Ox tongue? Oui!

A gourmet de­light is tucked away in Par­nell Vil­lage

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - RESTAURANT -

Many months ago, a reader emailed sug­gest­ing I re­view Le Bistro des Gourmets. The food was out­stand­ing, he said. Plus, he wanted it to sur­vive. I can re­port it’s hang­ing in there — just. Maybe every­body had gone to Matakana et al? On a Labour Week­end Satur­day we were the only din­ers in this Par­nell din­ing room.

It is to the restau­rant’s great credit that we didn’t feel awk­ward or un­com­fort­able. And, ob­vi­ously, we got the best seats in the house. Street­side, it was all shoes with­out socks and legs that hadn’t been out of long pants since March. Up­stairs, on that glo­ri­ously sun­shiney evening, it was a sub­lime view of Ran­gi­toto.

Le Bistro des Gourmets is set back from the main thor­ough­fare, through a nar­row door­way, up a stair­well and round a cor­ner. You won’t get here by ac­ci­dent.

But if you are a fan of French wine and food and wait­peo­ple, you might con­sider the field trip.

Our wait­per­son was happy to bring ch­ablis and rosé but the re­quested red was, he sug­gested, per­haps too heavy for the day. (Drop the “h” for the com­plete ex­pe­ri­ence and just nod when he prof­fers some­thing with al­most as many grape va­ri­eties as cus­tomers — it was very good).

There were four en­trees and four of us. Ox tongue? Get in line. It was served warm, which en­hanced its slightly but­tery tex­ture with a sauce gribiche that sent the rich­ness pack­ing ($15).

If you lean to­wards the par­fait end of the paté spec­trum, you won’t like the ter­rine ($16). If, how­ever, your tastes tend to­wards, well, tasty, then this is a lovely lit­tle pot of rus­ti­cally chunky meat with a heady whack of brandy.

There was an egg baked in a not-so-lit­tle pond of Can­tal cheese ($14), which I have sub­se­quently learned has the “smell of earth and pas­ture lands” and a crust built by cheese mites. Rose­mary de­clared it de­li­cious.

I or­dered the vol-au-vent. In 1977, the Ac­ci­dent Com­pen­sa­tion Cor­po­ra­tion re­ceived 23 claims for mor­nay sauce-in­duced mouth burns. An es­ti­mated half of those were the re­sult of vol­cani­cally over­heated vol-au-vents. Ob­vi­ously, I’m mak­ing that up. Also, it turns out the 1970s may have been do­ing vol-au-vents wrong.

At Le Bistro des Gourmets, the flaky lit­tle cylin­der of my child­hood had be­come a di­a­mond­shaped slab of (slightly scorched) puff pas­try. Prawns and squid were cooked ta­ble­side by our wait­per­son, then spooned on top with a smidgeon of saf­fron sauce ($16). It seemed a lot of work for some­thing that was, ul­ti­mately, more style than sub­stance.

Fin­ish­ing the food ta­ble­side was a re­cur­ring theme that might need a re­think. It raises ex­pec­ta­tions - and that back­fired badly when a lamb dish ($33) re­quired far more chew­ing than you’d de­cently ex­pect of a fil­let.

My gurnard ($32) was beau­ti­fully cooked and sea­soned and I loved the base of bit­ter braised en­dive. A veal dish ($29) was re­ally quite spe­cial - the esca­lope of meat rolled around a pi­quant (al­most ter­rine-like) fill­ing had the feel of a very flash French farm­house.

The vege­tar­ian of­fer­ing ($27) is un­usual. A large quenelle of choux pas­try had been baked un­der a blan­ket of tomato and cheese. It could have been bor­ing but for the sauce that had been cooked down to a sweet and savoury essence; Labour Week­end toma­toes with a late-sea­son taste.

Le Bistro des Gourmets is swim­ming hard against the tidal wave of Asian-fu­sion, in­for­mal and shared plate restau­rants that are Auck­land’s cur­rent culi­nary bread and (turmeric-in­fused) but­ter. The white table­cloths and the in­clu­sion of veg­eta­bles on your mains plate are from an­other time and place. L’au­then­tique? Choco­late mousse ($16) was dark and rich; a rice pud­ding ($15) was chewy-in-agood-way. Clas­sic flavours from a clas­sic cui­sine. We had cheese ($18) and a for­ti­fied red wine that went with both cheese and choco­late and I’m not sure din­ner gets any more Gal­lic.

Kim Knight

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