Herald rating: ****
Address: 69 St Georges Bay Road
Phone: (09) 366 9361
Cuisine: French Bistro
La Cigale markets, where tables are set up among the shelves of produce every Wednesday and Thursday nights. Regular readers of this column may recall that a certain "Mr Handsome" featured a few weeks in a row as my dinner companion. "How's that going?" some of you have been inquiring. Hmm. Let's just say I'm back to dating my parents.
And before you feel sorry for me, let me tell you, it's not all bad. They are well-travelled foodies and always have their finger on the pulse for what's new in the Auckland dining scene and tonight they have a surprise for me.
A month or so ago they discovered that La Cigale was collaborating with well-respected chef Warwick Brown and offering "casual dining evenings". It's been so popular that bookings are hard to get but tonight my mother, who can talk her way into anything regarding eating out, has managed to secure one.
Every Wednesday and Thursday La Cigale is set up as a massive dining area that seats 140 people. It's such a clever concept - wonderful Warwick cooks up two French classics to choose from as main dishes, a chicken option and a red meat option, both priced at $24.
When you phone to make a booking you're asked to make your selection so there's no dithering around with a menu when you're there and from their perspective, it's a smart way to manage the waste and keep costs under control. The choices change from week to week - think rotisserie chicken or chicken tarragon, navarin of lamb, slow-cooked pork or beef bourguignon.
Stepping into what is usually the retail part of La Cigale, I'm incredulous. The shelves of merchandise are still there but with the assortment of tables scattered among them, candle-lit and covered with white tablecloths, the warehouse-like space is transformed into an intimate and beautiful venue.
As we are shown to our table, among the cases of Perrier water, my father takes off to the wine section. This "restaurant" is a wine-lover's playground.
La Cigale is an importer and reseller of French wine and they offer diners the opportunity to select their evening wine from their extensive range at normal retail, adding just $5 per bottle for corkage. We enjoyed a Guigal Cote du Rhone 2005 at a price of $30 which would be $60-$70 at other Auckland restaurants.
The mains on offer the night we visit are rotisserie chicken, with sage and shallot stuffing, and beef bourguignon. Beef bourguignon is a well-known French dish of beef cooked slowly in red wine. The first mouthful of this version had it all going on - the lardons, the bay leaves, the carrot, mushrooms and gutsy red wine.
The correct cut of beef had been used (probably chuck or another stewing steak) so that it was tasty and chewy without being tough if that makes sense. We were in raptures over the authenticity of this dish. It was rich and thick with flavour.
The rotisserie chicken had a hard act to follow but it, too, was a great example of the classic roast chicken. The dark leg and thigh meat was succulent and melt-in-the-mouth, while the breast was not dried out as is often the case with a roasted bird.
Our mains were accompanied by a simple salad, a basket of French bread and roasted potatoes.
A lifetime of eating out and being dedicated foodies means that, regardless of how full we are, we like to sample dessert.
But not before a mother-daughter conversation that goes something like this: "Oh, I'm so full I don't think I'll have a dessert".
"Me too, but I'll just see what they've got. We could share one?"
"Oh all right, let's see what they have."
And there you have it, mother and daughter have ordered a dessert each. This night is no different - it's cherry clafoutis for me and passion fruit and apple tart for Mum.
My clafoutis was heavy on the batter and light on the cherries making it too dense to be truly outstanding. My mother reported that the tart was cloyingly sweet and the pastry a tad tough. But we managed to polish both off in record time.
The whole evening felt as though we'd crashed an enormous, private dinner party in France. La Cigale and chef Brown have hit on a winning idea and one that I'll be keen to try again soon. Date anyone? The parents are busy.
From the menu: Charcuterie $12.50 per person, Beef bourguignon $24, Rotisserie chicken $24, Apple and passionfruit tart $8, Cherry clafoutis $8.
Drinks: Buy wine on the premises, corkage $5 per bottle.