When was the last time you played with your food? Dined out standing up? Or put down your fork for a genuinely good chat with someone at the table next door?

A new degustation series created by two Auckland taste makers, Nick Honeyman and Mikey Ball, is turning the course-upon-course dining style on its head.

Eschewing what we've come to expect as a rather regimented run of plate and drink pairing and repeat, the chef and cocktail connoisseur's interactive menu at Honeyman's Herne Bay restaurant, Paris Butter, is no place for the stiff upper lipped.

But that's not to suggest the experience isn't rooted in the duo's mastery of fine cuisine and drink:

Honeyman has worked under Michelin-star chefs and also runs seasonal restaurant Le Petit Léon in the South of France. Ball has recently returned from working as head barman at Dandylan in London, voted world's best bar and best international bar team. In the cocktail game, that's a mighty fine pedigree.

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The Herald attended the pair's most recent event and found what may well be the quirkiest way to dine in Auckland right now.

Guests begin seated in Paris Butter's dimly lit dining room where they're served up Ball's "persimmon husk" cocktail, a clever play on the fruit that's about as far from your recollection of eating it out the back of Nana's house as you can get.

Diners are then invited to pick up their chopsticks and follow Honeyman through a heavy curtain to stand and feast on his first offering: "The ultimate amuse bouche."

The centre piece for the amuse bouche, a beetroot vinegar cloud. Photo / Arjun Haszard
The centre piece for the amuse bouche, a beetroot vinegar cloud. Photo / Arjun Haszard

Gingerly, guests gather around a table laid with drift wood, ferns and a frothing edible beetroot cloud. Ball says the reactions are priceless as people begin to navigate the fare:

"It's that uncertainty. Where do I even start? How do I go about touching things? It's scary but it's also delicious at the same time, right?" he says of the beef tartare, salmon sashimi, venison, scampi and scallops diners are sent foraging for among the greenery.

Returning to the dining room tables, Honeyman's Parmesan Veloute is a velveteen umami dream served with curious egg shell cups of almond amaretto and a pumpkin soup - one cold, one hot. It's a course indicative of the young chef's skill set and desire to push the boundaries. "I think once you've got the building blocks down you can kind of find your own way and your own creative path," he says.

Accompaniments to Honeyman's Parmesan Veloute served in egg shells. Photo / Arjun Haszard
Accompaniments to Honeyman's Parmesan Veloute served in egg shells. Photo / Arjun Haszard

At this point it becomes clear this is not the kind of degustation that will see you heading through the McDonald's Drive-Thru afterwards.

For Ball, since coming home to New Zealand he's taken note of the under-utilised delights literally lying in our own backyards. This is particularly evident in his next drink: A Rongoā Spritz made with harakeke Amaro, pine rose, grapefruit oil and tropical bitters and topped with soda and a rosemary sprig to garnish.

Following is a course entitled "South West". Inspired by Honeyman's French affiliations it features shared plates of smoky beef bourguignon - served sans knife, a promising sign - duck confit, and sides of roast baby carrots and beetroot.

A butter-infused cognac comes next, garnished with a coffee bean that slowly infuses into the smooth sipper.

And just when it seems the only way out is to have your dinner date shoehorn you from your chair and roll you home, guests are again invited, this time spoon in hand, to waddle behind the curtain ...

Foliage cleared and the remains of the beetroot cloud siphoned away, a white table top has become a blank canvas. Honeyman hands around bowls and piping bags encouraging this time more confident diners to "paint" the table with the sweet sauces, sorbets and mousses - yes, someone spirals chocolate into a suggestive pile.

A lemon meringue pie with coconut and lime sorbet. Photo / Rebecca Blithe
A lemon meringue pie with coconut and lime sorbet. Photo / Rebecca Blithe

But that's just the kind of playful behaviour Honeyman and Ball are inclined to applaud: "This is different from you sitting around a table and eating a meal," says Ball. "This is you coming and being part of your food. You're part of the journey.

"Especially making your own dessert or standing at a table. That interaction between everybody else speaks a thousand words: being able to sit and chat with somebody while you're having, hopefully, one of the best meals you've ever had."