Get a French fix

Viva seeks out the best French experiences to be had without going to France

Owners of French restaurant La Cantine du Torchon Romain Cressant and Vanessa Chollet share a kiss at the bar. Photo / Babiche Martens
Owners of French restaurant La Cantine du Torchon Romain Cressant and Vanessa Chollet share a kiss at the bar. Photo / Babiche Martens

1. If an aeroplane ticket to France for a bistro dinner is above budget, next best is a meal at La Cantine du Torchon on Ponsonby Rd. You really feel like you are in Paris. The decor is typically simple and wooden and all the staff are French. Every third Wednesday evening of the month they do a regional culinary theme: choucroute, tartiflette ... La Cantine de Torchon, 265 Ponsonby Rd, Ponsonby, ph (09) 376 2516.

2. Genevieve from Akie French Jewellery in Herne Bay is celebrating Bastille Day with a beautiful limited edition silver "charm-lace" with the iconic monuments of Paris including the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Sacre Coeur and Moulin Rouge. Akie French Jewellery & Accessories, 36 Jervois Rd, Ponsonby.

3. Pastille Leone Absinthe Pastilles are absinthe-flavoured lollies that won't get you seeing green fairies like the notorious drink might, but they are rather moreish with their aniseed-like flavour. $6 from World stores and a nice change from peppermints.

4. The pain au chocolat from the Paneton French Bakery is as close to the French one as it gets. If it's breakfast this must be dunked in a bowl (not a cup) of coffee. Sounds disgusting, looks disgusting but tastes great. Lacking a nearby Paneton, buttered bread or toast dunked is good as well. Paneton French Bakery, 21 Halsey St, Victoria Park, ph (09) 309 5338.

5. Take a tour of Paris by collecting these little Fragonard solid fragrances. There are six to choose from and each is capped with a different Paris landmark, including the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame. They're $20 each from World Beauty stores.

6. For an authentic whiff of France visit C'est Fromage in Newmarket where you'll find French cheese including munster, morbier and camembert. On Saturday mornings get there early for a delicate and delicious selection of mille-feuilles and eclairs - choose from vanilla, coffee or chocolate. Up a tiny staircase you'll find the perfect bottle of French wine to accompany the cheese. (A gewurtztraminer with munster is perfection.) The dark woody ambience will take you straight to the French Alps.

7. The uber cool Coco's Cantina on K Rd is getting into the Bastille Day groove with a special tribute to French food and wine on July 19. You can only go if you book, so get in quick and you'll enjoy an evening that starts out with hors d'oeurves followed by a three-course dinner of traditional French cuisine and wine. $80 per person, ph (09) 300 7582.

8. Size isn't everything when it comes to markets - it's all about quality. That's why the relatively new Pine Harbour Fresh Market is worth an outing. Situated past the Formosa Golf Course, it consists of a series of stalls with chic striped canopies which sell a variety of French-inspired produce. Think crispy baguettes, tasty terrines, fresh herbs and organic vegetables, free range chickens, fudge and more. We recommend you gather up some goodies and have a picnic by the water's edge or carry on exploring the Pohutukawa Coast road. Every Saturday, 8am-noon.

9. There are plenty of fine French champagnes and wines around that will inspire a sense of joie de vivre. We suggest you try the sparkling rose from tongue-in-cheek French wine producer Arrogant Frog. The Sparkling Lily Pad Pink Rose has aromas of "peach, pineapple and citrus, with a nuance of vanilla". Mais oui, another glass s'il vous plait. $21 from Glengarry stores and other fine wine retailers.

10. Celebrate French cuisine at the Auckland Museum this Saturday, where they will be putting on a series of cooking demonstrations and tastings as part of the World on Your Plate section of the Kai to Pai exhibition. At 11am and 2.30pm the experts will be rustling up a tantalising selection of Gallic fare, while at 1pm French music trio Club Manouche will perform. Free (gold coin donation for tastings), The Atrium, Auckland Museum, The Domain.

11. Voila cafe in Sandringham is now licensed, so you can enjoy a glass of wine with lunch. Tuck into a scrummy galette or crepe, and finish with creme brulee, before taking home a bag of mouth-watering pastries. Voila, 573 Sandringham Rd, Sandringham.

12. If you're craving a French fix, the obvious place to head is La Cigale in Parnell. From chic clothing to antiques, food and wine, soaps and stoneware you'll find it here. There's also a great cafe where you can tuck into a croque monsieur or baguette with anchoiade (anchovy paste), a thriving French farm-style market on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and their French Bistro which is open from 6pm on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights, with a special bouillabaisse night on the first Friday of the month. La Cigale, 69 St Georges Bay Rd, Parnell ph (09) 366 9361.

13. Bring some French culture and history into your week with an exhibition on the life and times of Charles de Gaulle at the Auckland Central City Library. The free exhibition, commemorating the 70th anniversary of the iconic first speech made by General Charles de Gaulle from London following the German occupation of France (featuring the first use of the expression "La Resistance"), features 12 photographic panels following stages of his life. There will be relevant literary works from the library's collection on display too.

14. Whether you have a chateau to fill or a simple cottage, we suggest you head to Romantique for some sweet interior inspiration. From antique chairs and beds fit for Marie Antoinette, through to oh-so-pretty chandeliers and pillows, this is the place to let your French feminine wiles loose. Romantique, 73 Remuera Rd, Newmarket (ph) 09 520 2087 or 96 Richmond Rd, Grey Lynn, ph (09) 360 9669.

15. Mesamis in Mt Eden focuses on childrenswear from France, with cute but modern clothes for those aged 12 and under. Think French brands like Petit Bateau, Repetto, Jean Bourget and Catimini. French children are often better dressed than their adult counterparts, so if you want your child to have some French chic in their wardrobe, this is your store. Mesamis, 545 Mt Eden Rd, ph (09) 631 0012.

- NZ Herald

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