted plants, and glass walls, the ambience is one that is designed to recreate the experience of sitting in a café overlooking the streets of Paris.

The designer of L’Opéra’s Art Cafés is Philippe Engel, a Frenchman living in India. Philippe, together with Christine, Kazem and their son Laurent Samandari, who is the CEO and a co-founder of L’Opéra, formed the core design team of the café. After the success of their Patisserie Boulangerie and Salon de Thé (Tea Room), the art-cafés, according to Christine, add “an exciting, artistic dimension to the brand’s already established concept of providing French culinary excellence in India and sharing a significant part of their culture”. The aim, she says, is to integrate the café culture “into the lives of people here”.

Visitors at the café

Old menu works-it stays
The culinary offerings at the brand’s art café, though diverse, have retained the standard L’Opéra menu, available at their other cafés. The idea was not to tinker with what works, says Christine. The familiar taste of the delectable Tiramisu and the Lemon Tart established that no compromise had been made in terms of taste and quality in their new venture.

L’Opéra’s famous vegan delicacies like the Vanilla Raspberry Vegan Verrine, Apple and Rosemary Tart, Chocolate Orange Walnut are also a part of the menu, keeping in mind the various diet restrictions visitors may have. The Art Café is a fine example of luxurious tea rooms meeting discerning palates. There are plans afoot to organise musical and literary events here.

“These events will provide a platform for artists, writers and musicians to showcase their talent, fostering a vibrant and creative atmosphere through the art-cafés. Besides art exhibitions, there will be discussions with artists and curators, live music and book readings,” says Christine.

Are more such cafés on the cards? “Three outlets are under construction. One will come up in Tata Intellion-Park, followed by one in Hotel Ibis, both on Golf Course Road, Gurugram. The third one at Ravissant, New Friends Colony, will have a fashion element so it will be called a Fashion Café,” says Kazem. Who says Paris can be found only in Paris?

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