Well today was supposed to be a simple little bistro day, we had planned for a later lunch and were indulging in a slow morning enjoying our gorgeous apartment and watching the soft morning light change over Paris. But then everything changed, the phone rang, Restaurant David Toutain where the wait for a table is known to be very long, miraculously has a place for us if we can arrive by twelve……in half an hour! Five minutes later we were out the door, me embracing the bed hair look, telling myself it’s a thing, a whole nother kind of chic.
My love hasn’t told me too much about this place other than he has been trying for ages to get us in, he doesn’t want to predispose me to the idea of it, but to just go there and see what happens. I sense something special, I love surprises and getting into this restaurant turns out to be only the first of many many surprises today.
We trot down Rue Dominique in the 7th, actually not far at all from yesterday’s lunch, with a little extra spring in our step. I’m whisked into a small side street and we almost overshoot the understated entrance to Restaurant David Toutain. Through what I now know is the magical curtain, we find ourselves in a lovely space. There is an open and free feeling to the space with an earthiness that warms my heart. It’s a kind of beautiful fusion, a Scandinavian influence in blonde timber and leather furniture, a wide tan leather dado strip around the walls. There are large vases of willowy mossy branches that have the occasional delicate blossom which feels like a nod to a little Asian influence.
We are bonjoured profusely by cheerful energetic staff and immediately feel very welcome. A young man shows us to a lovely private table at the back of the restaurant, perfect! The tables are very generously sized and spaced well apart which is a special treat in Paris. I am feeling really grounded by the earthiness of this place, beautiful earthenware bowls and water glasses are the only things on our table, simple and beautiful. I feel I should have worn a dark green velvet handkerchief hem dress with fairy wings and flowers in my hair. At least my very nature inspired bed hair won’t be out of place.
Our young man returns with le menu…….it is a simple cream card with a handwritten note inside that has very little information indeed. Essentially the only choice to be made is how many courses to have, three, five or sevenish and whether you wish to have the sommeliers matched wines. We love it, fantastic, no information about the food only the feeling that we are in for an adventure. We ask our waiter, what should we do, how many courses should we have? His answer cannot be argued with; he says “when do you think you will be back?” We say we are not sure, we are from Australia and he replies with a nonchalant gesture as though it is perfectly obvious “well then, you must have it all”. We know immediately he is absolutely right!
We are parched from our rush to get there and our som addresses the issue quickly with what I think could be the best champagne I have ever had. Our matched wine selection will begin after the Amuse-Bouches or as our waiter chooses to translate in English, “Le Snacks”.
The first “snack” to appear makes it very clear that we have just slipped down the rabbit hole into a fantastical wonderland from which we may never wish to reappear. A bowl of mossy earth and stones appears with two green tubes laid upon it. It is tantalisingly unusual. Running through my head is that we have no flatware….in France the only thing you eat with your fingers is the bread, for everything else, one ought to use a knife and fork…..Our waiter explains that we have a parsley and juniper tube which we must take with our fingers and he suggests one bite. Into the mouth it goes and wow, what a strange sensation. The tube is a paper thin toffee but weirdly savoury thing with a mousse filling that is delicate and creamy. I am instantly transported into a childish rapture that will last through the day.
Next arrives a pile of sticks, yes a pile of sticks! I was thinking that the waiter might set fire to them or something and bring something else to be warmed atop the fire….but no… He dramatically gesticulates toward the sticks explaining that we have salsifies with white chocolate. Mmm so still wondering which bit of the forrest floor we eat, again with no tools, we squeeze a little at the hard cold sticks until we find a warm soft one, hooray! This is such fun! Giggling I dip my stick into the little puddle of white chocolate business, amazing!!
Our last “snack” is placed on the table in a small earthenware pot, the lid is lifted to reveal …. coal, jet black coal. We are really grinning now; the whole thing is ridiculous. Our waiter tells us that we have beetroot. He points to two of the lumps of coal “this one and this one” a wild flappy gesture over the bowl “the others (the real coal) they are not so interesting,” we gingerly select a little black lump each, again with the fingers which is still fucking with my head. We crunch into it, the charcoal gives way to a tender deep purple beetroot centre and the flavour is unbelievable. Yes the crust is pretty much burnt but with the beet is weirdly wonderful, wow!
