Tuesday, April 1, 2008

More delicious dining - The French Cafe

My second fine dining experience while on holidays in New Zealand's North Island was at
The French Cafe, situated at 210 Symonds Street in Auckland. This restaurant was the runner-up in the Best Fine Dining Category of Cuisine magazine's New Zealand Restaurant of the Year awards. I discovered The French Cafe through Tammy's post about her birthday dinner. (If you like sweets of any variety, I highly recommend a visit to Tammy's terrific blog, Wee Treats by Tammy.)

The atmosphere at The French Cafe has a dark, mysterious and formal feel, with dark wood panelling throughout. Diners are greeted at the door by an usher, and just inside, there is a waiting area with a couch to relax with a drink before being shown to your table, if you wish:

At my choice, I started with a drink at the well stocked bar, as I arrived twenty minutes early after overestimating how long it would take to get there from my inner city hotel.

Even before I arrived at The French Cafe, the service was remarkable. I left some very garbled telephone messages to arrange my booking both from Australia and while in New Zealand, and the staff on each occasion promptly and courteously returned my calls. There are not many restaurants that will return an overseas phone call to confirm a booking. Throughout the meal, the service was also impeccable. My waitress was friendly, attentive and helpful, and my water glass was regularly topped up by another smiling waitress.

At The French Cafe, you have a choice of two tasting menus or you may dine
a la carte. The tasting menus were popular on the night of my visit, but I knew that I would not be able to handle these (with 6 and 11 courses respectively), so I chose the a la carte menu. On this occasion, I selected an entree and a main meal, resisting my beloved dessert course.

To start, I was served an amuse bouche of warm carrot and ginger soup with coconut foam. If you had asked me whether I liked carrot soup previously, I would have said no, but this soup was delicious. I am also a ginger lover, so the flavour combination was very appealing to me.

For entree, I selected the roasted french goats cheese with caramelised onion, beetroot and fig tart, serve with a rocket salad on the side, which I had coveted since reading about it on Tammy's blog:

This tart was exquisite in both appearance and taste, and was surprisingly light, making it a perfect starter. The tart base was crispy, puffed pastry, which served as a vehicle for the delicious flavours of the topping without overshadowing them. The delicate violet atop the goat's cheese crown of the tart set off the regal purple beauty of this dish.

New Zealand is famed for its lamb, so for my main course, I selected the pink roasted lamb served with roasted tomatoes, marjoram, green peas, Persian feta, pancetta and white bean puree:

The lamb was tender and delicate in flavour, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the white bean puree, a vegetable dish that I would not be automatically drawn to had it not been part of the meal.

If you have a very hearty appetite, there is also a wide selection of side dishes available, and a lovely dessert menu. Alas, I could not eat another thing. I accompanied my meal with two glasses of the Lamont 2006 Riesling from Central Otago and completed the experience with a flat white coffee.

This was another enjoyable dining experience, although it was very different in atmosphere and style to the equally excellent Martin Bosley's Yacht Club Restaurant. If you are lucky enough to visit Auckland and Wellington, I highly recommend both establishments. Each provides a gastronomic experience which is as memorable and enjoyable as the many natural wonders that New Zealand has to offer.

Postscript: If you are interested in my general travels around the North Island of New Zealand, I will post about these on my travel blog shortly and link to them from this post.


Rosie said...

I'm sold Cakelaw! Just look at that gorgeous food I just want to tuck in NOW!! So glad to hear you had a most wonderful holiday :)

Rosie x

Ivy said...

Alors ca c'est magnifique. How do you say yum in French. Never mind, I said it in English. A toute a l' heure.

Tammy said...

That is so great that you went there and enjoyed it!!!! I cant wait to go back!! Were you in NZ for work or pleasure?

giz said...

Foodies tend to be the most critical when going to a restaurant - your review was so glowing - the restaurant had to have been exceptional. I'm also very curious about the Persian Feta - how is it different?
The lamb looks to die for.

Laurie Constantino said...

That sounds like a wonderful meal. I'm particularly taken with the puff pastry/beet/goat cheese tart. Where were the figs? Or is the sauce on the plate fig sauce? It's very intriguing.

Barbara said...

I ate there years ago before it was really popular. Now you need to book ahead and I'm never that well organised. Gald you enjoyed it.

Cakelaw said...

Hi Rosie, Excellent - the tart in particular is devine.

Hi Ivy, Your Frenchis better than mine, believe me!

Hi Tammy, I was in NZ purely for pleasure - and I loved it.

Hi Giz, I have to say that the Persian feta was just like any other feta, so any subtleties that the restaurant may have hoped I would pick up about it were lost on me.

Hi Laurie, the figs are under the beetroot along with the caremlised onion. I believe that balsamic vinegar was used to flavour them. the deocration on the plate was done with raspberry vinegarette - this is a really special dish.

Thanks Barbara - funny how when people get wind of a place, it really takes off, but until it gets its big break, it can be really quiet, even if it is superb.

SaraLynn said...

I loved reading this post! Amazing looking food.

Cakelaw said...

Hi Saralynn, the food here was fantastic. If only I had room for the tasting menu - sigh ...

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