Address: 166 Jervois Road, Herne Bay
Phone: (09) 3765597

What is most beautiful word in the English language? "Butter" has to be a starter, don't you think? And yoked to "Paris", it's damn near irresistible.

So when I heard that a restaurant called Paris Butter had opened in the sanctified space occupied for more than a quarter-century by Vinnies, I salivated like Pavlov's dog.

The man behind it is the chameleon Nick Honeyman (Dallows, Everybody's, Izakaya, The Commons) who has been working for several months a year at Le Petit Leon, a small provincial restaurant in the Dordogne (aka Perigord).

Le Petit Leon is not where you go for a detox retreat: the salad special adds duck (confit and gizzard) and ham to the pate, although green leaves put in an appearance. You get the idea.


But Paris Butter is not only for gourmands with the appetite of Obelix and the staying power of Monty Python's Mr Creosote.

In Honeyman's take on the classic French bistro, the language is French but the accent is New World. His version of the salade Nicoise flirts with the loathsome deconstruction fad by arriving, pretty as a picture, with its parts arranged separately, like the segments of an Indian thali: tiny dice of celery, beans, potato and cantaloupe along with the fish, which is not seared tuna as tradition demands, but thick slices of sashimi kingfish.

Then the waiter will suggest, even instruct, you to mess the whole thing up before exulting in the tangy mayo and the play of textures - the crunchy veg, the silky fish. It was an exuberant celebration of a bistro classic that entirely reinvented it.

Likewise the version of steak frites: the so-called Butcher's Cut was a thick slab, cut from a whole sirloin that had been roasted 90 minutes at a mild 55C, and seared before serving. That slow treatment resulted in a lean but flavourful piece of beef to which you add an aioli-like rouille, darkened by lashings of caramelised garlic, if you need to get some fat back in. A knock-out.

Across the table, the Professor reluctantly allowed me to confirm for myself that the blinis (little Russian-style pancakes folded around cured salmon and truffle cream) were as good as her moans suggested (they were). Snapper on a puree of artichoke was a marriage made in heaven too, the earthy flavour of the tubers chiming with the richness of the fish.

After all that, we were dying to find out what they had done with a tarte aux pommes, but the greedy lunchtime crowds had scoffed the lot. We had to content ourselves with the rice pudding, served farmhouse style, in a big ceramic pot that we were quite unable to finish, with crumbled nuts and cubes of poached pear on the side.

At this stage, my travel plans are all focused on India so I don't know if I'll ever see Le Petit Leon: but I know I'll be up the hill to Paris Butter at the next available opportunity.

VERDICT: The French bistro, triumphantly reinvented.

Entrees $14-$20; mains $27-$37; desserts $13-$14