The French Cafe and Boomer Economics

We did some fancy shcmancy dining while in Auckland hitting up all three of Hock's 'must eat' restaurants in the name of 'research'

First up was the French Cafe....having long held the title as Auckland's top fine dining spot we checked in to see if anything much had changed since we'd been there last. The previous time the restaurant was smaller and the food fantastic, the wine matching was unsurpassed and each course on the degustation menu was matched superbly with top New Zealand wines. I remember taking a mouthful of each course and thinking "yum" and then sipping the wine and thinking "oh my god that's amazing"

So me and my sister and her partner and Hock all booked in on a Tuesday night, knowing that on a Tuesday we would be more likely to get better food and service than on say, a Saturday.

Our dinner dates were late so Hock and I sat at the bar and ordered some cocktails. I had a rinquinquin and was so enamoured by the girly sweet summeriness of the drink that I downed it and ordered another come no one ever told me about this drink, here all this time I have been slavishly plugged away at trying to get to like pastis, when I could have just gone for the peachy goodness. I can't remember what Hock had because I was too busy enjoying my own drink. They served some Waiheke olives to us while we waited and watched the dinner guests arrive for the evening. Having arrived at 8 pm we managed to slip in before the onslaught of punters. Drinking quietly in the corner we watched the steady stream of moneyed-up baby-boomers pile through the door, the men invariably dressed in bright "funky" shirts that try to proclaim "hey I'm down wit it". Bright shirts hug large abdominal fat bulges made worse by the fact that they are tucked far too tightly into jeans or business pants, often balding many shave off all their hair in a proud pronouncement - "I would rather be bald than wear a comb over like my Dad". Being wealthy alpha male types they all seemed rather large stocky blokes, the prime succeeders in a country where the business sector often seems to be dominated by retired rugby players and their old boys networks. Their dates...the fading debutantes and divorcees of the 1970s and 80's frocked up in pretty dresses, silver shoes and handbags and often displaying far too much cleavage in the not so subtle ploy to detract attention from other less desirable humps and bumps.

we ate our Waiheke olives
Waiheke olives.jpg

When sister and Ginny finally arrived we re-ordered the Chef's Tasting Menu NZD $120 + $85 for matching wines

The menu read

FRESH NELSON OYSTER....grapefruit vinaigrette...

Oysters weren't available so we had to make do with a shot of pea soup
P in foam.jpg

SECOND: CURED SALMON.....crayfish jelly, crème fraiche, caviar

This was probably my favourite course...except it wasn't caviar, but rather black lump fish roe


THIRD: FOIE GRAS PATE....crisp nougatine, pear relish, apple caramel

This was good but in a strange order, the sweetness of the relish seemed to be a better pre-dessert than pre-dinner appetiser


MARINATED TUNA....picked crab, aromatic herb salad, lime leaf dressing

a bit odd after the foie gras but really nice and fresh asian take on tuna



LANGOUSTINE TORTELLINI....sweet tomato, pea puree, vanilla foam....

Really great flavours but on a technical note Hock reckoned the pea puree was too floury.


ROASTED FRENCH GOATS CHEESE caramelised onion, beetroot and fig tart, red wine syrup....
really great dish, but again the order was a bit strange....we all agreed that it would be better as a cheese dish maybe after the frois gras and before dessert

SEARED DUCK BREAST....sweet spices, mandarin puree, bok choy, kumara mash...

An extremely boring duck dish that was on the menu last year...Hock remembered his disappointment from last time and opted out of the duck and for the snapper instead...I joined him. Snapper came with corn and was still simple but not as simple as the duck


At this stage I felt extremely full. The portions were enormous and far too big for a degustation course. Hock commented that although one should never feel like a stuffed pig after a degustation course given the size and estimated propensity towards over consumption by many of the baby booming patrons, it was most likely that the chef had made the executive business decision that in the case of the Auckland fine dining market "more is more"....And it's not just in fine dining that portion sizes cater by default to the groaning bellies of large white males, everywhere in Australia and New Zealand I am constantly served portions far beyond my capacity to consume. I often wish I could ask for half the size and pay half the price but it seems that in most places in the food industry, standard portions are defined by the biggest eaters. I speculated that had course sizes been reduced in size one can only imagine the grumbles from over-fed yet under-satiated big men of Auckland "I paid $205 and I didn't even feel full"


WATERMELON AND ROSEWATER GRANITA...passionfruit curd, strawberry and watermelon salad

I could barely eat it but it was nice palate cleanser
Watermelon Granita

PEACH MELBA poached peaches, champagne sabayon, vanilla icecream...

MUST....STOP......EATING...........except had to have a mouthful of icecream
Peach Melba

CHOCOLATE ESPRESSO orange sugar...everyone except Hock cancelled this dessert, we were just far too full to eat it.


Although the service is always prompt and attentive at the French Cafe, this time I found it over bearing. During the dinner our conversation was interrupted endlessly by waiters presenting and explaining dishes and wine. I much prefer what they used to do at Hock's old restaurant, which was leave you with a beautiful piece of paper rolled up in a scroll with the courses and wine matches printed on it. That way you could check at your leisure, take the menu home as a souvenir and not be interrupted endlessly by waiters. Even the waiters felt embarrassed by constantly interrupting, as if the scallop on the plate were more important than the conversation at the table.

Finally a note on the wine matching. Where previously rare New Zealand tipples were served the restaurant had now taken to serving more French wines that did little to set off explosions of flavours in my mouth. Where before the matches seemed verging on genius, the new matches with imported wines were far less enjoyable. I wonder again, whether this has to do with pleasing the aspirations of the majority clientele. Another problem here was that on one occasion we were served off wine. At the cost of $800 for four people plus tips, you'd expect wines poured to be checked first.


    hahaha..... brilliant description of AK yuppies....
    the big white male phenomenon reminds me of when i heard Mikey Havoc read on the radio about a big kauri tree that could be encircled by ten rugby players... he was like, why always rugby players? why not ten hairdressers?


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