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St. Tropez (149 Parnell Rd., Parnell) bills itself as French, and upon first listen more than a few of the employees are indeed of French origin. Several came to New Zealand to visit and found it impossible to leave, a feeling with which we’ll become all too familiar over the course of this trip. Others are merely gaining experience in the restaurant trade, which is much more open and free-wheeling than in France, and hope to take their experience home with them and start somewhere other than at the bottom. Either way, the feel of the place is definitely French-influenced Kiwi, which has both good and bad aspects. My garlic and parmesan-encrusted rack of lamb with rich, fat-infused beans is succulent and a perfect foil for strong red wines, but the pork and veal terrine that precedes it is gristly and a bit flavorless, and the strawberries that follow it would be infinitely better without the cheap and watery “balsamic vinegar” that turns them soppy and acrid. Still, the food is well-priced and a good value, and a friendly BYO policy makes some of the complaints disappear.

Service, however, re-energizes those complaints. We struggle mightily to obtain water (and refills of same), we’re asked to pass utensils to our neighbors when the staff could easily reach patrons themselves, and no attempts are made to avoid the “who ordered the oysters?” question every time food arrives at table. Also, Theresa has some questions about ingredients which are met with the least informative of answers. An example:

(showing a cheese plate) “…and we have a blue cheese.”

“What kind of blue cheese?”

Blank stare. “Blue cheese.”

“From where?”

(a shrug)

“From New Zealand?”

(another shrug)

Still, this reads more negative than the restaurant really deserves, because we do have a marvelous time despite the problems. (2/05)


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