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.
Last time I was at Petersham Nurseries, it was sunny and warm and Skye Gyngell was cooking. Last night was wet and miserable and there was a new chef at the stoves, Greg Malouf of Momo’s fame in Melbourne. Greg has moved to London, and he will be offering his wonderful modern take on Middle Eastern food at Petersham Nurseries. Dinner last night was quite delicious, particularly the rabbit in the picture above and the lamb and frikeh which he served afterwards. And before that, the best tomatoes (from southern Italy) I have had this year in London, served them with a soft curd cheese sprinkled with a little chilli and dried herbs. A marvellous start to the meal. And to finish, luscious meringue topped with cream and berries alongside a refreshing sorbet topped with the most adorable camel biscuits.
When Fay told me to go to Dabbous before it became impossible to book a table, I listened to her and went with Francois Simon who was visiting London for a reportage. It was a total revelation. Ollie Dabbous’ cooking is just brilliant. Elegant without being pretentious. Fussy without being irritating and perfectly exquisite. And not expensive which is a miracle given the level of excellence. And of course Fay was right. It is now impossible to get a table except for weeks or even months ahead which is too bad as I would love to eat there on a regular basis!
It is one year exactly since the Syrian revolution began and one year and a half since I last visited. I can no longer remember where Eskenderun is exactly and in fact, it is not exactly a diner. Simply a tiny place like many in Damascus where they serve a few mezze dishes and grilled meats (over charcoal of course) except that their food is better than even in very good upmarket restaurants. It was recommended by the wonderful Lina Sinjab although when I entered and saw what looked like a crummy take-away place with plastic sheets over the tablecloths — I have mine under! — I wondered if we really wanted to eat there. But I trusted Lina’s taste and we stayed. And boy, am I glad we did. If it wasn’t the best meal of my week there, it was definitely one of the best, made even more so by the element of surprise. As you can see from the picture we didn’t leave much on our plates. I just hope that we will soon be able to go back, after the duck and his acolytes have been booted out of the presidential palace and sent on their way to the Hague!