Our first dish as such is next. Oeuf mais cumin. An egg in its shell perched in a nest of straw, it looks so pretty. A collection of bread options is provided to go with it. An earthenware bowl lined with hessian, filled with straw, provides a bed for 4 little cheese topped scone like breads and 2 slices of buckwheat bread stand erect in another bowl filled with raw buckwheat. We are thankfully provided with a small wooden teaspoon to eat the little egg which is a soft yolk topped with a cumin infused foam, warm and delicate.
The waiter whipped away our egg shells while we were enjoying the bread, the service is quietly attentive and unobtrusive. I have to say though I’m a little disappointed because I was still enjoying looking at how pretty the dear little nests were.
Carabinero shrimp is our next dish. They are a Spanish shrimp also known by the French as “Crevette Imperiale”. It is presented on the most beautiful earthy plate. The jumbo crustacean is the most spectacularly bright shade of red, highlighted by the bright green creamy sauce. A very pretty almost Christmassy dish. Long crispy legs entwined atop the dish are the perfect garnish. Straight in with a crunch, the flavour of the legs is rich and intense. This shrimp is not at all like the prawns I have experienced before. The flavour is deep and robust not fishy but very much of the sea. Our table is cleared and we are excited to find out what might be next.
Another work of art is presented; a beautiful earthenware bowl with a pale green glaze is set before us. It is filled with moss, pebbles and sticks upon which is balanced one perfect Coquille St Jacques (Scallop). With a flourish our waiter removes the top half of the pretty shell. Inside, the scallop is bathing in a delicate consume Topinanbour (Jerusalem artichoke). This scallop would have to be the most perfectly cooked scallop I have ever eaten. Slicing through, it is cooked to exactly the same degree all the way through, delicate and translucent. And the flavour sweet and creamy is accented beautifully by the consume.
A pretty little plate comes next, a bowl with small spoonful of creamy Celeriac Risotto decorated with shaved slivers of chestnut. It looks lovely and the creamy flavour is rich and warming. It is simple but very opulent little dish. This is followed by the most delicate portion of cod with roquette. Next Pomme Boulangere – just one little absolutely perfectly baked potato. Why not – a demonstration of how something very simple when done with enough attention and care can be beautiful. Anguille Fumee (smoked eel) arrives, small glistening bitesize pieces. The robust flavors of the eel balanced superbly with flavors of black sesame.
Our final savory dish is venison with sweet potato gnocchi. We are again simply blown away with the perfection of the cooking technique. The slice of venison is absolutely consistently cooked all the way through. The edges are sealed with no more than a millimetre of brown edge. The centre is exactly the same soft deep pink from edge to edge and there is no hint of running juices, every bit of moisture and flavour has been retained in the meat. Surrounded by an amazing quince jus, the complexity of which is incredible; and accompanied by a small tender gnocchi; this dish is such a wonderful way to finish the savory elements of the menu.
We enjoy two little sweet dishes to finish, one a creamy raw milk custard topped with crispy milk skin delicate and Moorish. Before the next dessert arrived the waiter presented us with a leafy branch from a tree and invited us to pluck a piece and eat it. We looked at him puzzled is he having a lend? We are rather reluctant “yeah sure… we will if you will!” so he plucks a piece and pops it in his mouth “you see!” Ok, so we pick a piece of tree, slowly smell it, it is very fragrant and then taste a little – wow it actually tastes really good. It is Douglas fir and is apparently loaded with vitamins A & C. The chocolate dessert is a wonderfully flavoured dessert with Douglas Fir and Hazelnut. So next year when planning how to use the Christmas leftovers we’ll have to think about how to eat the Christmas tree!
Our magical wonderland event finishes with nothing less than a truffle hunt! A bowl of “soil” arrives and we are encouraged to dig. We scratch around until we find our hidden treasure of truffle, chocolate truffle.
Chef David Toutain seems to balance his creative flair with the lightest of touch. I can feel that he celebrates and totally respects the flavour of each and every ingredient while playing childishly with the presentation. There is an earthiness to his presentation reminding me that our food comes to us from the earth and the sea. That our world is a place of wonder and magic where morsels of pleasure are hidden everywhere. Inside a shell, inside leaves and even buried in the ground, just waiting for us to find them and put them on our tongue where flavours and textures will tantalise us. Toutain fully engages all the senses, not just taste. His creations have been visually stunning an aesthetic treat, he has intrigued me and provoked my imagination, challenging my perception of food. I feel grounded, centred, all at once reminded of the earth beneath my feet and lifted into ethereal heights as my spirit soars and I am aligned to everything that is me.