David Toutain – Paris

On February 3, 2014 by Paris_Stilton

Scandal has hit France, and no it is not the President’s wandering parliamentary member, but something much more cataclysmic. In an ongoing attempt to preserve the purity of the French language, the word ‘hashtag’ has been officially banned by the linguistic chastity belt, L’Académie française – who instead urge French citizens to employ the Gallic equivalent ‘mot-dièse’ (which, ironically cannot be hashtagged on Twitter as it contains a hyphen).

But they really are fighting an uphill battle. For there is nothing cooler for a French youth than dropping a YOLO mid-sentence, or doing something pour le fun, or parce que c’est cool, or even, for that matter, using l’internet, or having a weekend, or dating a model, or eating a sandwich or stationing their moped in le parking (all oft-employed English words L’Académie française has previously tried to ban). My all time favourite Anglicism, however, has got to be ‘too much’ – most often used in the phrase, ‘c‘est too much quoi‘ (with quoi being something akin to innit).

C’est too much, quoi‘ is what first sprung to mind as I contemplated the tepid cockle bouillon that was poured into my soiled ceramic bowl mid-way through the degustation at David Toutain’s eponymous restaurant last week.

But let us start at the beginning…


It was on a drizzling Tuesday night that I arrived at David’s new abode – tucked away in a quiet corner of the 7th – with old friend Danny DoRito on my arm, and anticipation in the air.  Having indulged in two exceptional and highly memorable meals at Toutain’s previous establishment L’Agapé Substance (he has also worked with the likes of Alain Passard at Arpège, Andoni Luis Aduriz at Mugaritz, and Paul Liebrandt at Corton), I had been eagerly awaiting the opening of his much-hyped new venture.

At night the restaurant offers three different tasting menus, the Polypode (68€, or 118€ with matching wines), the Reine des Prés (98€ or 158€ with matching wines) and the Menu Truffe (a truffle based menu at 158€ or 210€ with matching wines)  – all being ‘surprise’ carte blanche degustations, in addition to a 42€ lunch time menu. Being both incredibly indecisive, Danny DoRito and I chose to go with the ‘safe’ middle Reine des Prés option, along with with a beautiful bottle of organic Saumur-Champigny red.


The meal started with an amuse-bouche of roasted rainbow garden carrots, to be dipped into an unctuous, and intensely moreish, herb-capped mountain of white chocolate cream, which was swiftly followed by a (charmingly translated) ‘interior of crab head wafer with avocado points’ – an exceptionally tasty little up-market neo prawn cracker.

As we savoured our deliciously sweet, and rather rustic caramelised onion brioche with burnt butter cream, served in a delightfully provincial hay-filled cast iron dish – the intimate, light filled, Scandinavian-feel mezzanine dining room quickly filled up with a well-heeled, exclusively French, patronage who all seemed to know Toutain on a double-bises basis.


Next up was a palate-cleansing bowl of cockles, razor clams and icy cold fennel powder. The dish was interesting, although the intense chill of the fennel ‘sorbet’ detracted somewhat from the subtle flavours of the shellfish . But just when we thought we were done, a waitress arrived with a teapot and filled our dirty bowls with the lukewarm stock that the seafood had been prepared in. Had the stock been hot, it would have been mildly unpleasant, but this tepid fishy bouillon was, quite honestly, inedible. Danny DoRito looked green.  And yet everyone else seemed to be relishing it. Perhaps, I thought, it is like Tracey Emin’s £150,000 unmade bed, perhaps it is the Malevich’s white on white of molecular gastronomy – perhaps I just didn’t get it. Either way, I didn’t like it. And the experience was only made worse by the waitress’s irrefutably appalled face as she took away our still full bowls.


The dishes that followed were much more appealing , if not extraordinary – a single oyster veiled in an intensely acidic yet sweet yuzu kiwi dressing, a slither of tender mackerel bathing in a robust potato skin bouillon with seared chargrilled baby broccoli, an almost translucent parmesan water ‘gnocchi’ in a soy milk based, parmesan sauce, and a lightly seared scallop with perfectly crunchy caramelised onions and a herb jus.


The cuttlefish – beautifully paired with a smattering of yuba (bean curd) and incredibly sweet mini leeks – was delicious, although bordering on slightly  too generous in size.


In a similar vein to Passard, I had expected Toutain’s cooking to be heavily legume based, but our meal thus far had almost been a mollusc monologue. And so joy of joys when a ridiculously tender, juicy, coffee infused piece of pork, which had been encased in a salt pastry was brought to our table.  Served with orange inebriated pumpkin squares and a pumpkin puree, this course was immensely sublime – as Danny DoRito mused, ‘Dad’s Sunday pork roast will simply never be the same again.’


After a rustic wooden board replete with mountainous slivers of deliciously grainy vieux comté, came a little pot of coconut, cauliflower and white chocolate cream. Normally I am not a huge cauliflower enthusiast (unless it is submerged under avalanches of cheesy béchamel) but I have to say that even though the cauliflower was demonstrably present, this was a shockingly divine merger.

However what I was really holding out for was that haute-couture ferrero rocher ball I had spied at the next table. But (‘the horror, the horror’) as I forked into the spherical little dumpling, it turned out to be a chocolate coated jerusalem artichoke. It was innovative, I will give it that. And I can understand the appeal of marrying an earthy, almost nutty root with chocolate – but it simply wasn’t tasty.  It was a dud root, and I wanted it to be over.


The meal finished with a little confuse-bouche of chewy vanilla confit celery – original indeed, but I wasn’t exactly pleading for another. I do feel molecular gastronomy is like that though – more a science to be appreciated and admired, than a meal to be savoured. It is intriguing, at times awe-inspiring – but you often find yourself debating with your dinner companion over how dishes were conceived and produced, rather than reaching for crusty bread to mop up remnants of parmesan infused soy milk.

Nevertheless, on the whole, the food was magnificent; an intricate web of innovative tastes, creatively conceived, harmoniously married and exquisitely executed.

The verdict – if you’re looking for a unique dining experience in Paris, and molecular gastronomy is your cup of tea, then David Toutain is definitely worth trying – for the profoundly original fare, for the beautiful hand-made crockery, or just pour le fun, quoi.



Paris Stilton

David Toutain
29 rue Surcouf 
Paris 75007
Metro: Invalides, La Tour Mabourg
Tel: +33 1 45 50 11 10 or reservations@davidtoutain.com
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