Herald rating: * * * 1/2
Address: Banque, 311 Remuera Rd
Phone: (09) 522 6688
Open: 7 days 11.30am-late
From the menu: Baked tartlet of semi-dried tomato, confit onion, feta, vincotto dressing $17.50; Roast half-chicken, baby veges, sweet potato and goats cheese, saffron onion confit $32; Apricot honey and mascarpone tartlet, apricot sorbet $13.50
Vegetarian: Please ask
No, I said to the young man peering into what might have been the reservations section of the whizzbang copyrighted computerised restaurant management system, "we don't have a booking but", gazing beyond him to the raft, or perhaps ocean-going yacht, of empty tables stretching to the horizon, "it doesn't seem to be a problem tonight."
"One moment, sir," he replied, without raising his gaze from his Windows to the windows. The oracle spoke. We were in. "Feel free to seat yourself at any table."
Banque. We've all heard the (snigger) jokes. The name describes the building's original use. Before it became a bakery, wherein a young Dominique Parat, lately arrived off the boat from France, got a job as a boulangier. He had a Frennge ack-sont and everyone knows that if you can speak Frennge you can bake croissants.
Parat burned the cakes but survived in the restaurant game. GPKs, Woody's, Isobar, Ibiza, have graced our suburbs through 20 years.
It was the tag-line that had folk sniggering when the place opened in late '04. It would be, Parat declared, a "gastro bar".
Websites now advertise Banque as "Bistro Bar", which presumably means the Gastro thing has passed us by. As Gastro problems tend to do, after a little while.
The menu, however, stays true to the original, comfortable and reliable premise of six or seven entrees, likewise mains and desserts, fleshed out with a blackboard - rather, a waitress' pad - of specials.
They change it frequently - there'll be new items this week - though I'm not entirely convinced that's for the touted reasons of season so much as a regularly returning clientele demanding different experiences.
Duck liver pate for me, rimmed with a thick layer of butter, and partnered with unusual delights in pickled grapes and red chard. Well aware that food nazis have issues with this gorgeously addictive substance, all I'll say is (a) they're ill-informed; (b) I'll eat what I like, and I liked this very much indeed.
Jude's temptation is seafood, in this place soft-shelled crab. The meat can be bland. Happily, chef thought to hot it up with chilli polenta and a moreish papaya and cashew pickle, which lucky visitors may find on platters chez Jude in coming weeks.
There was a theme to our mains: parsnip. Haven't seen the dear old root around much recently, possibly because it's regarded as a winter vegetable, so was mildly surprised to find it at a place that prides itself on seasonal produce.
My dish was one of those curious combinations of contemporary cuisine: pomegranate-glazed pork belly (not too many Mideast cooks use pork ...), radicchio (the Italian note), spiced almonds (North African?), shallots (oh, I give up) and parsnip. All very well cooked, for this is a decent, well-run and thinking kitchen, but that round-world trip was just too giddy: if this is bistro food, I'm a Frenchman.
Jude was far happier with a more conventional combination, a well turned-out duck, treated with reverence, rightly and slowly cooked, the parsnip pureed with potato, glazed beet as the vege component, napped with juniper gastric (aha! Knew that word would come in sooner or later. It's a saucy thing).
Pudding was comfort food. Plum tart. Sharp, hot, fruity. Like a good tart should be.
The wine was a mistake. Partly mine, partly the waiter's. I couldn't go past a name like Squawking Magpie savvy. Well, you should. And you should make sure that when the waiter brings you a bottle rather than the two glasses you thought you ordered, you shouldn't wave him away with a carefree, or careless, "it'll be fine".
Bistro or gastro? Whatever. As an eatery that's reliable, informal, reasonably priced, this place continues to tick all the boxes. We left without breaking the Banque.