Chef Nick Honeyman is a very talented man, but he has had a bad run with restaurants. With fine dining at Sale St, then refined bistro dining at The Commons in Takapuna and later upmarket Japanese at Everybody’s, his food was great, but at each venue the punters wanted a pub and their rowdiness ruined his aspirations.
Now he’s opened Paris Butter, serving refined bistro food again, at the old site of Vinnies on Jervois Rd. Herne Bay locals aren’t rowdy yobs, or if they are, possibly they go to Takapuna or Fort Lane to do it. On home turf they want good food and will pay for it; they want comfort and sophistication; and in their local bistro, at least, they’re not much interested in foams and culinary foppery.
Honeyman has obliged them, with steak, risotto, fish of the day, terrines, soups, crème brûlée, something made of Valrhona chocolate… (Is Valrhona the only brand in the world chefs all feel obliged to name on their menus? Are they being paid heaps to do it?)
It’s not an adventurous list, and it doesn’t need to be. But does it taste any good? My answer: yes and no. The best thing I’ve eaten there is the parmesan soup, which is stupendously rich and tasty, and worth going back for over and over. This is bistro-Honeyman at his best: a classic dish that’s simply conceived and impeccably cooked.
The venison tartare was a dish of gorgeous flavours turned into a trial.
The duck pie is also pretty fine, especially as winter fare, and so are the gin-cured salmon and the feijoa-and-kiwifruit clafoutis.
But beyond that? Honeyman has a truffle he shaves over scrambled egg, which only highlights the tastelessness of the egg. He serves “butcher’s cut” steak, which, since they opened, has been a fat piece of sirloin that’s hung, blah blah, and has “no fat”, blah blah, but, despite the boast of our waiter, is run through with sinew. Sacré bleu, I thought, chewing and chewing, just give me a scotch fillet, can’t you?
He has a venison tartare, whose pickled trappings are superb, and which melts in the mouth, or so I have read — and indeed, I have seen it photographed as very thin slices, which may indeed provide that quality. The version I got was sliced into stubbier pieces a good 3mm thick, and just like the steak required endless chomping. A dish of gorgeous flavours turned into a trial.
The beef cheek fell apart under the fork, as promised, but it was a dark, heavy, brooding dish, with merely a teasing amount of buttery potato mash. The waiter told me it didn’t need a side, but it did. Something fresh and lively. Not that such a thing was on offer: the salad was pumpkin and feta.
And the rest? Don’t sit by the door in winter: chilly blasts. Don’t worry that they don’t hang your coat. It’s their thing, for some reason.
Don’t believe the self-possessed but very young man who tells you what the best cocktail is on the list. In fact, having tried three of them, I doubt there is a “best”. They were all disappointingly thin and watery. The wines are good, although far too few of them are available by the glass.
They brought the food before the drinks. Over two visits and several courses, this became so habitual I wondered if it was deliberate, although I cannot think of a reason. They give you free bread but charge you for the butter.
Paris butter, I suppose. Delightful in parts, and surprising, but not always in a good way.
166 Jervois Rd, Herne Bay. parisbutter.co.nz
Hours: Thu-Sun, 12-3pm; Wed-Sun, 6pm-late.
Dinner bill: Entrées, $14-$21; mains $27-$37; sides $8; desserts $13-$14.