Phone: (09) 309 5456
Rating out of 10: Food: 6, Service: 6, Value: 6, Ambience: 7
The council's new cobblestones will look cool when they're finished, but at the moment O'Connell St is a bit of a mess. However, once inside Touquet, you're in a warm, well-organised space presided over by a delightful French waitress and her not-so-sunny offsider. All the regular tables in front were full when we arrived so we sat in the high stools to the side.
The menu, designed on craft paper and held together by a bulldog clip, looks elegant. The list is short and seductive, with four courses offered on the night we visited: hors d'oeuvres, entrees, main courses and desserts, plus, in a little cursive add-on, a selection of side dishes.
It's all attractive, easy to read and classy. Best of all is the way the wine is organised by taste rather than grape. "Fresh & Fruity" are the pinot noirs and cab francs, "Medium Dry" the rieslings and pinot blancs, and "Doux & Fruity".
We were served with an amuse-bouche, which was boring but welcome while we pondered the menu with the help of our adorable waitress. She explained that the bistro was named after the city of Touquet, a holiday village not far from Paris, from where she and the chef hail. Together they opened Touquet five months ago.
Two of us started with the pulled oxtail, which was sadly disappointing. Served on a slice of bread, with little garnish, there was probably too much meat for an entree. It was also stringy and surprisingly flavourless. The terrine, on the other hand, was nice and chunky, well seasoned and served with plenty of croutons, but the beetroot salad turned out to be pale and rather underwhelming.
So, to our main courses, which looked delicious on that cute menu and, in my case, looked dull but delivered big time. The king salmon confit was meltingly tender and the bowl of pureed potato it came with so creamy it worked like a sauce, transforming the whole into something quite wonderful. The accompanying salad of parsley and other greens, sprinkled with sweet nougatine, was surprising, but didn't work as well.
Meanwhile, the 12-hour lamb, cooked sous-vide, was tender as expected, but under-seasoned.
None of this was helped by the arrival of the second waiter, saying, "who had this?" before reaching in front of us to pass it to the back of the table, then coming back with the next two plates before skulking off.
Three of our four main courses were slow-cooked, including Brian's pork belly. It, too, was a generous serving compared with most other places. Plus, said Brian, the meat-to-fat-ratio was excellent, the crackling had been flashed in the pan so it was crisp if not crackled, and it was served on a bed of mash and drizzled with orange sauce.
The ravioli was good, too. The pasta was handmade, tender and plentiful and the spinach and ricotta filling quite delicious, though once again the accompanying salad was a bit spiky, sprinkled with the sweet biscuit.
And so to dessert. My tarte tatin was of the nouvelle cuisine variety: a cut-out of pastry topped with barely-cooked apple, but after a few forkfuls I was converted. The pastry was crisp and obviously chef-made, the caramel-spiced sauce luscious and the whole thing came together like a dream.
Brian's manuka honey creme brulee, with its thick crust and creamy bottom, was a fine example of the art, but I couldn't say the same for the profiteroles, nor the sticky and flavourless dark chocolate and caramel tart, though the accompanying salted caramel icecream was pretty good.
Maybe, by the next time we get there, the cobbling will be finished, O'Connell St transformed into a hip "shared-use" lane, and Touquet will have found its own personal French style.
Our meal: $267 for five glasses of wine, four entrees, main courses and desserts.
Our wine: Short and mostly local with a few Italian and French favourites thrown in for Francophiles. Terrific if you don't mind your wine listed by flavour rather than grape.
Verdict: Touquet is still finding its niche. Neither classic French nor exciting nouvelle cuisine, it offers hearty, well-cooked, if plain, modern French food with some high, though never thrilling, moments.