Address: 128 Victoria St West
Phone: (09) 309 4264
Most of the men I know enjoy Pastis, on the corner of Victoria and Nelson Sts in Auckland. Brian adores it.
The food is delicious and hearty, the atmosphere relaxed but always interesting and the French service, with its enthusiastic welcome, flourishy touches and painstaking, broken English explanations of the various dishes is quite superb.
But personally I've sometimes found the cuisine at Pastis a little too rich. I tend to leave there groaning.
That all changed on this visit, when we started our evening in Pastis' cosy bar, sipping glasses of the eponymous chilled, aniseed-flavoured aperitif. For me this was a good move: the pastis didn't make me as ravenous as wine tends to. So, instead of scraping every morsel of my onion soup out of the bowl, I left some of the cheesy topping in the bottom.
Not so for my companions. Brian devoured his lambs' brains with egg sauce with the usual joy.
Jess and Ben shared the scallops and onion soup with obvious delight. Only Oliver was mildly disappointed with his pumpkin soup, chosen from the specials board, which was judged light on pumpkin flavour.
By the time our main courses arrived, the restaurant was overflowing with a mix of tourists and locals. It was a seamless sort of night. Our bottle of Carrick pinot gris was a good match for the hapuku special. The fish arrived on a circle of potato, topped with spinach. And although it looked the tiniest bit overcooked and a rather small serving (which has become the norm with our priciest protein), "mais non", they said. "Absolutely perfect".
It also left Ben with plenty of room to help out Jess, who was having trouble getting through her perfectly cooked rare beef fillet. As for Brian, he systematically devoured his confit of duck served on a circular mound of Puy lentils and vegetables just moist enough to hold its shape and tasty enough to accentuate the duck. As he said, this was a seriously well-thought-out meal.
Meanwhile, my choice of the boeuf bourguignon was a lucky one. The rain had turned ferocious and it was casserole weather. This slow-cooked dish was perfection: tender chunks of meat that melted in my mouth, sweet carrots doused in a piquant wine sauce. The accompanying potatoes, described by our waiter as the French answer to hash browns, were great too.
Three chocolate mousses, a creme brulee and a plate of profiteroles with vanilla icecream and chocolate sauce were ordered. Again, I scored the knockout of the night. My profiteroles were crisp and almost warm, the icecream inside them cold and creamy, there were lashings of whipped cream and, best of all, an entire jug of warm chocolate sauce poured over them. Heaven. And so, after handshakes all round and the odd "au revoir", we departed, happy and content. Despite the enormous meal I didn't feel overfed. Note to self: buy a bottle of pastis.
Pastis is one of Auckland's true character restaurants. The cuisine is authentic farmhouse French, with little pretence but a few delicious surprises in there too. We enjoy the quirkiness of the staff. And no matter how noisy it gets (when the piano accordion and singing start on Thursday and Friday nights it can be noisy indeed) we can usually hear each other.
Rating out of 10
Our meal: $437.50 for two aperitifs, one bottle and six glasses of wine, five entrées, main courses and desserts.
Wine list: Wide selection of French wine, much of it inexpensive, plus good local alternatives.
Verdict: Pastis is not just consistent, it improves every visit.