Herald on Sunday Rating: 3.5/5
Address: 9 Britomart Place, Britomart
Ph: (09) 309 0961
Website: lassiette.co.nz

Until two years ago, French restaurants were hard to find in Auckland. Now, pleasingly, I can think of 10 in the city and inner suburbs in which you could easily imagine yourself to be in Paris.

L'Assiette, which you will remember from third-form French lessons, means "plate", is not another to add to the list. I don't mean it's no good - indeed, the food varies between very good and excellent - but the room doesn't sing of Montmartre or the Marais.

It sits at the eastern end of the Atrium on Takutai, which reminds me of no part of Paris so much as the corporate tower-block zone called La defence. Walking around, I feel like one of those figures in an artist's impression for a development proposal. The brick walls that recall the area's past are beyond the arcade of boutiques and banks; the view here is pure car park.

By day, it's a cafe - albeit one where they serve macarons and mille-feuille and have jars of rillettes and foie gras on the counter - but from Thursday to Saturday, it opens in the evening as a casual bistro.


They've made some effort to soften the grim industrial interior with paper flags (French and New Zealand) hanging on strings from the ceiling. Actually, come to think of it, there is no ceiling, just pipes and ducts, but you get the idea.

The (very nice) waitress who served us had an accent right out of Coronation Street and the chef is a Mancunian as well, I understand, although a waiter from Toulouse insisted he is "verr good". You'll get no argument from me on that. And it's not notably pricey either. Not counting the 5-year-old Chateauneuf-du-Pape (I was in an expansive mood) and a couple of digestifs, the bill was barely $60 a head for three courses.

We'd taken along the Professor's oldest mate, one of the old-school Marxist feminists who must shake their heads ruefully as they see how their children's generation has turned out.

She repaid my free-spending attitude to the wine list by eviscerating me in a discussion over a matter of social policy which she was anxious to assure me I had completely the wrong idea about.

In this task she enjoyed the enthusiastic support of the Professor; it was like having a pitbull seize me by the throat while a fox terrier nipped at my ankles.

Fortunately, the mauling didn't do much to dampen my appetite, but it was with some difficulty that I maintained my normal generous attitude of waiting for everybody else to order before I filled in the gaps.

(I sometimes think that people who eat out with me don't know how lucky they are; when Frank Bruni was reviewing restaurants for the New York Times, he would invite three other people but order all the food. His fellow diners then had to pass their meals clockwise to the next person when he issued the instruction).

By the time they'd picked over the entrees I was left with escargots in the shell, which I've always found too fiddly, so I duplicated the Prof's order of yellowfin tuna. It had been marinated, rolled in sesame seeds, seared and sliced marvellously, meatily thick. The presentation, which scattered black seeds on one side and white on the other, was pretty, although the green beans were cut too small to easily gather up.

The pitbull - sorry, my social-policy adviser - was much impressed with a confit duck leg, which fell from the bone.

The mains were also first rate: the scotch fillet in my steak frites was agreeably charred, although blood-red within, and the slow-roasted pork shoulder, served with a sensational potato gratin, was homely and satisfying.

From a menu devoid of vegetarian options, the Professor chose braised pork cheek, which came in the thin membrane of the caul fat. It made for a challenging dish, which might profitably have been described by the waitress to warn the unwary.

When I ordered pig trotter in Paris once, the waitress asked me if I was sure. "It's very ... strong," she said. "So am I," I replied.

Desserts, including a trio of cremes brulees and a chocolate "moelleux" - a chewy fondant - rounded out a fine meal. L'Assiette is well worth a visit for solid bistro food - but it may be better to look elsewhere for atmosphere.

Need to know

Value: $$

$ = $20-$40; $$ = 40-60; $$$ = $60+.
(Price guide reflects three courses for one person without drinks)

Also try

Britomart has some of the smartest casual dining in town. Cafe Hanoi; Ebisu; District Dining; Tyler St Garage