A few weeks ago we visited the French Cafe for dinner and I've been dying to write about how good it was! We went for a special celebratory meal. It's not the kind of place we frequent very often (unfortunately). From the moment you step inside you are transported a world away from Symonds street and into an environment that makes you think twice about licking the plate. My advice is do it anyway cos if you don't you'll miss out on those extra few seconds of food heaven!
We went the whole hog and had the 7 course tasting menu ... with matching wines, she whispers under her breath, ahem ... and it was goooood.
Our stand out dish of the evening was the smoked venison with juniper, blackcurrant, walnut and beetroot served with a Portugese grape variety red wine.
If you have never been to a restaurant like French Cafe before then I urge you to book a table 3 months in advance and save save save. It might be a moment on the lips but it is an experience that you will remember. My advice is to put your evening in the hands of the experienced and knowledgable staff. I love being served by people who treat their job as a career and love it even more when customers treat them that way. They will get you to try new things and you'll usually learn a thing or two (if you can remember it after that second glass of wine!)
The French Cafe is definitely the kind of restaurant you get dressed up to go to. We noticed a group get a talking to for coming in what looked like their running shoes, and rightly so. Places like this exist for special occasions and making an effort.The interior is stunningly beautiful in a contemporary and sophisticated manner. As much as I love the laid back friendly service that NZ does so well in the majority of restaurants, I do love the ceremony of dining out at what is most commonly referred to as 'fine dining'. No you won't be able to afford to eat for the rest of the month, but it is so worth it!!
The French Cafe is the closest dining experience in NZ we have come to compare to the Michelin star restaurants back home in Europe. Our favourite meal that we are still yet to top was in 2013 at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal at the Mandarin Oriental in London. The food was incredible, surprising and totally over the top. We loved it! But what really stood out to us was the service. The knowledge of our waiter felt like you were talking to the Chef and their ability to know what we wanted before we even knew ourselves was ridiculous. It was one evening, but we still talk about it now.
The French Cafe has recently won Restaurant of the Year in the Cuisine Good Food Awards. It is described as being the total package and we totally agree.
Recipe for 8 pax
Pre-heat the oven 190c
3 egg yolks
3 egg white
125g coconut sugar
150g 70% Dark Chocolate Couverture
3 Tbsp almond milk
125g butter (diced and at room temperature)
Sieve the flour. Using a spatula mix together the 3 egg yolks and sugar till it becomes pale in colour. In a bowl, melt the chocolate with the almond milk over simmering water. Make sure to cover the bowl with cling film so the moisture doesn’t evaporate.
Whip the egg whites to a firm peak. Take the bowl of chocolate away from the simmering water and add the butter. Mix well until smooth. Add straight away the egg yolks/sugar mixture and quickly mix together. Gradually add the sieved flour and incorporate the whipped egg white.
Pour the mixture into a round cake tin and bake in the oven for about 25 minutes or until the tip of a knife comes out clean from the centre of the cake.
Once baked, leave to cool down in the tin and tip upside down onto a wired rack ready to be glazed with the ganache.
Chocolate Ganache (dairy free)
150g almond milk (unsweetened)
1 Tbsp coconut sugar
125g 70% Dark Chocolate Couverture
25g Cacao Butter
Bring the almond milk and coconut sugar to a boil. Pour half of it onto the chopped dark chocolate, let it sit for a little while and then stir using a spatula. Slowly Add the rest of the liquid. Once all the liquid is incorporated add the cocoa butter (finely chopped) and mix well using the spatula until you obtain a smooth and silky mixture.
10g Cacao Nibs
Once the cake is completely cool and the ganache ready, pour the ganache over the cake and using a spatula spread it evenly onto the cake, covering the side. Let it sit for a few minutes, then sprinkle some cacao nibs or a dusting of cacao powder.
Do you love chocolate so much that you dream of bathing in a pool of the stuff? For most people this is going too far and in our opinion a complete waste! But have you ever thought about snorting it?! Well a Belgian chocolatier Dominique Persoone has invented a chocolate shooter for that very purpose. He originally invented it as a gimmick for a private function with the Rolling Stones 10 years ago.
It's basically a tiny catapult, with two small, spring-loaded spoons that fling 100% cacoa powder into the nostrils. Yes fling! Not sure this would work when wearing a white top and I would definitely recommend closing your eyes. The point of it is to enhance the chocolate experience. Apparently a lot more tastes can be experienced through your nose rather than your mouth. I can only liken the experience to being too eager to woof down a tiramisu and accidentally inhaling the cocoa powder off the top instead of remembering to breathe and eat separately. The thought of putting the brown stuff up my nose doesn’t fill me with excitement I have to say. Have a look at this video and make up your own mind. Hilarious!
