David Toutain is a master magician who’s vivid imagination and childish playfulness turn a menu into an inconceivable adventure at his very own restaurant in Paris
Discretely tucked away in a small side street in Paris’ 7th arrondissement, Restaurant David Toutain is a not to be missed magical treat. Number 53 on the Opinionated About Dining Top 100 European restaurants. Chef David Toutain has one Michelin star and is highlighted in the worlds 50 best discovery series as one to watch.
Toutain trained with some of the worlds finest chefs; Pierre Gagnaire (Pierre Gagnaire, Paris), Bernard Pacaud (L’Ambrosie, Paris), Alain Passard (L’Arpege, Paris) Andoni Luis Aduriz (Mugaritz, Spain) and Paul Liebrandt (Corton, New York). From this solid foundation he has built a highly creative and truly inspired practice in his own establishment.
David Toutain is a master magician who’s vivid imagination and childish playfulness turn a menu into an inconceivable adventure. I first discovered him in 2016 (review link) when he left my mind irretrievably blown wide open.
I have been lucky enough to experience some amazing dining experiences since but Toutain will always have a special place in my heart as my first. The first chef who fired up my passion for unusual and unique dining experiences. I remember eating sticks, lumps of coal and nibbling fir tree branches.
He intrigued me, provoked my imagination and challenged my perception of food. He reminded me that our world is a place of wonder and magic where morsels of pleasure are hidden everywhere.
Toutain’s fantastical wonderland left such an impression on me the first time we visited I can’t wait to slip though the magic curtain into his realm once again. I hope this time he’s got some food on the menu.
David Toutain – Shades of Autumn 2017
The rhythm of the seasons ground the new, in a sense of the familiar. Golden, crunchy, lacy leaves crumpling crisply underfoot is reassuring even though the path we tread is new. And here we are at Restaurant David Toutain feeling on one hand kind of comfortable with the familiar and on the other filled with anticipation for his Shades of Autumn 2017 menu.
The decor here is still the wonderfully earthy and natural simplicity we remember. Blond timbers, warm leathers; winding tangled naked branches decorating pale neutral walls. It is a calming and serene understated space that immediately soothes me into easy acquiescence.
Today we sit in the front of the restaurant instead of tucked away in the back. This makes for an interesting opportunity to observe other goings on. Although I really loved the immersive sense of isolation of the more private table on our last visit.
Our first dish arrives. Hooray, it’s Toutain’s signature pile of sticks. What better to remind us of just how fascinating David Toutain’s mind is. A collection of sticks, this time adorned with autumn leaves. One still faintly green, the other golden, poetically noting the first shade of autumn. Some sticks, but not all, are edible. Salsify, warm tender and sweet pretending to be a branch of silver birch. Served with a white chocolate mousse it is crazy good. I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to taste this dish again and it is just as much fun as the first time.
Next a stunningly creative plate reminiscent of golden autumn leaves fallen on grass. The base of the dish a texturally striking lawn of sea urchin spines. Deep golden paper thin crisps stuck together with sweet, salty urchin meat, look glorious and taste absolutely exquisite.
I love the structure and design of our next plate, oyster and raspberry. Long pieces of oyster shell lined up next to each other on their edge, fill the bowl. They look earthy, textural and interesting. On top, two tubes, a bite each. I pop the little morsel in my mouth and the combination of flavours and textures is surreal. Crispy sweet toffee kind of shell gives way to a soft centre that is both distinctly fresh oyster and creamy onion. Deceptively simple, exquisitely unusual.
Then a little reset moment with warm brioche and delicious salty butter. As we nibble our delicious bread, it is a moment to contemplate what is going on around us. Thai, David’s wife has arrived and she sends a couple of wait staff out the front door with fabulous looking plates. She is the restaurant’s food photographer and we think she is working through a photo shoot in the private dining annexe next door. I love the sense that this restaurant is a family affair. I have read stories of how David and Thai’s little boy comes and helps his dad in the kitchen.
And now the egg. The wonderful little creamy egg we have seen several versions of now. Toutain’s is gorgeous, cream of cod with an intense little caramel swirl.
Our next plate is the most gorgeous tribute to caviar. Buckwheat blini, creamy Jerusalem artichoke and not just caviar, but Petrossion House caviar. I don’t quite understand what the big deal with Caviar is all about. Toutain has however created the most wonderful expression of it, balanced and complemented by other flavours, it is just magic. Now for the caviar connoisseur, Petrossion House may mean something. They have a reputation for outstanding caviar, allowing their sturgeon fish to age rather than harvesting the roe young, giving their caviar a fuller more robust flavour. They also have a delicate salting process giving the caviar a delicate “little salt” flavour.
David Toutain’s risotto is a surprisingly light and delicate dish. When I think of risotto, I think rich, comforting decadent. This risotto is a glorious balancing act of flavours textures and fragrances and no sight of a rice grain. Parsnip, chestnuts and Parmesan are the basis for this dish; earthy and creamy nutty flavour, tender but still a little al dente. The most delicate light creamy sauce and a fantastic little crunch from toasty grains of spelt.
