Tonight the All Blacks play France at Eden Park. Here's Anna King Shahab's list of some of the hottest French food and fun, in and around Auckland.
One of life's greatest pleasures is biting into a freshly baked, still-warm baguette. The crisp exterior should shatter just-so between the teeth, posing that rather thrilling risk of injury to the mouth (Fact: many years ago I met a fellow backpacker in Paris who had literally split her tongue in two on a native baguette) to make way for the chewy, aerated interior. I'm lucky enough to live very close to French bakery La Voie Francaise, yet no baguette from there has ever made it the few minutes it takes to get home intact - I can't resist ripping a tip off as I walk out of the shop.
Owner and master baker Tetsuya Namekawa trained in the legendary Pierre Herme school of pastry, but he also credits his Japanese culture for the exactitude he brings to the craft. He's sure well versed on the exacting science behind baguette-making. At $3 a pop they fly out the door but the bakers keep churning them out all morning. And I can promise that in all the dozens of baguettes I've scoffed from my local, I haven't suffered injury (yet).
La Voie Francaise, 875 Dominion Rd.
Sonia Haumonte was raised in Thailand, went to school in New Zealand and had her heart captured in France - both by her now-husband, Frenchman Laurent, and by the delicate and beautiful art of pastry-making. Haumonte studied at Le Cordon Bleu and worked as a pastry chef in Paris for close to a decade. Lucky for us the couple made the decision to relocate to Auckland and set up shop here. Vaniye in Parnell is one of those hidden gems of the city, tucked off the main drag, a calm, classy little piece of Paris. "I fell in love with salon de thé, " explains Haumonte, "the culture of sharing desserts and a nice catch up with family and friends." Vaniye is Sonia's way of introducing that tradition to Auckland.
Everything at Vaniye is made from scratch with a deep respect for the ingredients and craftsmanship, and Haumonte says her multicultural upbringing inspires her to be adventurous with flavour while still sticking to the time-honoured techniques she learned in Paris.
Chef Nick Honeyman's Paris Butter is a love letter to French cuisine, written in Kiwi ink. Honeyman and his very-soon-to-be-wife Sina spend the European summers side-by-side in the kitchen running the restaurant Le Petit Leon in the fairytale-like 11th-century village of Saint-Leon-sur-Vezere in the Dordogne, and running two restaurants at opposite ends of the earth affords the pair a steady creative inspiration. One of Honeyman's favourite dishes on the menu at Paris Butter at the moment is baked snapper, girolle mushroom mousse, local mushrooms and cauliflower. "It's fun to eat, with so many earthy notes, and unlike many fish dishes pairs perfectly with a pinot noir".
With hospo stalwarts Chris Rupe and daughter Courtney Rupe at the reins, and a menu founded by Des Harris built on French bistro classics, Augustus Bistro has some pedigree. I love their daily prix-fixe lunches - great value at $39 for a starter, main and dessert. And the wine list, mostly French, is a joy to explore a bit more with each visit. And if it's the old classics you're after, look for the rotating plats du jour - including faves like beef bourguignon, coq au vin and that hearty tummy-filler, cassoulet.
When chef Florent Gibert was a child he'd use games of hide and seek as an excuse to secrete himself inside his grandma's "garde manger" (larder) where he'd swipe tasty tidbits. These days the pleasure is ours, as Florent treats guests to a wide menu of French classics at his two locations, in Uptown and Ponsonby. They're open from breakfast right through. Fans of that famously aromatic cheese raclette, rejoice: Le Garde Manger has a you covered with a special platter that includes raclette, charcuterie, salad and, of course, potatoes - raclette demands potatoes.
Auckland-made French charcuterie specialists L'Authentique might not have their own venue but you can find their covetable product in most New Worlds, some Countdowns and Farro around town, plus their goodies pop up in My Food Bag regularly. They also bring the goodness to La Cigale market every weekend.
True to its name, L'Authentique's approach to charcuterie harks back to a time before colours, flavourings and preservatives became standard practice. Rather, as they like to put it, their range of parfaits, pates, rillettes and terrines are "Beautifully natural as if your grandmother had made it".
LE TRAVELLING FEAST
Waiheke is rather a good place for Francophiles to find themselves. Not only does the clay-soiled island turn out some very good Bordeaux blends on the wine front, but the island is also home to French feast caterer extrordinaire, Nico Fini. Fini has called New Zealand home for 20 years but has a background that includes working in Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris. These days you'll find Fini catering weddings and other events, and popping up at festivals with his food truck Urban Escargot.
