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.