Victor Lugger is the man responsible for satiating our cravings for Italian food while in Paris. Now he's paying London the same courtesy, rolling out trattorias across the city. Shoreditch-based Gloria - the lemon-hued, 1970s Capri-style eatery serves up Neapolitan-style pizzas and a lofty lemon meringue pie on hand-painted delftware - is the first in his UK roster.
Gloria's fanciful innards - designed by Studio Kiki - challenge Pink Mamma's much-Instagrammed interiors. The Pigalle-based Pink Mamma is decked out with a Pinterest boards' worth of whimsical trellising, objet d'art and rustic paint work. Flush-inducing examples aside, it's hard to say whether the food or the furniture is the more palate-pleasing component to Lugger's lucrative dining equation.
Expatiating on why Naples is a gastronomical paradise, making a case for walk-in only restaurants and explaining why "punny" menu titles are an underrated extra-curricular, Victor Lugger might be guilty of making a meal of things, but with good cause. For him the secret to his restaurateur success lies in "offering good food at a reasonable price. If the ambiance and the design join the equation then it turns into the perfect spot."
How did Big Mamma Group come about?
Big Mamma was born from a deep desire to bring back all the warmth and generosity of small trattorias in Italy - a very unique and familiar atmosphere, with incredibly authentic and generous food. We opened our first restaurant East Mamma in 2015 in Paris, a traditional and popular trattoria, followed by seven restaurants, all of them with a special focus on Italian specialties: Mamma Primi and its amazing fresh pasta; Pizzeria Popolare and its wood-fired pizza menu. Then came Gloria, our first trattoria in London.
Why the name Big Mamma?
La mamma, in Italy, is sacred. She embodies the warmth, generosity and the delicious cuisine which you can find on our menus. Speak to our chefs - they'll all agree that their mothers are one of the main source of inspiration for their cooking.
Gloria has created a serious buzz in Shoreditch; what is the secret to creating a buzz-worthy restaurant?
When you enter Gloria Trattoria, you're immediately transported to Italy. It may be because our entire team is Italian or maybe because everything is sourced there, from the produce to all the small objects and design details you can spot in the restaurant.
Why Italian food?
My associate, Tigrane, was bathed in the Italian culture from a young age and I always had a deep passion for Italian food. It started during my childhood, growing up in Alsace with a father who would often travel to northern Italy for business. He used to bring home Grissini breadsticks and San Daniele ham from his trips, which I loved and haven't forgotten since.
Best food spots in Paris…
The Aligre market neighbourhood in 11th district has the best food spots; really great atmosphere in an area popular with Parisians. Brunch at the café Oberkampf or lunch on the top floor of Pink Mamma near Pigalle - order the Fiorentina steak on the grill. Moissonnier, for the best bottle of wine in the city and why not, the world. It's unmissable. The list is infinite, Paris is full of surprises.
Why do you think walk-in only restaurants work so well?
A restaurant is a balance between several factors, but the most important is the sincerity of the approach. We're strong believers that a restaurant works if the food is good, reasonably priced and served with a smile. From that moment on, whether it's walk-in or reservation based, the restaurant will be popular.
Your restaurants are full of personality - from the wittily named menu items to the whimsical interiors - how do these ideas come to fruition?
We all have a lot of fun making puns and twisting things up on our menus. As for the interior, we have an amazing in-house design team, Studio Kikki. They travel around Europe to find antique objects and furniture pieces. Everything is thought out from scratch every time, which gives a unique identity and personality to each trattoria.
The best places to eat when in Italy?
I would say, the entire region of Emilia Romagna, especially for the tortellini from Piacentini in Pacienza. Naples is a gastronomy paradise, not only for the Neapolitan pizza, but also for the inimitable spaghetti alle vongole and the gnocchi alla sorrentina and the baba al rum. Alba, the town of white truffle, is always a great stop, also known for its incredible wines, which has inspired us for our 50 Barolo references at Gloria.
What other cities can we expect to see your restaurants crop up in soon?
For now, we're very focused on London, a city which excites us with its energy, great service and laid-back restaurants and an unrivalled passion for food. We're really excited to be here, it's like a dream.
What are you reading at the moment?
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius - a timeless masterpiece that everyone should read. It explains how to stay humble and serene when facing different life events or things which are out of your control. A real learning tool.
What podcasts and TV shows are downloaded for your next flight?
La Tribune des critiques de disques. It's a French podcast and describes and compares classical music sounds and pieces. I strongly recommend it for amateurs, the recent episode on Requiem of Fauré is magical.
One piece of advice to live by…
"If it's not too big, it's not big enough"
And finally, what's in your SUITCASE?
I try to live by the following mantra: "live light, travel light, spread the light".