Every now and then I go to a restaurant which I adore. It happened at Noma last summer and at Dabbous this winter. And yesterday, it happened again at Agapé Substance. A tiny space decorated with perfect taste including the most beautiful bouquets of strips of wood from Vacherin boxes. As for the cooking, it is meticulous without being prissy with fabulous ingredients and perfect seasoning. Some have described the chef, David Toutain, as a culinary genius and I have to say I totally agree. He is exceptionally talented and supremely creative. If you are visiting Paris, you have to eat there. I am only sorry we didn’t take my group on the culinary weekend with Francois Simon but we had an amazing degustation dinner at le Comptoir and another cooked by the great critic himself. So, we didn’t do too badly.
And why isn’t Agapé Substance on the 50 best restaurant list (for what the list is worth)? It certainly deserves to be there, and high up too! Hopefully next year. Anyhow, here are a few photographs of our lunch which was not only exquisite but also terrific value at 65 euros, especially when I compare it to my miserable 73 euros lunch at the Bar à Huîtres which consisted of a few oysters, a couple of overcooked langoustines and a bowl of flabby crevettes grises with a glass of lukewarm Chablis!
The restaurant is one long room with the dining area (one long communal table and a couple of small tables against the wall seating 24 in total) at the front and the kitchen at the back. I don’t normally like communal tables but they have the seating organised in such a way that you don’t feel cramped. Plus the waiters seem to glide in and out without bumping into each other or you, and they never reach over which is another of my pet peeves in restaurants. And there is no noise from the kitchen which is amazing.
We started with a stunning cold soup made with algae. The waiter suggested we try the algae ‘crumble’ before he poured the cold soup over it to get the full flavour and it was very good advice. Here, I have to warn you that I may not get all my descriptions right. I really should have taken notes instead of relying on the spare menu, and worse on my fading memory!
We were then given a series of nibbles that were edible works of art starting with delightful sheets of beetroot and the prettiest baby radishes.
Then we got wild garlic sponge and crisp potato rolls. Each mouthful was a delight. The savory shortbreads topped with trout roe were less successful. The roe was delicate and delicious but the biscuits were not as good as they looked.
We then moved onto serious dishes with the first being a very subtle and supremely refined combination of white asparagus, quail’s egg and some sort of caviar. One day I need to learn to cook eggs the way Toutain and other great chefs do them, to a wobbly perfection.
And I don’t think I have ever had a more perfectly cooked slice of Turbot. The calamar was also grilled to perfection.
As for oysters, I don’t normally believe in their aphrodisiac quality but the way the one I was served looked and tasted, I am ready to become a believer!
We then had a symphony of cheese with both a purée and a thick soup on the same plate. Not particularly appealing as an idea but quite delectable in reality. The same with the perfect hen’s egg laid on a smooth polenta (here again, I hope I am right about the polenta) garnished with crisp grains of corn.
The peas that came next were topped with a gorgeous slice of rhubarb. They were again perfectly chosen, cooked and seasoned.
We finished with fabulous sweetbreads that were crisply seared on the outside and left almost raw on the inside. The piece of offal was sprinkled with a few grains of salt that added a touch of crunchy saltiness to an already perfect seasoning.
Oddly enough, the desserts were the only slightly dissonant note in an otherwise perfect meal. Neither the olive oil ice cream nor the chocolate dessert were exceptional. They were very good but not like the rest of the meal although the thin shards of meringue that were spiked in the ice cream were very pure without any eggy taste. A perfect meal, a beautiful setting, and great company (with Paula too) not to mention the sunny weather were a great way to say goodbye to my favourite city!