Yumi Furukawa's black-and-white credentials come with a navy blue strip at the bottom of the business card, sporting a fine pencil-like caricature of a "Happy Cagou" amid Japanese inscriptions mingled with English ones in New Caledonia .

Therein lies the oxymoron in Furukawa's presence at the Le Chai de l'Hippodrome, on the trendy frills of Noumea where the eatery is parked directly opposite the entrance to the Henry Milliard racecourse — the only one in the country.

The petite sommelier is anything but a protected, flightless native bird (cagou) in the South Pacific Island nation, which is part of the French territory situated north of Vanuatu and east of Australia.

A diploma of wine expert from her birth country of Japan, she is the epitome of how seductive everything French can be from its language to its à la carte cuisine. In some respects, it took me back to Canada where the French culture harmoniously infiltrates the province and heritage of British Columbia.

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She belongs to a migratory species, alternating six months each with Japan and New Caledonia, after incorporating the art of mixing wines with meals in Bordeaux, south of France, in her recent portfolio to live the dream.

"If you look at it you'll find it has a darker colour than the medium-bodied one you drank earlier," says Furukawa in a regal but intimate back room, methodically prepared in an impromptu university lecture-theatre mould, complete with overhead projector slides and a give-away brochure of the A to Z of buying, comprehending and appreciating wines.

A full-bodied Bordeaux number — matched with a dollop of French blue-vein cheese, sprinkled with dried sultanas and a fistful of colourful crinkly salad — had certainly tingled my tastebuds.

"Yumi, you've nailed it for me on this one, mate," I said, totally dropping my inhibitions for a no-holds-barred appraisal of a part of dining that has and will forever remain a contentious subject.

For the record, this was a 10-year-old red, for goodness sake, and she had delicately popped it open for the great unwashed.

Two other wine-and-cheese combinations earlier, I had strayed from the brochure guide of 11 families of aromas and the glossary of 22 "words to express it all" in describing the smell of a spirited number as akin to "cat pee".

The full-bodied Bordeux number, matched with a dollop of French blue-vein cheese, sprinkled with dried sultanas and a fistful of colourful crinkly salad, struck a chord with me. Photo/Anendra Singh
The full-bodied Bordeux number, matched with a dollop of French blue-vein cheese, sprinkled with dried sultanas and a fistful of colourful crinkly salad, struck a chord with me. Photo/Anendra Singh

It was enough to put off freelance photo journalist Ocean Patrice Belcher, parked alongside me at the end of the U-bar.

Had the wine gone straight to my head? After all, I only drink a glass or two of supermarket-variety plonk and that, too, less frequently than the postie drops a letter in my mailbox at home to inform me I've won a fistful of dollars on Bonus Bonds these days.

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Either way, I told Furukawa what I liked and she had impressed that pretty much was what the science of wine appreciation encompassed.

Clasping her hands and bowing sporadically in the demure manner that only the Japanese can, she is tickled pink when I remark on how much we have enjoyed her presentation, complete with etiquette.

"Thank you," Furukawa responds. "It makes me feel very proud to be a Japanese tonight."

Just as she had ceremoniously disappeared from the room at the interval of the three match-making serves to gift us the privacy to dwell on the proceedings, she had declared the almost hour-long lesson over.

A shared tapa platter and dessert were on the menu but somewhere along the way we had lost them in translation.

We thanked busy owner Olivier, caught up in the hustle and bustle of flustered waitresses and barmaids, in the rustic charm of his eatery. In return he offered us gifts of an enamel cup each in a brown paper bag.

But as Belcher and I were almost half way into the 16-minute stroll back to the nearby Chateau Royal Beach Resort and Spa, along the nearby waterfront, we heard the soft thudding footsteps of someone behind us.

It was a flustered and profusely apologetic Furukawa, summoning us back for the rest of the dinner but it was our turn to play ultimate envoys.

After all, we had been late following a sunset drive with New Caledonia Tourism representative Aurelie Chenu in a vintage Mini Moke, taking in the city's lofty terrace views way after the pedantic sun had plunged into the horizon. Our prolonged Mt Koghis hike had caused the bottle-neck situation but that's what holidays are all about.

Abrupt it may have been but that was simply an unscripted end to an unforgettable trip to the "French collective". The memory of portraits of animal heads on period costumes adorning ruby red walls with gold trimmings and fittings still cut a vivid picture.

The eatery openly sells itself to race goers. You can sit indoors or enjoy the outdoor concept of a French village-type of setting.

The first thing that hits you is the warmth of the venue's rustic charm of a venue that offers magical space for private functions and a sense of exclusiveness with live musical performances in the evening.

Beefy barrels are stacked on one side of the wall with test-tube-like apparatus to sample wines and distilled spirits. The bistro-like atmosphere comes with the promise of fine food, complete with the daily spoils of the bar and an assortment of gifts for those who still want to shop until they drop.

If you want class then most times you have to pay for it, never mind where you go in the world. When you don't know much about wines but want reassurance you're in good hands then this is a gem of a place to patronise.

Bonjour and merci still don't roll off the tongue but we end the night knowing the sun will always herald a fresh dawn on a slice of Pacific paradise.

GETTING THERE: Aircalin flies direct from Auckland to Noumea.
nz.aircalin.com
ONLINE: newcaledonia.travel

The portraits of animal heads on period costumes adorning ruby red walls with gold trimmings and fittings at the Le Chai de l'Hippodrome still cut a vivid picture. Photo/Anendra Singh
The portraits of animal heads on period costumes adorning ruby red walls with gold trimmings and fittings at the Le Chai de l'Hippodrome still cut a vivid picture. Photo/Anendra Singh