When restaurateur Romain Taieb first walked into an ascetic oblong space with vertiginous ceilings and metallic beams nestled in the side of the late-19th century former central post office of Paris, his heart skipped a beat.
This was perfect for the project he and business partner Thomas Moreau were working on after a recent visit to New York had left him convinced that a swift meal didn’t equate with casual dining.
The duo wanted to create “a place where, the second you step in, the product would be at the center of the experience, but that could also be fun, not break the bank and not an endless meal,” says Taieb, whose previous projects include restaurant-and-club Le Piaf Paris, Palais de Tokyo’s Italian address Bambini and Japanese canteen Nanashi.
It became Doki Doki, a 25-seat handroll bar named after the stylized sound of a beating heart in Japanese, which they describe as the embodiment of that palpable anticipation that comes before biting into something delicious.
Designed by architect Rodolphe Albert, the 900-square-foot eatery offers little to distract the eye, despite cloud-shaped light fixtures by Paris-based designer Céline Wright, sake bottles lined on a wood structure behind the bar and the back wall of green tiles.
Instead, all eyes are drawn to the monumental stone counter where there is only one star: the handroll.
But don’t call Doki Doki a Japanese restaurant.
“It would be appropriation to say that. Rather, this is our reinterpretation of what we love about Japan, driven by the principles its cuisine shares with our French culinary heritage, like the use of exceptional produce and precise techniques,” he says, likening their intention to Peru’s Nikkei cuisine.
Here, it’s all about finding the perfect bite, “a combination of textures, temperatures, flavors,” he continues, describing the particular crunch of the nori sheets used here, sourced from a producer in Japan’s Ariake sea, that gives way to reveal tender rice and unctuous fish.
The menu is therefore compact, developed by Colombian-Japanese chef Andres Ramirez, and all about the roll. There are six fish, along with lobster, crab and scallops versions, as well as a vegetarian option.
Pillowy mochi, made by French pastry chef Agathe Bernard, who cut her teeth at Japanese pastry house Tomo, will tempt those who don’t have to eat and run.
Owing to the new habits of Parisian diners acquired over the pandemic, Taieb has also developed the Doki Doki experience to go. “Not a takeaway per se, because don’t we all hate it when the seaweed arrives soggy,” he says, explaining that their version is a ready-to-eat DIY kit to be assembled just before eating.
Despite Doki Doki being only months old, Taieb is already eyeing a second location in Paris, in “an area that is both cool with a mix of nightlife but also a faithful lunchtime clientele,” although he could also see himself opening outposts in French cities like Bordeaux or Nice.
59 Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 75001
Open Monday-Saturday noon to 3 p.m. and 7 to 10:30 p.m; Sunday noon to 3 p.m.