Herald rating: * * * ½
Address: 128 Victoria St West
Phone: 09 309 4264
Every year around this time I get excited about the French tradition of celebrating the first release of the new season's Beaujolais, officially released to the public on what has become known as Beaujolais Nouveau Day, the third Thursday of November.
Over the years many of our own local French restaurants have developed festivities to coincide with Beaujolais Nouveau and Pastis, on the corner of Auckland's Nelson and Victoria Streets, is one such establishment. I decided to check them out in readiness for November 19.
Few places in Auckland remind me of eating in France as much as Pastis. With the red and white checked tablecloths, wait staff with voices so heavily accented that you'd swear it was an act and French music wafting from the stereo (or if you're lucky, the live music of Tracy Collins) you can imagine yourself in France.
The owners (previously of Bouchon in Kingsland and still owners of Torchon in Elliot Stables) offer a menu I'd describe as traditional French comfort food - pates, tarts and terrines, soups, escargot, cassoulet, steak frites, duck confit and more.
As we peruse the menu, French bread and butter is delivered, along with the glasses of Beaujolais Villages we'd ordered.
We make a toast to the old giving way to the new and laugh as we sip our chilled red wine that is so fruity and acidic we wonder if it's just the pretty labels on the bottles and the festival that surrounds them that attracts us to Beaujolais because the taste is, well, light.
We turn our attention to the food. As a starter, my friend orders the French onion soup and I opt for the terrine du chef, which tonight is pork and duck. The terrine is served with crostini, onion jam and small gherkins and is divine - flavourful, fatty and packed full of thyme and sage. Hunks of duck liver, smooth and rich, punctuate the chunky pork.
The soup arrives in a deep dish with the trademark cheesy crouton grilled on top. The soup is so thick it might not even qualify as a soup - more of an onion stew. It is sweet and rich with a decent stock base, probably beef. I love it when onions are the hero of a dish.
For her main my friend chooses one of the blackboard specials - the veal escalope with morel sauce. Ever diplomatic, she claims it is satisfactory, but I note that she is not making the same oohing and aahing noises she made when slurping happily on her soup.
Interested in why not, I sample a forkful. Breaded, the veal slices are tender but greasy and the bacon in the morel sauce overpowers the delicate flavour of the fungi.
I'd chosen the duck leg confit which was a decent rendition of what you'd find in France. The duck was crisp on the outside with the dark meat moist and melting on the inside. I ordered a side of vegetables to make an attempt at healthiness but I should have known better - in true French style, the dish of vegetables that arrived were smothered in garlic and butter.
The service throughout our evening was delightfully French, by which I mean that it was slightly off-hand but efficient, and warmed up only when we talked about food or wine - all else was inconsequential.
One thing is for sure though, the rules around the celebration of all things food and wine are taken very seriously by the French and no amount of pleading for a sample of the Beaujolais Nouveau, a week out from the designated release date, got us anywhere. Tres serious!
From the menu: Onion soup $10.50, pork and duck terrine $16.50, duck confit $31.50, veal with morel sauce $33.50.
Drinks: Fully licensed.