Mr Persoone is not the only one to make the most of people’s addiction to chocolate. In Western Europe there's a craze sweeping the night clubs where legal 100% cacao replaces illegal highs. Relying on research that chocolate increases levels of endorphins, these chocolate ravers claim they get a high from using 100% cacao, and that it gives a sense of euphoria and relaxation. They take this trendy substance in beverage, powder and pill form (hot chocolate, cocoa powder and m&m’s to you and me!)
There are a lot of cynics that claim it is all caused by a placebo effect, and to some extent I am sure that is true, but everyone knows that chocolate is a guaranteed mood enhancer, so why not embrace this and wake up without the hangover the following morning? Just to be clear, we are certainly not suggesting you go and snort the Nesquik you’ve got lying around in your pantry. But why not try making a hot chocolate with our 100% raw cacao powder? It’s great if you prefer your hot cocoa to be chocolatey and not full of sugar. If you like a bit of sweetness then add your own to get the balance just right for your palette, we like coconut sugar. Also it’s great with almond milk, which adds its own nutty sweetness. Our 100% cacao powder is also FULL of antioxidant properties, given the cacao has not been roasted and no other ingredients have been added. Try giving yourself a mid-winter chocolatey boost, either curled up on the sofa watching telly or in a night club surrounded by hipsters. Up to you!
We treated ourselves to a night at Orphans Kitchen on Saturday night. And when I say treated I say it because we LOVE this place. There are so many new eateries in Auckland, it is a constant challenge not to run out of the office for breakfast/lunch/dinner/coffee every time the weekly Denizen arrives in your inbox with yet another new and notable. I know, life is hard in Auckland!
So unless you have enough disposable income to justify going out 5 times a week to get through everything there is on offer, you have to make some tough decisions. As foodies we love trying new things and feel the pressure to make the most of Aucklands new offerings. And that is why I say it feels like a real treat when we go back to Orphans Kitchen, again.
It has everything we love in a good restaurant. A small menu with simple yet surprising dishes. A warm and friendly atmosphere with people that are there to enjoy themselves and not just appear like they are. Amazing service that is welcoming, casual and attentive all at the same time. Awesome wine list. Nice smelling hand wash. And homemade bread with your meal. Tick! Oh and the bread is rolled with kawakawa and served with truffle butter. Double tick!
We would argue that Orphans is another ambassador of 'honest food'. Or as they call it 'unadulterated food'. Not trying to create an end product that is so far from what it started life out as that it becomes unrecognisable. Instead making the most of the ingredient itself and working on showcasing its best qualities. Similar to what we do with our chocolate. We don't use cream in our chocolates because we want to make the most of the amazing flavours that are present in the chocolate we select. We don't want to cover it up. This always means that a high quality product must be used to start with, because there's no hiding.
We are toying with the idea of going for their breakfast, that we have heard such good things about, which should give us our fix of trying something different AND a return visit to the Orphans Kitchen. Although I'll have to check if wine is served with breakfast?!
We had a great weekend chatting to people about chocolate at the market. It was interesting to see so many people 'resisting the urge' to try our chocolate because of their belief that chocolate is in some way bad for them. But the truth is that chocolate can be good for you! Hurrah! Obviously this statement is purely based on the superior quality 70% chocolate that we use in all of our products as we know exactly what goes into it and we cannot be held accountable for the healthiness of other chocolate products :)
So what are the benefits of a regular square of high quality 70% chocolate or two per day? The following are statements made based purely on internet research. There are quite a few other supposed benefits but these seem to be the most commonly cited:
- Chocolate is high in antioxidants
- Chocolate is rich in minerals such as Fibre, Iron and Magnesium
- Chocolate reduces the risk of heart disease
- Chocolate can help people to deal with stress and anxiety
- Chocolate is good for the brain
- The flavonols in dark chocolate can protect the skin against sun damage, although you would have to eat way too much to protect your skin fully (especially with NZ sun so you better still slip slop slap and wrap!)
- Chocolate contains phenylethylamine (PEA), which is the same chemical that your brain creates when you fall in love, otherwise known as feel-good endorphins. Great as a romance inducer!
We're not saying load up on huge amounts of chocolate every day. We believe in everything in moderation. Except certain things, like fizzy drinks. These should just be banned! At the end of the day, chocolate is the ultimate comfort food and we take great comfort in knowing that our chocolate puts a smile on people's faces. We see it as good for the soul, and much more than that when we know it has come from fair trade sustainable sources like ours. The raw cacao starts it's journey by being cared for by trained farmers who are fairly paid and rewarded. And then the skillful chocolatier has put time and care into making something that is truly delicious and beautiful, because they love what they do. Yes I'm talking about our Nico.
Have a square or two of our chocolate after dinner and savour them. Or as a little afternoon pick me up to keep you going til home time, and best of all don't feel bad about it!