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The bread at Le Chef really is French bread. From France. It's baked - well, half-baked actually - in Brittany. Edouard Le Goff, who opened this small and perfect French eatery on the CBD fringe in May, flies it over and stores it in a big freezer out the back.
He couldn't guarantee security of supply from local bakers, he says, so he serves, with the charcuterie platter, big slices of the wholemeal sourdough, the crust crunchingly hard to the bite, the soft inner drenched with garlic butter. You eat them with excellent salami and smoked salmon.
Creamy pork rillettes, smooth as parfait, blue cheese and chevre (the latter grilled with a soupcon of honey) come on small discs of baguette that have real chewy character, rather than simply being a transport mechanism. Order another glass of wine and call it dinner.
Occupying what was a small bar in the Empire Tavern, Le Chef is the natural development of Le Rendezvous, which Le Goff opened early last year on the corner. Doing the croissant and coffee thing, with big breakfast and omelette du chef options, it is reportedly popular with office workers in the neighbourhood.
Chef, on the eastern side of the building (the entrance is on Nelson St), has tables for barely a dozen diners, and, as befits the name, the chef works in plain view behind the bar, passing dishes to a single waitress. It's cosy and informal and, if it weren't for the prominent till, you might imagine you were eating at someone's house.
The quirky design touches include wine boxes as lampshades, a wall display of colourful braces, a polo mallet and a miniature toy cable car, and the tables are tidy pine slabs with cushioned benches to sit on.
Le Goff, who hails from the French Riviera, has designed a homely menu, which changes monthly, foregrounding simple and rich tastes in generous servings at prices (the dearest main is $24) as appetising as the food.
I managed to frighten my fellow diners off taking any interest in the pizza: having sampled some of the best pizza in town (Napoletana and New York-style) for a recent Living cover story, I have learned to be cautious, and the very name "five monsters cheese pizza" was off-putting.
But the other selections were such classic corner-bistro fare that I fancied I could hear accordions and the seesaw song of the police klaxon on the street outside.
This is not to say there is no inventiveness going on here. The French onion soup didn't come au gratin, with a slice of baguette, bubbling with grilled Gruyere bobbing on its surface, but in a wide dish with a bowl of excellent croutons on the side (the broth itself was delicate and subtle, singing with herbs rather than delivering the big, beefy kick I am used to).
One of our guests nabbed the lamb confit (slow-cooked in duck fat, then shredded), but I nicked enough of the huge pile of meat to confirm his view that it was sensationally flavoursome and the accompanying single-serving bowl of potato dauphinoise worked perfectly.
A tartiflette, a dish of Savoyard origin, combined Alpes cheese and bacon with potatoes in swooningly rich comfort food that I immediately resolved to cook at home and eat in front of the fire. My red tuna was cooked well past the seared promised on the menu, but it was still moist and tasty.
Desserts, including creme brulee, burnt at the tableside, were first-rate. Get to this place before everyone finds out about it.
• Charcuterie $15 for 2; mains $20-$24; sides $6-$7; desserts $12-$15
Verdict: Scrumptious and satisfying slice of Paris in the CBD
By Joelle Thomson - joellethomson.co.nz
Goodbye, sharemilking; hello wine
With those words, Clive Paton turned his back on running a farm. It wasn't his thing, he recalls, reflecting on the 35 years since he bought the land that became New Zealand's best known pinot noir vineyard: Ata Rangi. The words mean "new beginning" in Maori.
Paton, an active environmentalist more than a hands-on winemaker, was careful to consult local iwi before he bestowed a Maori name on his Martinborough winery.
This year he and winemaker Helen Masters hosted retrospective pinot noir tastings around the country. The 2006 and the 2013 were my faves. But all their wines have stood the test of time and, generally, the older they were, the better. Masters and Paton exude humility when opening older bottles but there's an undercurrent of perfectionism in their approach.
What: 2013 Ata Rangi Martinborough Pinot Noir.
Grapes? 100 per cent Martinborough pinot noir; a windy little town an hour's drive from Wellington.
How much: $75.
Why: Fierce spring winds decimate vines and make growing a tough way to earn a living. The flipside is that small grapes make for deep colour and powerful flavours.
Where from: Specialist stores or atarangi.co.nz.