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MetroLive magazine has announced its 2008 restaurants and an old favourite has taken out top honours. Read why The French Café was the judge’s choice as supreme winner or check out the full list of Auckland's Top 50 restaurants.
This is the fourth year in the last five that The French Café has won our supreme award. Simon Wright and Creghan Molloy Wright, chef and maître d’ respectively, have built their restaurant into the finest all-round modern interpreter of French cuisine in the city and, we believe, quite possibly one of the finest anywhere.
We can discern two great secrets to their success. The first is that they keep trying to get better. We know of many restaurants that get something just right, and then keep on doing it. That’s good, but not good enough for The French Café.
The second secret is that they have not set out to recreate a traditional Michelin-starred restaurant in Auckland. Instead, they have taken the traditions of French cooking and restaurant service and made from them something entirely their own.
Other chefs of the first rank become known as fusion experts, molecular impresarios, great classicists or even gurus of the home-cooked meal. Wright takes what he wants from all these things and uses them to cook, well, let’s call it New Zealand food.
He does a venison carpaccio with horseradish cream, baby beets, plum jelly, parmesan, rocket and a garnish of chives. It’s beautiful to look at, and each forkful sets off a subtle interplay of flavours in the mouth: sweet, rich, savoury, tangy, gorgeous.
His signature dish is a roast duck leg, for which he bones out half a duck, wraps the breast meat into the skin at the base of the leg, slow-cooks it for many hours and sits it overnight, before serving it with an orange sauce, bok choy and kumara mash. Classic French, plus Asian, plus Kiwi. We have praised this dish many times over the years and you will find variations on the same theme all over the city, but no one does it better than Wright and — as one of our judges commented — he is cooking it better now than he ever has.
In the linked dining areas, the courtyard out the back and the bar in the front, Molloy Wright runs a team of wait staff whose knowledge, efficiency, sense of timing and decorum are impeccable, and yet whose personalities shine through their work. It’s a magic combination.
As for the restaurant itself, the expansion to create a larger front room and bar undertaken just over a year ago has been the making of the place. The sense of great things being done despite the difficulties of the venue has gone: it’s spacious and relaxed now, sophisticated, seductive, superb.
210 Symonds St, Newton. Ph 377 1911. www.thefrenchcafe.co.nz
The 2008 Restaurant of the Year Awards winners are:
• Best Formal: The French Cafe
• Best Chinese: Pearl Garden
• Best Italian: Non Solo Pizza
• Best Japanese: Soto
• Best Local: The Engine Room
• Best Rural: Te Whau
• Best Smart Casual: Clooney
• Best Thai: Thai Friends
• Best Dessert: Passage Rock
• Best New Restaurant: Merediths
• Best Night Out: Mollies
• Best Seafood Specialist: Hammerheads
• Best Service: Antoines
• Best Wine List: O’Connell St Bistro
• Restaurant Personality of the Year: Rebecca Jones, Tabou