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David Toutain – magnifique!

David Toutain in Paris is a restaurant that absolutely demands to be talked about… so here I go…

Planning a weekend of gastronomy in Paris we were struggling to find somewhere for lunch on the Monday when we stumbled upon some excellent reviews for Restaurant David Toutain. With nothing better in the offing we managed to secure a table and didn’t really think much more about it.

The restaurant is on an interesting little street near Les Invalides. There is no grand entrance but as soon as we saw the décor inside and were shown to our table we had an inkling we might be in for something special. An amuse bouche arrived with the “menus” – a wafer thin slice of beetroot curled into a tube shape and stuffed with a beetroot and blackcurrant foam, so divine that even beetroot-hating F loved it. The “menus” are little more than a price list: 3 courses for 45 euros, 5 courses for 72 euros and 7 courses for 105 euros (or 165 euros with wines to match), with an additional course of morels offered for 20 euros. Deciding there was little point in going short we went for the full 7 courses plus wines plus morels. At this point the only thing we knew we would be eating were the morels – for every other course we were at the mercy of the kitchen.

A series of amuse bouche arrived, each of which made us excited for what was to come. A chicken thigh stuffed with chicken and served with licorice cream was exquisitely cooked and melted in the mouth. More chicken served in a clam shell in a wild garlic and herb oil just divine, and an egg yolk served in a shell with cumin and caramel alongside cornbread was heavenly. A selection of breads was served – warm brioche so buttery it needed no addition, a tasty seeded gluten free bread – then we were presented with course #1, a delicate serving of crab with (I think) rhubarb and tiny salad leaves with peas on a pea puree. This was light and refreshing and was accompanied by a muscat from Alsace which perfectly complimented this dish and the next. Course #2 was a prawn roe with cucumber mousse and avocado and a crispy prawn shell. Course #3 was cod on baked onion (there was more to this dish but just can’t remember) accompanied by a Bourgogne which once more was a perfect match (also to dish #4). On to course #4, green asparagus (surprisingly fat yet beautifully tender) with a parmesan cream and crisp, all melt in the mouth quality and delicious. The ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ continued to emerge from our table…

The came the morels, served with crispy chicken skin and lots of other things (memory fading again – and no detailed menu to refer to!). Very nice indeed, they went down a treat. This was followed by the signature dish – smoked eel in a black sesame sauce… heavenly, nothing more needs to be said. Course #5 was pigeon served with a nutty (hazelnut?) concoction and lots of other things that just danced on the tongue – this was possibly my favourite dish of all. Served with a fabulous red from the Languedoc I think (I have given up trying to remember everything now!). I did not know that pigeon could be quite so delicious…

On to the puds. Dessert #1 came in two parts – a white chocolate, cauliflower and coconut cream (which is vying with the pigeon for star billing) and a milk cream with wafer thin meringue studded with Madagascar honey. Both absolutely delightful, the honey adding a fragrance to the dish. Dessert #2 was a lemon tart… but not just any lemon tart. This was light and creamy and was served with dill and “more other stuff” and was just divine. The dessert wine served with this was again a perfect match. Coffee was served with a delicately orange flavoured madeleine and the scrummiest chocolate truffle that we rolled in cocoa seeds before devouring.

There was so much great food I have forgotten where some of the ingredients went – some scrummy turnips, a truly tasty gnocchi and much, much more.

The service throughout could not be faulted. Our waiter managed that fine balance between friendly and formal, the sommelier was informative, it felt as if everyone was engaged in ensuring we had a great time. The tableware and crockery deserves a special mention – at times almost matching the innovation of the make up and delivery of the food.

Having just “rocked up for a lunch” we finally left, 3 hours later, having had our best ever meal in Paris and once of the finest meals of all. I don’t think I could face returning to Paris without having a reservation at David Toutain to look forward to!

Clarence Darrow at The Old Vic

Wow… just wow…

This is just a fabulous performance, possibly the best I’ve seen from Kevin Spacey on stage. Clarence Darrow was an American Lawyer and civil rights champion from the late 1800s through to the 1930s. This play has Mr Darrow in his office, looking back over some of the key cases and key moments in his life. As he takes us through his legal career he brings to life the courtrooms, defendants, witnesses and jurors. It really is a commanding performance from an actor at his best.

Clarence Darrow has a ridiculously short run, closing in about 7 days – do anything you can to get a ticket for this show.

King Charles III at Almeida Theatre

We caught the final performance of the run at the Almeida just over a week ago and can fully appreciate why this play is transferring to the West End later in the year.

