Chef and restaurateur Sid Sahrawat’s vision for a modern Asian eatery becomes a reality this week with the opening of Anise in the space formerly occupied by The French Café.
Meanwhile, The French Café has moved to a dining room on the opposite side of the courtyard at the Symonds Street premises.
The opening of Anise adds versatility to what is now a mini dining precinct, housing the two restaurants wrapped around a courtyard reminiscent of an old French quarter, complete with a fireplace, herb garden and al fresco dining.
Anise and The French Café are just two of the four restaurants in Sid and Chand Sahrawat’s impressive stable of Auckland establishments – they also own and operate modern Indian restaurant Cassia at SkyCity and a tandoor inspired bar and restaurant, KOL, in Ponsonby.
Anise, a brand-new concept for the Sahrawats, is a casual 70-seat modern pan Asian eatery with a menu curated by executive chef Sid and head chef Tommy Hope.
The restaurant has a reception and bar area, as well as two dining areas – the front room and back dining room, the latter overlooking the internal courtyard.
A wall in the front dining room greets guests with a Japanese inspired decal which depicts cherry blossoms from the Meguro riverside in Tokyo. New mahogany finished tables, plants and dusky pink cushions complete the transformation of the rooms.
Sid is a big fan of modern Asian cuisine, having started his chef career working in a pan Asian restaurant in Oman. He says he’s had great fun testing dishes on the family during the summer break and working with head chef Tommy and the team on this menu.
The debut menu will change with the seasons, is designed for sharing, and is divided into snacks, entrées, mains and dessert, offering up the chefs’ take on modern Asian cuisine with glimpses of flavours from Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Korea, Cambodia and China.
The selection of five snacks include Thai green curry beef short rib pies and Sid’s favourite, the black pepper crab croustade with dashi and egg yolk sauce – an ode to Singapore’s ubiquitous chilli crab dish which Sid says he enjoys every time he is in the country.
The five entrées include delicious, sweet baby corn with yuzu kosho, miso brown butter and finger lime, and the tender but spicy buttermilk masala fried chicken sliders with ghost chilli mayo and pickle.
There are six mains on offer, including a perennial favourite in the Sahrawat household that Sid has been refining for almost two decades, Masterstock pork belly caramelised with green apple, ginger and savoy cabbage. Other large dishes include roasted shiitake mushrooms, kombu butter, sour buttermilk with a sticky soy glaze; tiger prawns with fermented pepper, yellow curry and XO; and sticky braised beef galbi (Korean short rib) with kimchi, carrot and puffed rice.
The final act features four sweet options, including a modern spin on a popular street dessert – a Thai Black sticky rice pudding. Anise’s version features puffed black rice, chewy mango, jasmine rice ice cream and burnt pavlova as a clean and cooling conclusion to the main event.
Sid says he has wanted to put more Asian flavours on the table for a while now.
“While you may have often seen Asian influences on my menus, Anise gives me the opportunity to really dive into and showcase bold flavours of Asian cuisines from Indonesian to Cantonese, Thai to Japanese”, he says.
“Our kitchen team has always been diverse, and the Anise menu will be a true collaboration of different cultures.”
Guests are invited to Indulge in Anise’s array of beverages, featuring an artfully crafted cocktail list by bar manager, Rob Chacon. Infused with fresh, tropical, and Asian ingredients, these cocktails are thoughtfully designed to complement the diverse culinary offering.
The wine selection, curated by sommelier and restaurant manager Aleksandr (Alex) Shchepetkin, is a journey through the modern wine movement highlighting exquisite offerings from countries such as Japan, Syria, Lebanon, and China.
The two teams on the Symonds Street premises will be dressed differently to identify with the two very different offerings; Team Anise will wear jeans, white tees and green aprons, while Team French Café retain their elegant but simple look of black dress or trousers with white shirts.
Anise launches on Friday February 2 and will be open Tuesday to Saturday for dinner and lunch on Saturdays.
The French Café
The French Café, an iconic name on the Auckland dining scene with a 40-plus year history, is now housed on the opposite side of the courtyard. It affords a bird’s eye view of the action with an open plan Gaggenau kitchen island, creating an atmosphere of dining in someone’s home – albeit an exquisitely cosy one.
While the dining room may have moved, The French Café continues to offer contemporary New Zealand cuisine in a relaxed fine dining environment. Gone are the white tablecloths, replaced by smaller mahogany tables in a room designed to comfortably seat 35 guests.
On offer, a five course tasting menu with vegan and vegetarian menus available on request and an extensive wine and beverage list.
The beverage selection at The French Café features a curated array of special wines and spirits, thoughtfully sourced from around the globe. The cocktails and mixed drinks are meticulously crafted with a keen emphasis on superior ingredients – from using only freshly squeezed juices in cocktails to showcasing the distinct character of each drink with top-shelf spirits.
The monthly Gaggenau Tuesday Test Kitchen continues on the first Tuesday of every month and sees the team dish up a six-course menu with snacks – putting the spotlight on two dishes each from The French Café, KOL and Cassia.
Sid says feedback from the long-time and regular restaurant diners has been hugely positive.
“Our (regular) diners love the idea of being able to see the chefs plate and cook dishes just metres from where they are sitting and see this move as yet another evolution of the legacy of The French Café which started with Annie Mantell and Barrington Salter back in the 1980s.
“As the restaurant’s fourth owners, we continue to view ourselves as the custodians of The French Café.
“We’ve been lucky enough to be part of that rich tapestry for just five of these years and we are committed to retaining its legacy as one of New Zealand’s top fine dining establishments and hopefully attracting a new generation of diners,” he says.
The French Café will be open Thursday to Saturday for dinner and Saturdays for lunch.
Anise and The French Café reopen together on Friday, February 2. For more information and for sample menus see anise.co.nz and thefrenchcafe.co.nz.