Restaurant Review: Paris Butter Is A Must-Visit If You Take Food Seriously
Our dining out editor revisits Herne Bay's Paris Butter and gives the experience a perfect 20/20
Cuisine: Fine dining
Address: 166 Jervois Rd, Herne Bay
Phone: (09) 376 5597
Drinks: Fully licensed
From the menu: Menu du chef, $110 per person.
Score: 0-7 Steer clear. 8-12 Disappointing, give it a miss. 13-15 Good, give it a go. 16-18 Great, plan a visit. 19-20 Outstanding, don’t delay.
Feeling sorry for restaurants isn’t my job (I regard it as more of a hobby), but I do have some sympathy for places that can’t quite get things right in time for the reviewers to arrive, and then have to wait for a rebrand, new chef or a kitchen fire before any of us will go back and give them another shot.
Paris Butter was good when I first visited but chef/owner Nick Honeyman is better than good — he’s one of the best. Though he’s popped up cooking in odd places — hotels, pubs, Takapuna — he was always, I think, destined to have a really first class fine dining restaurant where he called all the shots. Then when it arrived I was just a little bit disappointed. I left my initial meal there feeling unsatisfied and have spent the past three years dreaming that I would one day go back and discover that I was unlucky first time round and it’s actually brilliant.
Well, lately the Instagram shots coming out of that kitchen have looked unbelievably good, and I couldn’t hold out any longer. I went back for a return meal and guess what? It was incredible. Like, easily a top 10 Auckland restaurant and possibly a top five. Nobody I know ever talks about Paris Butter, but they should. There’s something special going on in Herne Bay, and if you take your food seriously you need to drop in as soon as you can and experience the transformation.
This is Viva’s sustainability issue and there are some lovely innovations in this kitchen that not only reduce food wastage but make the leftovers more delicious. Take white wine — when a half empty bottle starts to lose its lustre the bar staff pour it out, restabilise the liquid, combine it with gin, sugar syrup and citrus oil then carbonate it and serve it up as the house bubbles. I tucked the word “restabilise” into the middle of that sentence hoping you wouldn’t ask me to elaborate; even after it was explained to me I didn’t really understand the process, but the results are delicious and uplifting.
There was not much New Zealand in the food the first time round, but now it is a menu that could only happen here. Early on is a cheffy take on the classic onion dip; later you get served “bottom of the Trumpet” — essentially the tip of a cornetto cone filled with chocolate ganache, just like Tip Top do it but, you know, classier. A smidge of chicken liver parfait came pressed between two tiny Milo wafers. It worked, and there was no chance we were in France. One of the petit fours was a jelly baby made from whiskey — you get a fright from the alcohol burn but it’s a clever way to end a meal.
The kitchen seems to be striving harder than ever for flavour intensity. It’s one thing to serve a “crossover course” (I hadn’t heard that term before, but I like it) of fennel sorbet, but it takes a special sort of dedication to smoke the bulb first, then juice it, before combining it with Seedlip to create this concentrated, complex aniseed treat.
The scallop was served sans roe as they do in Europe but, because this is New Zealand, they’d saved that tasty orange part and used it in a cultured cream on the side. Then they added a little inky XO sauce and dusted over some crumbled pork chicharron for that awesome pig-with-seafood flavour you can get elsewhere, though not often with this subtle elegance.
When I got home I wrote my notes like a James Joyce novel — a sprawling, sometimes unreadable, stream-of-conscious internal monologue. It’s because everything in every dish has a long story, and when you’ve finished writing you have to look over at the thing next to it on the plate and start all over again. I’m running out of words for this review and still can’t choose between telling you about the “duck old and new” featuring a tiny cassoulet with a toasty crust of repurposed sourdough, or the barbecued hapuka, which tastes of clear beautiful charcoal smoke and was served with a single, perfect, caramelised asparagus spear.
The quality of wine service was as good as any other fine dining restaurant I’ve been to and they’ve searched hard for brands with a story — from the Alsace “hospice” for abandoned wineries to the Central Otago vintner devoted to growing Spanish tempranillo.
Now when people ask me for a top end special occasion restaurant I’ll add Paris Butter to the list that includes Sidart, The Grove, French Cafe, Pasture and Kazuya. Honeyman and the staff have really worked hard here, but they’ve kept the environment fun and creative.
Are they determined to stick with the name “Paris Butter”? Well, it’s not my job to tell restaurants what they should and shouldn’t be calling themselves. Definitely more of a hobby.