King Charles III tells of what might happen when Queen Elizabeth II dies and Prince Charles succeeds to the throne. All the major royals are represented, along with a Labour prime minister and significant courtiers. Tim Pigott-Smith, as Charles, gives a beautifully nuanced performance of a man grieving for his mother and struggling to come to terms with what his responsibilities really are – it is an impression of the man rather than an impersonation of the man.

The simple set and excellent ensemble cast make this a truly excellent production – catch it in the West End if you can.

The Bread & The Beer at Soho Theatre

This monologue about the God of barley, John Barleycorn, is full of energy and drama. It tells of John Barleycorn being woken from a centuries long slumber into a modern day London, his dismay at the greyness of the city and his joy and delight as he intoxicates the modern workers and dwellers with his very special brand of merriment. It is a performance which is full of fun while at the same time makes you think about how things have changed – for good and for bad.

The Bread & The Beer had a short run at Soho Theatre last week. If John Barleycorn makes an appearance in your neck of the woods he is well worth going to see.

Russell Maliphant Company: Still Current at Sadler’s Wells

A short, three night run at Sadler’s Wells for the latest offering from Russell Maliphant Company. A mix of old and new works this really was an excellent programme.

First was Still – a pulsating beat beautifully interpreted by Dickson Mbi, with a marvellous use of light to make the stage appear to move at times. Traces had three dancers almost in battle, at times in synch and complementing the other(s) and then in opposition. Carys Staton closed the first part of the programme with an excellent performance of Two. Afterlight (Part One) opened the second act and Thomasin Gulgec gave a powerful performance of this familiar piece. The final piece, Still Current, was probably my favourite of the evening. Again, inventive use of lighting to expand then decrease the stage area in use made the performers appear to grow then shrink in size – a visual delight.

A thoroughly enjoyable programme which will surely return – highly recommended.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at NT Cottesloe

This is an innovative and absorbing production in my favourite auditorium at the NT complex.

Based on the book by Mark Haddon this is a compelling story about Christopher, a teenager with an extraordinary brain, as he tries to discover who killed his neighbours dog. This quest leads him on a remarkable journey, facing demons that are everyday occurrences to the man on the street.

As usual, the set at the Cottesloe for this production is terrific. There is fine use of simple objects, clever choreography and imaginative use of floor space and lighting.

Luke Treadaway delivers a remarkable performance as Christopher. The entire cast are impeccable, delivering words and moves with perfect timing. The direction by Marianne Elliott is dramatic and theatrical in every sense of the word.

This is one of the must see shows at the NT this autumn – you will not be disappointed. And one last hint – don’t leave the auditorium too quickly at the end of the evening…

Shifts at Waterloo Station

I was allocated London Ambassador shifts during the ‘transition’ period – between the games (Olympic and Paralympic). This suited me very well – I was “Games Making” during the Olympics and going to many events at the Paralympics. My first shift was on a hot and sunny Saturday afternoon/evening – I donned my uniform and set of to work.

Arriving at Waterloo station I checked in with the station reception then took position at the London Ambassador pod. We were a small team of 4 ambassadors plus a team leader and were quickly fielding questions from travellers, visitors and those who were just interested in what we were doing. The first request for a photo came early on in that first session as did the first thank you for being a volunteer. Everyone was so friendly and smiley – people wanted to chat and talk about their London 2012 experiences. That first session whizzed by. There were lots of tourists in town and we were kept busy, but thankfully not too busy.

Shift number 2 the following day, a hot and sticky Sunday afternoon/evening, was more of the same. Lots of tourists and visitors to help, Londoners who were keen to find out more about the upcoming Paralympics and loads more thank yous :-)

The remaining shifts on the next three days (Monday to Wednesday) brought a different audience to the pod. Commuters also wanted to chat it seemed. Things were no quieter but some of the questions were different. At times I surprised myself with things I know about London, and in particular, travelling around London.

I have all sorts of memories of my shifts at Waterloo station. There was one shift when we noticed there seemed to be a lot of fairly heavily pregnant ladies catching trains to and from the station. On two consecutive shifts we saw countless men and women carrying beautiful bouquets of flowers. London Ambassadors from other sites and Games Makers would often drop by for a chat. We met several volunteers taking part in the Paralympics opening ceremony on their way home from final rehearsals. We chatted with men and women from the armed forces about their London 2012 experiences. I became our team expert on demonstrating how to use the station ticket machines to top up Oyster cards. The two most frequently asked questions were “Where is the toilet” and “Where is MacDonalds”.

