Noumea in July is a glorious. Not too hot, it makes walking around the town a breeze. Though sun-worshipers might want to go a bit later in the year. We trekked up into the hills above the town for this view over Baie de Oliphants.
The B-Kyu official welcoming committee.
On our last visit we left on the day of the races and missed all the fun, we were kicking ourselves. So this time we start the trip with race day.
It's a chirpy event called the Clarke Coupe with GGs coming from all over New Caledonia. The bar area downstairs where all the cowcockie folks were hanging around drinking neat Johnny Walker Red and Kronenbourg beer was like the Roma Saleyards in the middle of the Pacific, only in French.
We thought we might be underdressed for the races but like everything in New Caledonia, it's pretty laid back. We only saw one couple in their racing best. Love it.
Note the horse in the lead above lost his rider right at the start, but continued like a champion, only losing by half a nose right at the finish. The crowd roared him home.
On our last visit to New Caledonia we explored the lower end of the dining scale. This time we moved up a notch. Our plan was to go out for a fancy French feed every day for lunch and have breakfast and dinner at our apartment (the imported French and fresh local produce makes self catering a royal treat).
We haven't eaten a lot of French food so we were keen to learn. Noumea is a good place to start because the restaurants are laid back, nobody dresses up, and the service is down to earth. There's a mix of modern and traditional styles, and food from different regions of France, as well as New Caledonian specialties. Our only regret is the restaurant we wanted try most of all, La Relais de la Valee, was booked out. It's a small family run bistro in the burbs. There's always next time.
Our first feed was La Chaumiere in the Latin Quarter, Centreville, Noumea's town centre. Shawn's mum is a bit of a Francophile and had been here before.
La Chaumiere menu - available in English - woohoo! Lunch is a around AUD $20 for one course, $30 for two courses, or $40 for three courses. It's a bargain considering the quality of the food. You would pay an awful lot more for it in Sydney, where you would also be paying extra for bread and veggies.
The front of the restaurant does quick lunches and sandwiches for office workers at the front, head inside for the restaurant.
Alison makes friends with salad, asparagus and raw ham salad.
A couple of us go for the goat cheese and tomato confit tart. It's wonderful. The base is so light, very cheffy stuff.
Mother and father gives the thumbs up to fried skate wing with parsley, shallot and butter sauce.
Offal loving Alison digs the pan fried sweatbreads with garlic and shallots.
Slow cooked beef cheek Bourguignonne style. Mr Shawn has been into slow cooking beef cheeks in red wine at home but this kicks his arse. The sauce has so much more depth and nuance than anything Shawn has whipped up. Back to the drawing board.
We share a dessert of flambeed banana with rum and vanilla ice cream, which is warm banana and ice cream, we can take or leave it. So we take it.
Next lunch we try Le Bout du Monde. It's a bar and cafe right by the water on the edge of Centreville, near the market. We call it the Yacht Club. We liked the laid back seaside pub atmosphere and we like the varied crowd this place attracts.
It's casual. It's such a nice easygoing spot we returned a few more times for beer and coffee stops. Kudos to the staff here who were actually running during the lunch rush yet still found time to smile.
We particularly like the selection of Pacific beers on tap. Hinano from Tahiti is a fave, though the local 'Number One' is pretty hard to beat.
The buffet is popular. A table of folks from the local TV Cable station demolished this in one quick swoop, it was refreshed shortly thereafter.
Alison gets a vegetable fix at the buffet. There was quite a bit of sly bits of ham hidden in some of the mixes.
Father goes for the classic steak frites - steak and chips.
Mother goes for stir fried fish.
Mr Shawn gets gooey over a plate of raw fish - there's Carpaccio, Tahitian salad (raw tuna in coconut cream), and sashimi strips. Pretty flash for pub food, eh?
We considered a revisit to Marmite et Tire Bouchon in Baie des Citrons which we enjoyed immensely on our last visit, the food was excellent, modern and very cheffy, alas we didn't have time on this trip.
We spotted Au P'tit Cafe on our last trip and made it our number one priority for this visit. A couple of readers from Noumea reckoned it was the best pick in town, it was certainly our favourite. The food is modern French with a little fusion thrown in. Best to book ahead, we couldn't get in when we just showed up the first time.
The menu is small and changes daily. There's no English menu so bring Shawn's mum who speaks French. If you can't find Shawn's Mum, speak to the floor manager who is very friendly and fluent in English.
Meals work out around $30 Australian which is excellent value for the quality, there's just no comparison to anything in Sydney.
Au P'tit Cafe is open for lunch and dinner, it's breezy and relaxed at lunchtime. As always in Noumea, dress casual.
Mother goes for the roast pork. It's roast pork.
Alison and Doris go for the mahi mahi with squid ink pasta. The pasta hidden underneath had a good fishy flavour, not just coloured.
Mr Shawn rates his beef cheeks as one of his all time favourite meals, even topping anything we had on our recent trip to Paris. The beef cheeks are excellent but groans of pure pleasure arise when he tastes that cream foie gras sauce, it's incredible, like a really good French cream sauce multiplied by ten. He shrinks in guilt from the tortured poultry, but that was the most amazing sauce he's ever tasted. Superlatives intended.
