The French Cafe is a special occasion sort of place, for most of us at least. There are crisp white tablecloths, a hushed (but not stuffy) room, the gentle clink of silver on porcelain, crystal glints and well-mannered wait staff. It is, in short, seamless.
Our six-course tasting menu ($100 per person, matching wines $60) was impeccably timed. It began with a warm, sweetcorn vichysoisse; peaked with a juicy, seared duck breast atop young spinach, a kumara mash and jus of oranges; and closed with an apple crumble soufflé, served with apple feijoa compote, butterscotch, feijoa sorbet and a delightfully sweet snap of walnut praline.
From the a la carte menu, several dishes stand out. The chicken liver parfait ($14) has been a menu stalwart, and with good reason – its richness cut through with pear relish and the sweetness of nougatine cannelloni – an unusual flavour profile and a clever one. Happily, vegetarians are well catered for, with a dedicated menu that has had no less attention paid to it than any other aspect. Sides are a highlight – the perfect French fries, handcut, dusted with Maldon sea salt, the classic rocket salad simple, with a sour-oily kiss of dressing.
Reciting a menu doesn’t constitute a restaurant review, but perhaps in this case it does – it rolls off the tongue like a hunger-inducing poetry. The tastes are balanced, the wine list extensive, the sommelier knowledgeable. This is crisp, well-honed fine dining, without pretensions or snobbishness. The French Cafe is special. NS
HOURS Dinner, Tuesday to Saturday. Lunch, Friday.
ADDRESS 210 Symonds Street, Eden Terrace, ph 377-1911. www.thefrenchcafe.co.nz
IMPORTANT DETAILS Book, and dress up – go on!