Le Bistro des Gourmets
237 Parnell Rd, Parnell
Ph: (09) 374 3938
We thought: 13 - Good
We spent: $360 for four

Many months ago, a reader emailed suggesting I review Le Bistro des Gourmets. The food was outstanding, he said. Plus, he wanted it to survive.

I can report it's hanging in there - just.

Maybe everybody had gone to Matakana et al? On a Labour Weekend Saturday we were the only diners in this Parnell dining room.

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It is to the restaurant's great credit that we didn't feel awkward or uncomfortable. And, obviously, we got the best seats in the house. Streetside, it was all shoes without socks and legs that hadn't been out of long pants since March. Upstairs, on that gloriously sunshiney evening, it was a sublime view of Rangitoto.

Le Bistro des Gourmets is set back from the main thoroughfare, through a narrow doorway, up a stairwell and round a corner. You won't get here by accident. But if you are a fan of French wine and food and waitpeople, you might consider the field trip.

Our waitperson was happy to bring chablis and rosé but the requested red was, he suggested, perhaps too heavy for the day. (Drop the "h" for the complete experience and just nod when he proffers something with almost as many grape varieties as customers - it was very good).

There were four entrees and four of us. Ox tongue? Get in line. It was served warm, which enhanced its slightly buttery texture with a sauce gribiche that sent the richness packing ($15).

If you lean towards the parfait end of the paté spectrum, you won't like the terrine ($16). If, however, your tastes tend towards, well, tasty, then this is a lovely little pot of rustically chunky meat with a heady whack of brandy.

There was an egg baked in a not-so-little pond of Cantal cheese ($14), which I have subsequently learned has the "smell of earth and pasture lands" and a crust built by cheese mites. Rosemary declared it delicious.

I ordered the vol-au-vent. In 1977, the Accident Compensation Corporation received 23 claims for mornay sauce-induced mouth burns. An estimated half of those were the result of volcanically overheated vol-au-vents. Obviously, I'm making that up. Also, it turns out the 1970s may have been doing vol-au-vents wrong.

At Le Bistro des Gourmets, the flaky little cylinder of my childhood had become a diamond-shaped slab of (slightly scorched) puff pastry. Prawns and squid were cooked tableside by our waitperson, then spooned on top with a smidgeon of saffron sauce ($16). It seemed a lot of work for something that was, ultimately, more style than substance.

Classic flavours from a classic cuisine at Parnell's Le Bistro des Gourmets.
Classic flavours from a classic cuisine at Parnell's Le Bistro des Gourmets.

Finishing the food tableside was a recurring theme that might need a rethink. It raises expectations - and that backfired badly when a lamb dish ($33) required far more chewing than you'd decently expect of a fillet.

My gurnard ($32) was beautifully cooked and seasoned and I loved the base of bitter braised endive. A veal dish ($29) was really quite special - the escalope of meat rolled around a piquant (almost terrine-like) filling had the feel of a very flash French farmhouse.

The vegetarian offering ($27) is unusual. A large quenelle of choux pastry had been baked under a blanket of tomato and cheese. It could have been boring but for the sauce that had been cooked down to a sweet and savoury essence; Labour Weekend tomatoes with a late-season taste.

Le Bistro des Gourmets is swimming hard against the tidal wave of Asian-fusion, informal and shared plate restaurants that are Auckland's current culinary bread and (turmeric-infused) butter. The white tablecloths and the inclusion of vegetables on your mains plate are from another time and place. L'authentique? Chocolate mousse ($16) was dark and rich; a rice pudding ($15) was chewy-in-a-good-way. Classic flavours from a classic cuisine. We had cheese ($18) and a fortified red wine that went with both cheese and chocolate and I'm not sure dinner gets any more Gallic.