Flowing on from risotto we now have tagliatelle, squid tagliatelle and surprise surprise no pasta. Paper thin strands of squid are swirled onto the plate as though they are a nest of pasta. Topped with caramelised onion and bathed in a carrot and juniper broth, this plate is heavenly. A tangle of squid perfectly tender and a spoonful of the broth naturally sweet is a perfectly balanced bite.
Offal, I still can’t believe I am learning to love offal. I think it is something I couldn’t cope with as a child but like many things as an adult I have discovered that it was the way my mum prepared it that ruined it. Today my offal challenge is sweetbread, this time prepared in a delicate terrine. The slice of terrine, lightly fried and golden and crisp on the outside, the inside amazingly tender. Served with a shiny rich mushroom and onion sauce it is exquisite.
Our next plate is terrifyingly fascinating, swimming in what looks like a deep dark shiny oil slick are three pink squares of smoked eel. Visually it looks like it will be overpowering. Hiding beneath the eel are small squares of crisp green apple which contrasts beautifully against the eel and the deep smoky rich sauce. Absolutely amazing.
Cappuccino of potato – a crispy edged cylindrical shape foaming with fluffy potato and dusted with what looks like chocolate, creates the illusion of a cappuccino coffee. This dish is the most elegant version of meat and potato. Meat jus hazelnut and potato all singing together feels like coming home.
Simple ingredients, incredible flavours is something that Toutain does oh so well. Our meat course is a beautiful representation of this theme. The plate looks elegant yet simple. Two pieces of perfectly rare pigeon, rich juicy incredible meat. Served with caramelised Brussels sprout and vibrant green perfectly cooked Brussel leaves. Some crumbs sitting in a cupped Brussel leaf add a little crunch and to tip it over the edge a flagrantly decadent crisp of roasted chicken skin. All dressed with the most beautiful golden jus.
A little pre-dessert of cauliflower mousse white chocolate & coconut ice cream provides a lovely transition to the sweet part of the menu and a clue as to the inspiration behind desserts today. The natural sweetness of the cauliflower shines through this light and delicate mousse. The coconut ice cream refreshing. And typically my tendency to notice and find pleasure in silly little things has me fascinated with the pretty vanilla speckles in the bottom of the cup.
An earthy, rough textured deep sided plate brings our next amazing treat. An innovative combination of flavours; apple, avocado and dill. A fluffy bunch of dill pressed against the edge of the plate behind pieces of crisp sugar glass, secured by creamy smooth avocado. The plating is visually creative, but is the play of flavours and textures that is most fascinating, sweet savoury creamy crunchy and the dill, so incredibly fragrant.
Our final dessert is an abstract sculptural installation. A dignified palette of greens and whites, a collection of shapes and textures. Before I even take a bite, I am excited. Grapefruit, yuzu, lemon caviar (finger lime) a bright citrus buzz. An accent of mint and coriander. Creams, ice creams, mousses, gels, jubes. Crispy white chocolate, like leaves made from corrugated iron and twisted white chocolate dangly bits that taste a little like meringue. So many separate elements, each perfect and then combined, an eclectic wonderland.
Petit fours, the finishing flourish. Beet confit; digging for truffles, of the chocolate variety, hazelnut tartlet, pecan cream, salted caramel and a delicious mushroom bite.
Today has been quite a different experience to our first visit to Restaurant Toutain. Firstly, I am more experienced, less uncertain and a more confident diner. But Toutain, the change we feel in his work is a deep assuredness. There has been less of the play with creating of illusion and a real focus on acutely honing in on the essence of an ingredient and presenting it with a certain purity. With every step of this menu we have seen a holistic perspective at play. Visually there has still been what I see as a playful and expressive artists eye. The interplay of colours, textures and shapes and careful consideration of the canvas in the form of interesting textural plates, has been amazing.
He has still played with illusion but with what feels to be a gentle subtlety. Pasta made from squid, risotto without rice, desserts made from vegetables. Toutain’s creativity has shone, with extraordinarily successful flavour combinations; oyster and raspberry, eel and apple, squid and juniper, dill and avocado dessert.
The name of the menu – Shades of Autumn, infers an understanding of the subtleties of the season and he has presented exactly that. Seasonal produce presented with not only a respectful focus on it as an individual ingredient but also as a tribute to the season. Visually; golds, yellows, browns and transitioning greens have been Toutain’s palette. Texturally; crispy, crunchy semi translucent elements have been a recurring theme reminding me of Autumn leaves.
Overwhelmingly the feeling as we wrap up our meal is one of being deeply grounded and connected, an odd sense of being home. This I feel is the special thing that David Toutain does. He quietly orchestrates an experience that without having ever met me, is somehow all about me.
Restaurant David Toutain will always be a must run back to, every time I am in Paris. Can’t wait to see what happens next.