Phone: (09) 815 6992
Rating out of 10: Food: 7, Service: 7, Value: 8, Ambience: 8
The last time I ate boeuf bourguignon at an Auckland eatery was in a small and unassuming little cafe in St Marys Bay. This time it was in a small and unassuming little cafe in Sandringham. The first was Japanese-orientated and the second unmistakably French-influenced. But at the risk of bruising Gallic pride at Petit Bocal, the Oriental version was better.
The French offering had the requisite rich peasant-style sauce with tender, slow-cooked vegetables and was attractively served in an earthenware bowl with mushrooms on the side of the wooden platter. But the meat resisted the knife with grim, tough determination.
Fortunately for our evening, this turned out to be a rare flaw. If the beast from which the beef came had led a hard life, possibly as a long-distance runner with shin splints, the animals that provided the ingredients for the "duck, duck, goose" platter seemed to have spent a life of reclining on soft cushions being fed peeled grapes, such was their unctuous nature. This platter was a flavour-packed offering of butter-sealed liver pate, duck rillettes and terrine, generously served with a little onion jam. I had few qualms about helping myself, in contrast to my beef.
The trend towards small platters has contributed to an accompanying trend for places that establish themselves essentially as lunch venues, to branch out into evening meals. Petit Bocal follows this pattern and the bulk of its food is of the platter variety.
There's warm goat's cheese with honeycomb, grapes and walnuts, a charcuterie plate with cornichons, a pork terrine with duck rillettes, pickled onions and cornichons and a small range of other platters, all served with simple style.
This style is matched by the decor, which has turned a mundane suburban unit into an elegant monochrome setting with simple furniture and black-and-white photographs, which successfully provide a real hint of the elusive French atmosphere.
That French nature is reflected in the dessert listing, which includes the classic wine poached pear, a creme brulee and my choice of a tarte tatin. This was an unalloyed pleasure, matching a description sometimes applied to British Royals: sweet, soft and rich.
Our other choice of the rhubarb and pistachio frangipane tart had a nice almond flavour but the rhubarb was a touch stringy and the tart itself a little leaden.
In keeping with the Gallic flavour, we accompanied our meal mainly with French wines from a small but well judged and sensibly priced list, from various regions and rather more venturesome than most small establishments.
On our visit the place was quiet and it would be hard to judge the service but it was amiable, helpful and unobtrusive, qualities likely to persist in busier times.
It's not surprising the lunch trade has been such as to tempt the proprietors into moving into the later hours. We had enjoyed a pleasant evening, rather envying Sandringham its possession of a little eatery with such a distinctive character, ideal for popping in on a summer evening for a glass of wine and a bit of tasty this and that, imagining one is far away from the Sandringham Rd traffic.
Our meal: $141 for one platter, one plat du jour, two desserts and five glasses of wine.
Our wine: The list balances French and New Zealand wines. We went each way with a light 2010 Seguinot chablis, a Two Paddocks Central Otago pinot noir and a Cotes du Rhone. I enjoyed the Muscat de Rivesaltes from Roussillon, Southern France.
Verdict: The best sort of neighbourhood eatery, clear in its aim of providing tempting but not over-elaborate food and drinks.