REVIEW: It's a pity Carterton is so very close to Greytown, since this only invites comparisons with its chi-chi neighbour. But, in truth, there are several things to love about Carterton.
Firstly, there's the mature oak that towers over the pretty Carpenter's Gothic church at the entrance to the town.
Then there's the absence of skateboarders on the main street, which is just as well, considering what a nightmare they'd pose for the mobility scooters.
But above all, there's Cafe Mirabelle, which logic tells you ought to be in Greytown or Martinborough.
The novelty of an authentic French bistro in little old Carterton may explain why Mirabelle's loyal fans brook no criticism of the place, so it's just as well my guest, Madame Barraud, cast her Gallic seal of approval.
Laughing off the eccentricities of the service, she commented rather wistfully that the cuisine reminded her of home.
''Ah, cornichons!'' she enthused, as a house-made Terrine de Lapin was placed before her. ''Why do you only have gherkins in New Zealand?''
Naturally, from the moment she'd established with le patron Olivier that she was French, Mme Barraud was singled out for special treatment.
Only for her, I noted, did Olivier extend the offer of ''un couteau fraiche'' (a fresh knife).
As for me, when my hearty Kiwi server cleared my entree, she'd asked me to keep my dirty knife and fork for the main course. Truly.
But then, she had also been the one who, when we arrived and explained that we had a booking, had remained behind the counter and pointed to our table.
She might have personally shown us to our seats, explained that there was a blackboard menu only, and that it was basically counter service, but that they could come and take our order if we wished.
Instead we were left to ponder such questions; eventually we had to ask.
When quizzed about a suitable wine match for my duck, our server sent Olivier over. I must say I appeared to rise a little in his estimation once I'd eschewed the offer of his ''quite sharp'' vin du pays in favour of the Johner Estate Pinot Noir 2011.
He even poured me a third glass on the house.
This pinot was the obvious match both for my duck (two legs of succulent, crisply skinned Canard Confit, rendered fully of its fat) and for Mme Barraud's enormous, juicy Steak au Poivre, served with asparagus and a cream sauce.
With both our mains came thin, garlicky slices of roast potato, golden brown and crisp at the edges, plus two small but significant Gallic touches - a basket of excellent, crackly house-baked ficelle for the table, and a curly lettuce salad with the nutty aroma of walnut oil.
To take away, we ordered a decadent Buche de Noel, a make-believe ''log'' of sponge and pastry cream.
Mme Barraud's steak proved so large that she was mortified at having to leave half of it unfinished. When I suggested a doggy bag, she replied that in France, that's not the done thing at all.
''Would you like a doggy bag?'' our server asked cheerfully as she cleared. Yes, secretly that's exactly what Mme Barraud desired, so maybe there's something to be said for Kiwi-style service after all.
ONE THING YOU SHOULD TRY
Rabbit TerrineWhile she loved the rustic chunks of meat, Mme Barraud noted they had been held together with rather less fat than you would find in France. The side dish of beetroot chutney, we agreed, was another concession to Anglo-Saxon tastes.
31 High Street North, Carterton.
Phone: 06 379 7247
Fully licensed and BYO
Open: Tues-Fri 9am-4pm,Sat 10am-2pm, Fri-Sat nights from 7pm
Price range of mains: $18-$27
Cost: $98 for two (excluding wine)
Food: 4/5 stars
Wine list: 3.5
- The Dominion Post