Working in a war zone can be draining, with places to alleviate the tension hard to find. In Kabul, NGO staff, journalists, and foreign development workers have long sought out L'Atmosphère Restaurant and Bar, latmospherekabul.blogs.com, for its convivial charms, excellent wine list (for Afghanistan) and comforting French meals think dishes like beef fillet, smoked salmon and dill sauce or tuna steak and ratatouille followed by plates of cheese and fresh peaches in zabaglione.
In an unsettled and sometimes dangerous country it is a refuge where, after a few visits, everybody knows your name especially Mark Victor and Thomas Cressaty, the journalists turned restaurateurs who opened L'Atmo (as the regulars call it) in 2004. On Thursday nights the start of the Kabul weekend the poolside bar bursts with an eclectic gathering of security analysts, foreign correspondents, diplomats, aid workers and miscellaneous adventure seekers chattering in multiple languages. If Star Wars were to be remade in Afghanistan, the bar scene where Han Solo encounters and kills a bounty hunter would take place at L'Atmo.
Spending summer weekends at the spacious patio and pool is de rigueur for the Kabul social set, though conversations tend toward war stories rather than the latest charity ball. In fact, so central is L'Atmo to the lives of the Afghan capital's foreign community, Victor and Cressaty have opened a branch in Kabul's sandbag-ringed NATO compound. This is so that troops who aren't allowed around town without a humvee escort can get a decent meal with relative ease. To quote the restaurateurs' compatriot, Napoleon Bonaparte, "an army marches on its stomach." Dishes like L'Atmo's almond trout, duck breast with peaches or grilled king prawns flambéed with whiskey should see them quite a distance.
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