C'est la Vie, Akaroa
Tuesday February 12
We came over the mountains to Akaroa, "the French Village," which the French thought they'd bought in 1840 - but when their boatload of settlers turned up, they were met by Her Majesty's Ship Britomart and the news that New Zealand was British. Many of the French couldn't face the trip back, so they settled here anyway. Today little seems left of their culture except for street names like "Rue Jolie," the Tricouleur on its flagpole in the center of town (the Union Jack still flies at Britomart Point), and C'est la Vie, which says on its facade that it's "au bout du monde."
It's a tiny little restaurant, tables jammed in, many for sharing, and a myriad notes and compliments from friends and customers scrawled all over the walls, pictures, slightly dusty decor, and even on the ceiling. Our hostess flicked an embroidered linen cloth onto our table, and said that the house only offered what was on the chalkboards just outside the restaurant's door. Luckily it was a nice night, and the door was often propped open, for what she called "C'est la Vie air-conditioning."
On her advice, we ordered a 2006 Mt. Difficulty Pinot Noir, whose beautiful structure showed what Pinot Noir is all about. Pinots are also good with both red meat and seafood, and we were resolved on both. But our first starter was really neither: escargots in a deep brown buttery sauce, lavished with garlic of course, but also mushrooms. It was served with doorstop-sized chunks of brown bread for soaking up the sauce, a thoughtful touch. We also had scallops in a creamy St.-Jacques-style sauce with mushrooms (the chef was in a mushroom mood that night - we could see his hands tossing them in a saucepan in the kitchen), this time with a mound of white rice for sauce soakage.
The mains took the meal to a yet higher level. A perfectly-cooked fillet of beef San Marino was topped with spinach and blue cheese, and came with scalloped potatoes. The venison special was a fan of medium-rare slices in a creamy sauce with various wild forest mushrooms (again, the chef's idée fixe), with perfect puffed potatoes, spiced pear, and a blackberry and juniper sauce. Another contender for our "best venison in New Zealand" prize.
At the end, our hostess gave Holt a magic marker and allowed him to climb up on a chair ("not everybody is tall enough") to draw a small heart with "H+B" on the ceiling. Go to C'est la Vie and look for it - it's worth it.