Saturday, August 2

Food Review: Le Garde Manger

Cuisine: French
Price: $50 for 3 courses
Location: 446 Queen Sreet, Auckland

Le Garde Manger is one of a few French restaurants in Auckland, and I’d heard it offered authentic grub at a reasonable price. I hadn't tasted quality French food in far too long, so I was immediately tantalised by the promise of a great meal that wouldn't break your wallet. The restaurant is situated on Upper Queen Street and looks very unassuming, I’d walked past it dozens of times without realising it existed. The d├ęcor is somewhat rustic but inviting, with warm colours and cosy seating. We had booked a table for 8:30 pm, but it wasn't ready until almost 9 pm. Adding more salt to the wound was the waiter leading us out to the freezing cold back patio of the restaurant, to wait for our table. Some of our friends who arrived later, stayed in the restaurant where the waiter encouraged them to wait outside as well. They sensibly ignored him. After what seemed like a long wait, we were finally told our table was ready.

We sat in the toasty restaurant and opened up the menu. La Garde Manger offers a concise, yet diverse, range of dishes. There were plenty of French specialities such as tartiflette, coq au vin, Kir and les galettes. The authenticity of the ingredients further enthralled me. Many of them are imported from France, such as the cheeses and wines. My appetite began to grow as I imagine biting into some reblochon. For dinner I chose the French onion soup to start, tartiflette as a main and for dessert the crepe William.

Les galettes au hand.

The French onion soup came in generous pot. The soup was thickly layered with the most fantastic, mellow, gooey cheese. The onion soup itself was decidedly savoury, with soaked chunks of bread and soft slices of onion adding a variety of textures to each mouthful. The broth could have done with a pinch more salt and it was more watery than I’d like. It was still very enjoyable and the layer of moreish cheese was a fantastic surprise.

My main, the tartiflette, was utterly ravishing. The reblochon cheese was essential to the incredible richness of the dish. It was perfect on a cold winters day to be warmed up by this cheesy, potato, lardon feast. The ingredients complimented each other perfectly, creating this full flavoured dish. It was a real treat to find tartiflette in Auckland.

I also tasted my friends dishes. The galettes made for a scrumptious savour crepe, the goats cheese being particularly good. The coq au vin was also excellent, with the subtle fruit flavour of the gravy lifting the potatoes and vegetables. The chicken meat, which fell of the bone, was incredibly tender and moist.

The crepe William was presented with flourish; the waiter lighting a pan of brandy on fire before pouring it over the crepe. The poached pears were wonderful, retaining some of their original crispness. The crepe was light and fluffy, and the unabashedly large splash of brandy gave the dish a nice headiness. Unfortunately the caramel sauce cooled, and hardened, very quickly in the presence of the ice cream. The menagerie of flavours and textures worked brilliantly and I was thoroughly satisfied.

The first impressions of Le Garde Manger weren't great, our party being led to wait in the cold for the table we had booked. However the dining experience made up for the minor discretion by the waiter. The menu offered a focused choice of dishes, all of which sounded delicious. Every course managed to be a delight to the taste buds. Dishes were rich and savoury, balanced by delicate flavours. Le Garde Manger is easily one of the best, and perhaps overlooked, restaurants I've eaten at so far in Auckland.