I looked forward to finishing my final shift for one reason only – the uniform shirt was made of 100% polyester… I ask you, 100% polyester, in temperatures up to 30 degrees centigrade…

I really enjoyed my shifts as a London Ambassador – I really felt that I was helping people. We were a jolly group at Waterloo station, as seen in this photo taken during shift handover.

Shift handover at Waterloo station

Just don’t ask me to put on that shirt again…

Timon of Athens at NT Olivier

Timon of Athens by William Shakespeare is an intriguing and dark play which follows Timon, the darling of society, as he falls into debt and destitution. This Nicholas Hytner production is set in modern times. We are given a glimpse of what is to come before the play really begins as a cardboard city occupies the rear of the vast Olivier stage. This is hidden in the opening scene as we see Timon being feted and fawned upon at an art gallery as he showers his acolytes with gifts.

Simon Russell Beale gives another superlative performance as Timon, revelling in the early scenes where Timon is that man who everyone wants to be seen with then turning in a searing performance an a man embittered with the world once Timon has been shunned and left to live on the streets. Deborah Findlay is excellent as his steward, loyal to the end.

The is a powerful production with a(nother) excellent set in the cavernous Olivier auditorium. Simon Russell Beale really is a “must see” actor of our times.

The Doctor’s Dilemma at NT Lyttelton

The Doctor’s Dilemma by Bernard Shaw has almost finished a run at the NT Lyttelton. It is a rather black comedy about the power and ethics of a group of publically perceived eminent doctors. A respected Harley Street consultant, Sir Colenso Ridgeon, has developed a new treatment for tuberculosis but can only admit ten patients to the treatment. His long term friend (and worthy doctor of the poor and needy) is one of the ten – will Ridgeon abandon his friend in favour of a dubious artist whose beautiful wife has enchanted him…

This is an entertaining play which has some very funny moments. Aden Gillett plays Ridgeon with charm and Tom Burke as the rakish artist Dubedat is extremely convincing. Not high drama but an enjoyable evening’s entertainment.

Paralympics – Athletics – first evening session

My first spectator experience at the Paralympics at London 2012, and what an opener. I was lucky enough to have a ticket for the Olympic Stadium for the first evening session of athletics. The weather was fine, if a little chilly, and the park was heaving.

Arriving early I sat outside the Aquatics centre for a while and was amazed by the noise the crowd inside there was making – I was a good 100 metres away and it was loud. After catching up with a friend who was also at the park I made my way to the stadium – let the action begin.

The stadium was pretty full when I arrived. I took my seat, overlooking the back straight, just as the heats of the Men’s 5000m T54 were beginning. Three heats, with the first three going through to the final plus the fastest loser. In heat 1 Kurt Fearnley of Australia was a popular competitor and controlled the race to qualify quite easily. Heat 2 was a slow race with nobody appearing willing to take things out. Marcel Hug of Switzerland won quite easily whereas Josh Cassidy of Canada seemed to misjudge the race and, in finishing fourth, was out of the final. Heat 3 saw GB star David Weir enjoy a rousing welcome from the crowd. Another cat and mouse affair, the crowd erupted when Weir took the lead on the final lap and roared him home in first place. Hearing the stadium crowd cheering on a home athlete is rather special experience.

David Weir hovering in second place during his heat

I had a fantastic view of the Men’s Long Jump final F42/44 and this was a hugely competitive event. It was won by Markus Rehm of Germany in a new world record distance and only Daniel Jorgensen of Denmark prevented a German clean sweep by claiming bronze – he celebrated with a perfectly executed back-flip! While the long jump was taking place action continued on the track and we were treated to a GB winning performance. Hannah Cockcroft in the Women’s 100m T34 final took the race by storm, winning by over a second in a new paralympic record. Time for the roar of the crowd to fill the stadium again – and a standing ovation for Hannah. It was just fabulous later in the evening to witness her medal ceremony and to hear the crowd in the stadium belt out the national anthem – a proud moment for us all.

There were too many events taking place during the session to cover them all, but I also particularly enjoyed the Women’s Discus F40 final – the winning throwers could hardly contain their delight at their success. It was a wonderful evening at a wonderful venue. I was slightly disappointed that many of the crowd did not stay until the end, but there were enough of us there to make plenty of noise for the for the athletes in the Men’s Discus and Shot Putt finals. It was also good to see Paralympic flame for the first time – quite beautiful.

The paralympic flame


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