Wines & Dines: The French Cafe, Auckland City

Note: No delicious food pictures here – it felt like it would be terribly declassé to whip out a camera and take photos of our meals even though the wait staff were so gracious. Just take our word for it that the food was as beautiful as it tasted.

We were lucky enough to receive a very generous gift at our engagement party of a voucher to The French Café. I had to admit that, as a francophile, this restaurant had been on my peripheral vision but the gift of the voucher made up our minds for us to finally go. Life, as it does, got in the way: new job, moving house, weddings, a funeral. Before we knew it, it was three months before the voucher expired. Papa M booked us in (note – if you are wanting an early sitting, book weeks in advance) and this past weekend, we finally got the opportunity to go.

We were surprised by the location – the café is tucked in amongst various shop fronts on a main street. We parked the car and dashed through the rain to the entry. Coming through the door, we were surprised at how quickly you felt tucked away from the world. The cafe is cleverly laid out with a bar in the entry foyer and two seperate rooms for dining, reducing noise and making all areas feel more spacious. The lighting is cleverly done also, with lights rigged over each table rather than broad lighting features to light the whole room.

The menu is quite vast and includes both a 9-course degustation menu and a 6-course tasting menu, both of which can be ordered with wine matches. After previewing the menus on the website, we decided to order a la carte and started with a complimentary and delicious pea soup with mushroom broth – I don’t even like mushrooms and I loved this. It was served with tiny beignets that just burst in your mouth. Following this, we had a bread roll and two types of butter – a herb butter seasoned with time and a smoked butter that I hope to be be able to recreate at home. We were really pleased with the service – taking my coat, a sixth sense in pointing out the direction to the bathroom, perfect timing between visits to the table.

Moving onto our first course, I had the pressed rabbit, beautiful presented on a slate tile. Papa M had the spring vegetables with goat’s curd and honey and his plate was resplendent with colour (I hear it tasted pretty good too!). They were the perfect small meal to ease our way into the menu. For the second course, Papa M had the alpine salmon that was also accompanied by a small amount of lobster and salmon roe; the little piece of salmon that I managed to sneak literally fell apart in my mouth, moist and cooked to perfection. I had the roasted French goat cheese and beetroot tart – little known secret, I hate beetroot except when it is prepared with goat’s cheese! This tart did not disappoint – the caramelised onion definitely added to the overall taste sensation!

I chose the market fish – which on the night was hake – as my main and it definitely worked out as the more substantial meal of the evening, paired with green beans and slivered almonds that had a nice crunch. Papa M had the eggplant, pumpkin and chickpea tagine and his only complaint with the dish is that, with the couscous served on the side, it was too easy to serve yourself an excessive amount of couscous and disrupt the natural balance of the meal. We were both very keen to try the venison but alas, it was the one we had to leave out this time round. We asked our waiter to give us a wine match with our main meal – I had a very mellow chardonnay that I thoroughly enjoyed (I’m not usually a fan) and Papa M’s tagine was matched with the particularly fragrant Lucien Albrecht Gewurztraminer. After our mains we were offered a palate cleanser – peach puree topped with a champagne granita and dried raspberry powder.

Dessert time! Papa M had been eying up the cheese board but was feeling a little overwhelmed from the couscous of his main dish. He settled for an Amandine digestif while I ordered the textured chocolate dessert. The waiter asked very politely whether he should bring an extra spoon to the table so that Papa M could have a taste – just as well he did! The only tense moment of the evening came when Papa M referred to his “part” of my dessert! It tasted amazing though – all dark chocolate and malty goodness with the subtle but refreshing bursts of mandarin – so I don’t blame him too much for trying to finangle his way to a half.

Content and full, we skipped the option of tea and coffee and organised the bill. We sat at the table a short while, uneager to leave the oasis of quiet and warmth. Eventually we summed up enough vigour to get out of our seats, the waiter helped me on with my coat and we scurried off in the rain to the car. It was not a cheap evening – with our other financial goals, it’s certainly not something that we can afford to do all the time – but we definitely will be back.

The French Café / 210 Symonds St, Auckland / http://www.thefrenchcafe.co.nz/

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