On a recent evening, when I was cooking for one, I came across this very simple recipe, whose heritage I was blissfully unaware. I have always advocated simplicity in cooking which does not in any way imply thoughtlessness or carelessness in the preparation, indeed the opposite is true. There is no reason why baked beans on toast should not be a very good dish and they most certainly will be if the beans are twice heated, with a knob of unsalted butter stirred into them, and are then spooned onto a thick hot slice of grilled bread which has absorbed its own share of good butter. The recipe that I found was for a golden potato cake, cooked both in the pan and in the oven, which would then be served with roughly chopped parsley and garlic. A potato cake such as this demands that bit more than beans on toast but is none the less simple and is indeed so good that it travels in very exalted, both monetarily and socially, company when served at the celebrated L’Ami Louis restaurant in Paris. The name of this restaurant has, for some time, been rattling around in the maelstrom that is the back of my mind. Part of that chaos was so deeply under the impression that I had at some time visited the restaurant that I found myself reminiscing over non existent moments that I had enjoyed there, so much so that when I saw the recipe entitled “Potato Cake L’Ami Louis” it was like saying a surprised hello on suddenly recognising a long forgotten friend in an unlikely situation and realising, too late, that you are about to double kiss the Queen Mother*….her face looked so familiar. Having apologised profusely and backed out of the room, whilst retaining a suitably servile and bowed posture, I felt I should research the restaurant with whom I believed I was an intimate. “This is the home of the $300 chicken ” was Google’s opening line by way of introduction to this celebrated restaurant which, it appears, is not only home to the priceless chicken but also to the movers and groovers among whom I do not number. Rich tourists make up the numbers: one of these number maker uppers mentions in a review that, on looking through the wine list, he had had to ask the wine waiter if the prices were in Euros or Francs: I noticed that one could have a good bottle of La Tache for 2,380€…yes Euros, not Francs. Yet my humble potato cake is the “side” that accompanies the $90 côtes de boeuf. That which is even more surprising is that the menu is, to my mind, an ideal list of the simplest, best and least fucked about dishes in the French catalogue: foie gras, jambon pata negra, confit de canard, escargots, st.jacques, asperges vertes, poulet roti, cotes de boeuf, cotes du mouton, rognons, cailles, pigeon, framboises, pruneaux à l’armagnac….incontournable..mais l’experience l’Ami Louis est unique, tordante et ruineuse!. Just love the sheer outrageous bollocks of it but the experience will remain for me as one that is as vicarious as it is affordable. However, I can and did enjoy the potato cake, and could, on reflection, enjoy any of the other dishes at home by just buying the ingredients. There are no ridiculous emulsions, cheffy decorations, or uncomfortable combinations of ingredients that are picked for their novel name, colour or rarity….just the finest, simplest ingredients. The only requirements for enjoying these dishes outside of the rich chicken’s home would be the purchase of ingredients and the care and attention in their preparation…. and some good affordable wine which is not a rarity here . Here is the recipe from Patricia Wells’ wonderful “Bistro Cooking” that has not left my kitchen since I bought it two years ago.
*I know the Queen Mother has been dead for quite a while….I just wish I didn’t keep bumping into her.