K’ Rd’s “neo-bistro” is the best of a spate of new open­ings around the city, to revel in dur­ing sum­mer.

Metro Magazine NZ - - Contents - TEXT — HENRY OLIVER

Bar Céleste, and Clay.

T he­news that the op­er­a­tors of La Pêche — part­ners Emma Ogilvie, who runs the front of house, and Nick Lands­man, who runs the kitchen — were open­ing a bricks-and-mor­tar restau­rant with the owner of Cotto gen­er­ated more hype than Auck­land has seen in a while.

Over a se­ries of pop-ups at var­i­ous restau­rants and cafes around town, La Pêche skil­fully built both a menu and a brand that are nearly per­fectly ex­e­cuted in Bar Céleste, one of a co­terie of new wine bars and bistros that have popped up just in time for sum­mer. We’ve eaten in all of them, and Bar Céleste is un­de­ni­ably the best.

Pitched as a “neo-bistro”, Céleste is one of the first Auck­land restau­rants to em­brace the “bistron­omy” move­ment that has trans­formed the din­ing scene in Paris (where Ogilvie and Lands­man met) over the past decade or so. Un­til quite re­cently, Parisian din­ing was dom­i­nated by restau­rants that were either for­mal — white-table­cloth tem­ples of haute cui­sine — or ca­sual — che­quered-table­cloth bistros where the food tended to­wards the medi­ocre. (A

2013 sur­vey con­cluded 30% of French restau­rants served re­heated frozen food, and a 2010 doc­u­men­tary es­ti­mated the num­ber was as high as 70%.) The bistron­omy move­ment has bro­ken that down by open­ing small, af­ford­able restau­rants with lively at­mos­pheres, in­ter­est­ing wines and ev­er­chang­ing sea­sonal menus.

Céleste could have gone badly wrong, given how com­pletely on-trend it is: skin-con­tact wines, oys­ters, whole fish, chunky sour­dough, up­scale takes on fast food, ’nduja… But they pull it off, be­cause it’s so well ex­e­cuted. It may be Lands­man’s first restau­rant, but since ar­riv­ing from Paris, he’s spent his time cook­ing at De­pot, mak­ing the Al-Brown-Kiwi-bach ver­sion of the same kind of food (though with­out the menu flu­id­ity). Ogilvie, too, has de­signed an ap­proach to hos­pi­tal­ity that com­bines a wel­com­ing din­ner-party flow with a no-non­sense at­ti­tude that you can’t help but think of as also be­ing as French in­spired as the menu.

The food tends to the sim­ple and ir­re­sistible. The oys­ters are fresh and briny; the ’ota ’ika (a Ton­gan raw-fish dish made, in this case, with trevally) is light, bright and tastes like sum­mer; the ju­dion (but­ter) beans are fat and juicy with the fresh­est olive oil and

crisp parch­ment bread; the pommes pail­las­son topped with crème frâiche and chives are prob­a­bly the best hash browns in town (in­tended as the high­est of com­pli­ments!). Of the big­ger plates, the whole floun­der is the sig­na­ture dish, seen on In­sta­gram feeds daily, and is softly cooked, its crispy skin then topped with a deep­brown but­ter and ca­pers and pars­ley. But the high­light of the menu is the oc­to­pus a la plan­cha — meaty chunks of charred yet ten­der ten­ta­cle with a chorizo vinai­grette and parsnip velouté that, as you eat, com­bines into a rich sauce to be wiped (or licked clean) from the plate. To fin­ish, the choco­late ganache with grassy olive oil and big flakes of sea salt is soft, lux­u­ri­ous, and sat­is­fy­ingly sweet and savoury.

Céleste isn’t just a great restau­rant, it’s also a great bar, where cer­tain young, up­wardly mo­bile types meet for ob­scure wines and sour beers (nat­u­ral wine will be for the 2020s what craft beer was for the 2010s and cham­pagne was for the 1980s). As the night gets later, the mu­sic gets louder and, af­ter 10, the DJ be­comes more prom­i­nent as the menu changes to oys­ters, fries and the mar­ket fil­let o’ fish, a main­stay at La Pêche pop-ups. It’s great — soft, flavour­some, nos­tal­gic yet sur­pris­ing. But I’ll take the oc­to­pus any day.

ABOVE— The food at Bar Céleste tends to the sim­ple and ir­re­sistible.

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