By the time we arrived at La Cantine, delayed by traffic, Barbara and Colin were already well ensconced and familiar with the menu. This was no onerous job - the menu is brief.
Colin had set his heart on the French onion soup and beef bourguignon, while Barbara was less decisive. We left Colin to order the wine, which he did with the help of the waiter, and we took our time over choosing. A platter to share sounded a good idea, so away we went.
Long and slow is the only way to make a good onion soup, to bring out the sweetness of the vegetables, and this had been done. The toasted bread and cheese floated gently on what was a very good example of French cooking.
The platter was less successful, with terrine mutating into paté, and less than generous slices of roast duck breast, but the cheeses were varied and of good quality and quantity, including a nicely mature blue, and the prosciutto was plentiful.
Alas, the soup was the only dish to receive respectful treatment. The special main du jour was unavailable so Bill settled on steak au poivre, described as scotch fillet with pepper and port sauce. The sauce was well seasoned, but unless cuts of meat have been redefined since we last had a beast in the freezer, this was no scotch fillet. We all examined it closely, but none of us could decide its provenance. The accompanying dauphinoise potatoes were adequate.
Colin fared even worse with his beef bourguignon. The great lumps of meat were tough and gristly, with none of the sinews cooked down to tenderness, and the lardons and mushrooms were conspicuous by their absence. It was a very disappointing effort from an establishment whose owners like to believe is one of the best in the area.
Barbara and I decided to go for galettes, hers with scallops and leeks, mine with smoked salmon, avocado and sour cream. Charitably, I mused that perhaps the chef had acquired a less-than-premium supply of flour for the galettes, as they resembled efforts that had been cooked some time earlier and then microwaved up to heat. An unpleasant look and texture was the result, although the fillings were well constructed and perfectly satisfactory.
Undaunted, the men went ahead with dessert. Colin, still hungry after his disastrous bourguignon, enjoyed the gateau a la cannelle with honey and strawberries and cream. All pretty foolproof, one would think, and I'm not being picky in suggesting that chef had been a bit heavy-handed with the cinnamon.
Bill's caramelised apple crepe splendidly came alight with the deft application of calvados and flame, and he was a happy man.
La Cantine is comfortable, warm and welcoming. This attention to service would do well to be replicated in the food.
Rating out of 10
Our meal: $303 for one starter and a shared platter, four mains, two desserts, two bottles of wine and two digestifs.
Wine list: Short and mainly French, as you'd expect, but with some local representation among the whites. Our Chateau Villefranche 07 cabernet was soft, well-rounded and a jolly good choice.
Verdict: La Cantine is not the best restaurant in Ponsonby, as they describe themselves. Nor is it the best French restaurant in Auckland. A little research will reveal others who do similar things better and cheaper.