You only have to spend five minutes in the centre of Paris to realise why the French economy is stuffed: half the male population sit on street corners gazing at passers-by. When this happens in England, we call it homelessness, and donate to charities such as Shelter so that the phenomenon can be contained. In France, they call it whatever the French word for "culture" is, and laud it as a habit of the civilized mind.
It's no good telling a Frenchman, for instance, that he should do a longer working week, retire at 70 rather than 35, and spend mornings producing goods demanded by consumers rather than eating a pain au chocolat and smoking Gauloises.
Sitting around doing not much is the ancient right of the Gauls, from Asterix via Talleyrand to Sarko, even if the latter is Hungarian.
And for the most part, it works. If any of you are lucky enough to visit France at this time of year, you'll notice that – banlieues aside – French life is highly... pleasant. The food is refined; the climate, forgiving. Put the two together and you see why men and women of working age like to sit around and while away mornings, eating a pain au chocolat and smoking Gauloises.
Such indomitable Frenchness is the motivation behind Primeur in Stoke Newington, north London. That and making lots of money, presumably, which they will now that Giles Coren, who I am seated opposite, has been seen here practising his doosra (Google it).
Primeur boasts an open-plan space, a navigable menu, and excellent, affordable wines. And for the most part, it works.
There are just 11 options, plus cheese and a single dessert. Jamon de Teruel is ham from a town in Aragon, in the east of Spain, and the slices here have an aroma that takes you straight to that part of the world. It is tough, salty and greasy, but the flavour is so strong that you forget all that; and at £8 it's a decent starter for two.
It's funny, isn't it, that if a menu is short, you end up eating more, because you want to try everything. The lamb sweetbreads (£8) have a rich, musty flavour smartly set against ham and pressed peas; and the spiced aubergine with tomato and Greek yoghurt (£6.50) is basically baba ganoush minus the charcoal flavour, and perfectly respectable.
The best dishes are a juicy pork belly with crisp kale and salsa verde (£13), and a chunk of mackerel with beetroot and hazelnuts (£12). To look at it, I didn't think this dish would work: the mackerel is firm and wet at the same time, and could have done with a spot of something hot, such as horseradish. But the nutty crunch and beetroot slices bind it all together in a very moreish fashion.
As if that isn't enough, there is a solid beef rump that comes with snails and garlic butter so pungent that I couldn't possibly kiss my fellow critic, handsome though he is.
The chocolate mousse with red-wine cherries (£6) is basically diabetes on a plate, and therefore delicious. The mousse is properly bubbly, like an Aero bar, and far from being the usual syrupy Maraschinos, these cherries actually taste of a decent claret.
And that's about it, apart from the tomato gazpacho (£6) and pork terrine (£8) and roast turbot (£17) and cheese (£9), which would have been just too much. The wines on the board start at £27 – that is, not cheap.
What makes this place lovely, food aside, is the setting. It used to be a garage, and you can tell. Before that it was a greengrocer. In all, there is room for around 40 people, with a private dining room for 15. Some 14 places are on a long table, so the chances of revealing the secret of your doosra to an undercover enemy are high. But the vibe is light and spacious and relaxed and open, which is comforting.
Comforting, that is, if you can find it. Chef David Gingell and manager Jeremie Cometto-Lingenheim – who have respectively worked at The Wolseley and with the Galvins; and with Mark Hix and the Wright and Boxer brothers – are an impressive duo. But they have no reservation line and accept only face-to-face bookings. This strikes me as contrary to commercial, social and moral logic; but given the quality of the grub here, I imagine that, like France, for the most part it will work.
Primeur, Barnes Motors, 116 Petherton Road, London N5, £90 for two, including drinks
Four more foodie notes from the week
One of the definitive fruits of the summer. I prefer them to plums, apricots and furrier-skinned peaches, don't you?
In Kenya I had this polenta-like staple, made of maize flour mixed with water and cooked until thick. Disappointingly bland.
Innocent Lentil Sambar
This attempt at the South Indian dish spiced with tamarind sounds promising but proves to be somewhat of a letdown.
At Bruno Loubet's Grain Store they do an excellent version, brought alive with a little dollop of Colman's.Reuse content