The steak tartare at Atelier. Photo / Babiche Martens

Restaurant Review: The Delicate, Irresistible French Tapas Of Atelier

At the new K Rd restaurant, dine on smoked trevally rillettes and darkly glazed beef cheek

ATELIER
Cuisine: French tapas
Address: 292 Karangahape Rd, City
Phone: 027 269 9306
Reservations: Accepted
Drinks: Fully licensed
From the menu: Oysters $5/6 each; trevally rilette $18; baguette $6; beef tartare $22; witloof salad $18; beef cheek $42

Victoria and I do a little dance each week, where she asks me who I’m taking out to dinner and where I’m taking them. She is barely interested in the first answer but very interested in the second.

If you ever read in the Sunday papers that we’ve separated it’ll have nothing to do with me sleeping with a fashion model, but more that I took her for breakfast at Ima.

I got in a lot of trouble for not taking her, Victoria, to Milenta a few weeks ago, given that it turned out to be the best new restaurant of the year.

But I thought I’d be pretty safe to leave her at home for Atelier, whose sister restaurant Ambler was only okay when I visited a few years ago, and which I had pegged for a middle-of-the-road tapas joint I would easily forget a week later.

But “bad news, it was great”, I had to tell her when I got home. Then, as usual, I was made to slowly go through each dish so she knew what she’d missed out on.

"Despite the modern feel this is a very warm and appealing place to come in for dinner." Photo / Babiche Martens

“Why do you need to know the details?” I asked her. “It’ll only hurt you more.”

But she was not to be deterred, so she now knows all about the oysters, the rillette, the witloof salad and the tartare. And that I ate, without her, the finest beef cheek I can ever remember enjoying. RIP the happy life we’ve built together.

The search for a bookable outdoor table continues. There are 20 seats on the street here, and despite me requesting one in the notes it was apparently not possible.

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Mind you, I suspect the online system isn’t yet operating at full speed, given that I booked under my wife’s name and they couldn’t find it, eventually connecting me with a mysterious 8pm reservation made by someone the computer had recorded as “vi”.

We were seated, two men, at a small table but otherwise had little to complain about then or for the rest of the night. The staff are just wonderful — attentive, friendly, knowledgeable and fast — and didn’t flinch when my dining partner Simon Wilson, a restaurant critic of some note himself, said things like “tell me about the chenin blanc”.

The beef cheek. Photo / Babiche Martens

Best of all they did my favourite thing at a tapas restaurant: they thought about our order, broke it up into parts and delivered the dishes two at a time, only calling up the next plates when we had finished the ones in front of us.

No hurry, no food getting cold, no waiter humphing and harring over where to put the crockery like it was our fault for ordering multiple dishes. It was a calm and restful way to eat, with attention rightly not split between too many different things at once.

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The oysters were very good and while a mignonette (vinegar, shallots) is hard to beat I narrowly preferred the more complex dressing of cucumber, watermelon and wasabi — those first two ingredients imparting a cooling summer vibe, while the third brought a hint of heat but also that distinctive horseradish flavour (the chef is French but unusually open-minded about borrowing ingredients like this — sister restaurant Wander tosses wasabi peas in with its tabbouleh, and it works).

The smoked trevally rillettes is a hungry man’s dream — the fish minced and moulded like a pate, served with tiny French cornichons, capers, and salmon roe.

You had to order bread separately which seemed weird — is plan A to eat the paste straight off your knife? — but the dish was just lovely, a great use of a fish that I’ve caught a few times on softbait myself recently (given the fight it puts up I’m not surprised they smoke then blend it to make sure it’s really dead).

The witloof salad. Photo / Babiche Martens

The tartare is delicate and delicious, but that beef cheek pavé was truly incredible. Glazed dark and sticky on the outside, it fell apart at a gentle nudge from my fork and revealed the pink, tender meat within.

That French word pavé (“cobblestone”) refers to the shape of the meat and this one is surrounded by a moat of pureed carrot, the colour of peach flesh, scented with vanilla.

This used to be the K Rd post office though I didn’t see any clues to its former incarnation in the fit-out. Everything is now pretty slick, including toilet doors you can (with a bit of maneuvering) lock and unlock without using your hands.

But despite the modern feel this is a very warm and appealing place to come in for dinner — big windows and the indoor/outdoor split means you never forget what street you’re on, and with this part of town busier than I can ever remember it, dinner at Atelier feels like a real night out.

With the Government’s orange light now on and dining restrictions removed, I predict this restaurant will be humming every night it’s open.

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