As soon as we walked into newly opened, French daytime-bistro Bichou we knew it was love at first sight! Once warmly greeted by passionate friendly owner-couple Marion Coulondre & Thomas Giese, your eyes can’t help but gaze around at the sheer simplistic beauty of the small foodie-haven they’ve created, where they offer a brilliantly-concise menu, with just one hot dish changing weekly – a sign of quality, freshness and making it truly perfect. As for the food, you can always find one of the best quiches of your life, incredible Tarte Tatin, excellent homemade jams and freshly baked breakfast Brioche buns amongst other delights. We sent a few questions to the experienced duo to find out more about the way they work…
We love everything about your design, from the open kitchen to the spacious sitting area, it’s all so beautiful. Did you have a specific design vision in mind or did it more come about through trial and error?
Thank you very much – you’re going to make us blush!
(Marion) When we started with the design we had a very clear vision in mind; We wanted the interior to look like a rustic French farmhouse kitchen. You know, those large ones with an open fire place, a stove, tiles and a long table where friends and family gather to eat.
Our biggest inspiration came from my Aunt’s house in France. We actually did not just get idea’s from her kitchen, but also stole her nickname “Bichou”!
(Thomas) In our location here, the room began with really rough walls and a blue carpet, so from the vision to the outcome, we had to have a lot of imagination to get it where it is today! We handpicked everything ourselves from fleamarkets, second hand & antique shops so essentially we worked with whatever we could find. We were really hands on and of course had many trials and errors along the way!
We immediately guessed you both must have experience in hospitality, and it clearly shows in quality of food, your ideas and your wonderful service. What did you both do before setting up Bichou?
(Thomas) We are working in hospitality for the last 15 years at home and abroad. We both gathered experience learning in 5-star hotels & fine dining restaurants.
While Marion has always worked on the service side I myself have always been in the kitchen… Actually that’s where I learned all the basic French cooking techniques. Whilst gastronomy has evolved a lot with many different trends, what some people don’t realise is it’s often stems from French cuisine.
So what made you decide to open a French bistro in Berlin?
We wanted to stop packing our bags every couple of years and move to a place where we could find the buzz of a big city without the hectic of it… and we fell in love with Berlin!!!
Since the day we met eight years ago, we never stopped talking about opening a place together with a concept that we could truly identify ourselves with. Berlin became the city where we decided to give it a go!!!
Your food tastes amazing, and clearly has a lot of love & passion put into it. Tell us about your dishes and who does what in the kitchen?
(Marion) For us, great taste begins with the ingredients. We source organic vegetables and fruits from the local region and trust our local butcher and baker to supply us with their high-quality products. With the amazing ingredients available to us, we cook simple, light French dishes. We come up with a new menu every week that follows the season.
Thomas does most of the cooking; I just try to be a good helping hand!
What were the biggest challenges in setting up the business?
We refurbished the bistro for 6 months before the opening and this was a real challenge!
Even more so, as we were both still working full time, so the nights and days off were the only time available for the refurbishment and anytime inbetween was used to carry on working on our concept! At that stage we always felt as though we would never have enough time to get everything done to actually finally open!
There was another big challenge though! From the first day we decided to pack our food in glass jars so it would be easy for people to take it away! However, this brilliant eco-friendly idea turned out to be not as easy as it we first thought! Our kitchen at home basically became a sample jar food lab for months… in other words a real mess!
We adore how concise your menu is, as it shows how much care you put into each dish. What is your food development process like?
(Marion) We wanted our menu and dishes to be simple and opt for a ‘quality over quantity’ approach to our cooking.
To come up with our weekly menu the first step is always the same; we check with our local suppliers which ingredients are available. This is then the basis for our brainstorm sessions. We sit down and gather all sorts of inspiration whether childhood memories, family recipes or dishes we have served in the past. When the menu is ready and it’s time to cook, Thomas does it instinctively. Sometimes I am amazed how he pulls it off, especially rarely ever using a recipe book!
Thomas: I do trials when it comes to baking, as it’s a more precise process compared to cooking. For our small “brioche a tête” I pretty much tried every possible way to make them – experimenting with the quantities of the ingredients, the proofing and the cooking times until we were absolutely happy with the result!
What’s the secret to making a great quiche?
A good crust is essential! For that, we say blind bake it before putting the filling.
Like us, you’re a couple working together as well. Does this has advantages and disadvantages…?
Of course, yes it does…. but we both think that it still has many more advantages!
We get to spend lot of time together, working on something that we both love.
We love how when we come to Bichou, it’s both of you there personally always making the magic happen, with so much of your own wonderful personality in the design, the food and the atmosphere. Do you find any inspiration anywhere in particular?
Both of our grand-parents were farmers and food was something very central for us from an early age onwards.
At that time the “Farm to table” concept did not have a name, but instead was the normal way we were eating. We continue to be inspired every day from this approach and from the more simple things in life.
Did you have your heart set on Neukölln or were other areas of interest for you for Bichou?
We live in Neukölln and we absolutely love this neighbourhood, so Bichou had to be here!
We’ve noticed a network of great businesses in Neukölln working together and helping each other out. Since you opened, have you noticed any such support?
Yes, before we even opened we received such a warm welcome, as well as encouragement from many local business owners!
You’re correct, there is a lot of support and collaboration here in Neukölln. Yulja and Etienne from JAJA, for example, were super kind and lent us some much-needed wine glasses for a last minute birthday dinner a couple of months ago.
Many people dream of opening up their own lovely place just like yours. What advice would you give to people aiming to do so?
Be fully committed & make it happen!
What plans can we look forward to in the next year for Bichou?
Pssst… That’s still a secret!
Where do you both like to eat, drink and relax in Berlin?
There are a lot of places we like in Berlin but we particularly like to stroll around in Markthalle Neun. We enjoy the market ambiance there and the food is always so delicious!
Finish the following sentence: “For us, Berlin is….”
The city we both LOVE living in!
Bichou is one of the most exciting places we’ve discovered in Berlin, and in many ways we feel it represents what the city can offer to committed, passionate people looking to start their own business and have a change of lifestyle. We HIGHLY recommend you go and say hello to this lovely couple and try their superb food -especially the quiche!