Desert is a must.
Father goes for the orange crume brulee which is a winner, a nice balance of sweet and marmalade bitter.
It's lovely and gooey in the middle.
Lovely fresh sweet strawberries and cream on rum baba, rum soaked cake, with shards of burnt sugar toffee. It's like a posh trifle with 100% extra excellentness.
Next lunch stop is Les Table de Gourmets - table of gourmets. This is in the suburbs out of town. You can get a bus from town which drops you pretty much at the end of this street on the main road. Just don't walk the wrong way around the sports ground like we did...
Les Table de Gourmets specialises in food from Alcase. It's hearty food with a Germanic influence. The servings are huge here so bring your stretchy elastic waist eating pants. Plumbers butt is optional.
We booked a table inside which is pleasant but outside on the terrace looks like the go to us.
One of Shawn's (many) regrets in life is ordering the wrong dish at Les Table de Gourmets. He was going to go for the osco bucco but switched to the raclette which sounded nifty and exotic, something to do with dunking things in melted cheese, but with way more street cred than fondue.
The version of raclette here is amazingly delicious but not quite what we were in the mood for. We are delivered a large serve of cheese and potato bake, we guess the dunky bits must be under the cheese...
The waitress then brings the charcuterie, the dunky bits to eat with the cheese. The sausages and hams are excellent. And the cheese and potato bake is the best we've ever had. It's even better than the many we had in Paris. Even Shawn's mum agrees and she's a potato bake fiend. But after eating all the fatty ham and meat, and a serve of cheese and potato bake big enough for two or three people, Mr Shawn feels gross to the point that he walks all the way home to get rid of those meat'n'cheese sweats. If only he ordered the osso bucco...
Alison goes for a huge pork knuckle. It's served with potatoes au gratin and a serve of lentils. So hearty it was almost a little out of place in tropical Noumea. She needed a huge walk afterwards too.
Father's pick was dish of the day we reckon: brains in lively herby sauce. Shawn usually hates brains but the sauce masked the liver-y brain taste.
We share a vanilla glazed apple tart for dessert which was like a light, delicate apple pie. Thumbs up all round.
Terrace area, which would have been a better choice in the cool afternoon.
We try another place we spied on our last visit, Les 3 Brasseurs (3 Brewers). It's a chain joint with a touristy vibe, but they brew excellent beer on site and we were keen to try their flammekueche, which is kind of like a thin cheesy tart or pizza.
Les 3 Brasseurs is pubby downstairs and a bit more tables'n'chairs upstairs, where you get a nice view overlooking the beach at Bay de Citron, which we later discover the locals call of Bay of Boobs, or the French equivalent thereof, due to the number of topless bathers, or white pointers as we called them in 1970s Australia.
Les 3 Brasseurs food menu.
Les 3 Brasseurs beer menu.
The beer is top notch. We order across a few different styles from blonde to brown, each has its own level of sweetness.
Brasseur's special flammekueche - onion, bacon, mushroom, grated emmental cheese.
Plain flammekueche - cheese, onion and bacon. It's called 'classic' instead of 'plain' on the French menu, which makes it sound so much more appealing.
The base is super thin and light. We like these so much we return for more before we fly home. Shawn's Dad has been making these at home ever since, although the price of good emmenthal in Australia means the cheese flavour is just a little different.
Old style French toast with vanilla ice cream. French toast always tastes good.
Apple flammekueche. Dinner and dessert in one, the caramel sauce has a little beer in it as well.
Our last pick is L'assiette du Cagou which serves New Caledonian food.
Yet another low key place. It fills up very quickly with a great mix of people, there's a few tourists and plenty of locals of all ethnicitees. The chefs were a couple of burly Kanak blokes and the food is a mix of French, Kanak and Asian influences, hearty with a home style to it.
New Caledonian prawns are excellent so we get stuck into them. Here they're in a homely French style creme sauce, with sides of rice, salad, vegies and taro.
This one has the same sides and some prawns on top of a homely stew of thinly sliced venison. There is an abundance of deer out in the island when there was hope of getting a local venison industry going. We also loved the local vension saucisson from the supermarket.
L'assiette du cagou menu.
We had an excellent few days of feeding. Our original plan was to eat at a different fancy French restaurant each day, but when we got there we didn't feel like big rich meals every day, hence mixing it up with some pub food and meals at home. There's still a bunch of restaurants in Noumea we're keen to try and there'd be a few we'd never heard of.
When we tell people we've been to Noumea for a holiday they usually look puzzled. Noumea is like a small regional French coastal city plonked in the Pacific, only a couple of hours from East Coast Australia. The French food and culture mashed up with Kanak, Asian and other Pacific influences make it a fascinating place when you stick your nose under the hood.
In between this Noumea holiday and writing this post we spent a month in Paris, and we were surprised how well Noumea stacks up against Paris for restaurants, at least at the lower end of the price scale. Shawn's all time favourite dish is still the beef cheeks at Au Petite Cafe in Noumea.
Paris has around 39,000 more restaurants than Noumea, but Noumea offers a lot of variety in a handful of restaurants and it's only a couple of hours away from Sydney or Brisbane.
We love Noumea (and we'll be back again this year!).