Fini, who admits. "I wear my Frenchness like a badge," focuses on the classics. Thick confit de canard a l'orange, filet de boeuf Chateaubriand. And a show-stopping croquembouche is his most famous answer to a wedding cake.
Living up to the name of the truck, Fini imports his snails from Burgundy and cooks them in their shell with garlic butter. And his own motorised snail can travel on water (or the car ferry, at least) so look out for the Urban Escargot truck on the mainland, too.
Quietly occupying a little piece of busy Dominion Rd, Florette offers a tidy little menu that hinges on everyday French favourites such as omelettes and filled baguettes, made to order.
The counter food has the unmistakably French accent of a cook who really cares about pastry - the dark, salted tart boasts the perfect thin and crisp base. And try as you might to resist it, I guarantee it's well worth caving into the lures of the croque monsieur (or madame), which must be one of the best in town: ultra-rich, with a thick blanket of perfect bechamel sauce.
Florette, 297 Dominion Rd, Mount Eden
THE SLICE OF LIFE
You could spend the best part of a day pretending to be in France at the upstairs-downstairs treasure trove that is Maison Vauron and L'Atelier du Fromage. The fromagerie and boulangerie also offers a short menu of brunch and lunch that provide welcome respite from the outside world of smashed avocado and egg white omelettes on paleo toast.
There's a large selection of imported goodies, from caviar to confit duck, and it's hard to leave without picking up a bottle or two from Maison Vauron, where the charming staff will patiently help people like me learn a bit about French wine and liqueurs without me feeling like an idiot (and without denting the credit card too badly, as the price range here is delightfully inclusive).
It's the perfect place to pick up items for a picnic - and with the toasty interior of the Auckland Domain's Wintergardens just up the road, you needn't let a moody sky be a hindrance.
Le Renault French Festival, Shed 10 and The Cloud, today and tomorrow.
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Astragal by Albertine Sarrazin
This cult classic by the enigmatic French Algerian writer Albertine Sarrazin crackles with an iconoclastic spirit and is punk poet Patti Smith's favourite novel. Held in a women's prison for armed robbery, diminutive but tough-as-nails 19-year-old Anne shatters her ankle bone (the "astragal") when she jumps from a 10m wall in escape. Picked up by Julian, a passing motorcyclist who is also running away from something, the two embark on a romantic and grubby affair. Astragal charts Anne and Julian's doomed journey on the run. Libertine writer Sarrazan herself led a heady life of crime and prostitution on the margins of polite society.
Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan
The title of this deliciously funny, immoral and tragic novel of decadence that scandalised France when it was published in 1954 translates to "Hello Sadness." Written when author Francoise Sagan (hailed as "the French F. Scott Fitzgerald") was just 18 years old, Bonjour Tristesse is set during a sultry summer on the idyllic French Riviera. Cecile is a blazingly defiant and precocious 17-year-old on holiday with her charismatic father Raymond and his current girlfriend, the frocked-up fashionista Elsa. The arrival of the elegant Anne - an old family friend who cared for Cecile after her mother died - shakes things up when a seemingly harmless but meddling plan ends in tragedy. See also the sumptuous film adaptation by Otto Preminger, captured in ravishing Technicolor and starring the equally doomed and tragic beauty Jean Seberg.
Lullaby by Leila Slimani
This taut and sophisticated thriller elevates the genre and has been hailed as "the French Gone Girl". Driven and successful, Myriam and Paul are a wealthy Parisian couple who live in a chic apartment and excel in their careers. Paul works in the music industry and Myriam is a lawyer. When she is offered a job she can't refuse at a law firm, the couple begin their quest to find the perfect nanny to look after their beloved children. Enter the prim and proper Louise, who on paper looks like the dream candidate with plenty of experience and impeccable references. But things rapidly unravel. Glacial and tense, Lullaby is a tightly wound chiller which observes class, race and power dynamics with a forensic detail.
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
A landmark novel in French literature, Madame Bovary might have been published in 1857 but has remained an enduring classic. In 1840s rural Normandy, Emma is an unlikeable and desperately bored beauty, swallowed up by ennui, who craves escapism from her mundane and crushingly dull rural life with her boring village doctor husband Charles. A sharp and ironic commentary on the bourgeoisie, who writer Gustave Flaubert despised, Madame Bovary is steeped in a gorgeous and pitch-perfect sensuality and poeticism. The novel has been hailed by Playboy as "the most scandalous novel of all time".
- addional reporting: Kiran Dass