Where to eat in… New Caledonia ? Part 1 / 2 : Noumea and surroundings

dawas – Almamat(t)ers

Well, the obvious answer to that question is: at my mom’s or at my brother’s (the man’s idea of fun is spending a whole day preparing a Thai curry paste with herbs he grows in his garden… can you imagine?) (I can) (The curry was awesome).

Otherwise, there is plenty of marvellous food to discover in New Caledonia.

I wish I could have told you about what yam and water taro mean in kanak culture, about the deer and shrimp festival, the avocado celebration in Maré island, the subtle taste of pahatr (a variety of fern, not unlike the famous fiddleheads in Quebec), and so on…

But.

To be honest, I spent more time stuffing myself with Tahitian salad bought in our local supermarket than haunting refined and pertinent culinary events.

I’m a bad foodie. (If we were good food-bloggers, we would already be famous by now).

Anyway, I still wanted to tell you about some of the good tables I discovered while in the Caillou, from greasy spoons to posh establishments.  Let’s begin with Noumea and its surroundings!

  • Snack 21 :

Not unlike my mom, Maggie is a bubbly Vietnamese woman who likes to run everything all by herself. In Snack21, she’s a jane-of-all-trades, from cooking to waiting and cleaning the tables, not to mention entertaining with her sharp jokes and motherly care. The loyal patrons who come here every day for lunch know how hard she works, and thank her for it: it’s not unusual to see a client helping themselves in the fridge or bringing their empty plates back to the kitchen. Just like you would do at your mom’s!

What’s to eat? A few simple dishes -the menu varies- revolving around basics of French and Vietnamese cuisine, as well as Pacific-inspired flavours (Tahitian salad!). Tasty fresh made or baked desserts of the day. And let me give you a tip: if you call in advance on certain days, you may be able to savour her delicious bánh cuốn (Vietnamese steam-cooked crepes).

To sum it up, sweet prices, fresh meals, nice atmosphere. Yay Maggie!

We like: The pork and/or shrimp bánh cuốn, the Tahitian salad served with steamed rice, the exotic fruit salad, the steamed sweet rice cakes… Maggie’s hospitality and the relaxed, familiar vibe of the place.

Not so much: Pertaining to the latter, a certain lack of privacy. Don’t go there for a first date lunch, a break-up lunch, or a planning-the-taking-over-of-the-Empire lunch, unless you’d like for your seat neighbours to participate. My mom is very fond of the friendly/gossipy atmosphere though, but I’m not.

Maggie's fruit salad (Snack21, Nouméa)
Maggie’s fruit salad (Snack21, Nouméa)

Snack21

French & Vietnamese cuisine

Tél.25 36 34

On site or take away

21 Rue Anatole France, Noumea

Price range : Cheap/Average – $-$$

  •  Open’s Rice :

You like to indulge in chinese and vietnamese flavours, but you don’t care too much for the rush of MSG, salt and sugar, not to mention gluten ? You’ve found the right spot: Open’s rice’s chef is very open (haha!) to many dietary restrictions or preferences. Just specify it when ordering.

My mom and I just went with the flow (impressive choice of dishes) and everything was perfect: generous, fresh, yummy… Although I thought the prices were a bit on the high side.

Please do try the desserts: I’ve been told they come from Perfecta bakery (in Vallée des Colons) and I’ve experienced how delish they are.

Very cool place for a breezy lunch.

We like: The shrimp Bún Tôm, the Pho Xao noodles, the delectable millefeuille with its delicate flaky pastry and subtly flavoured custard. Also, the nice terrace and the considerate and patient service.

Not so much: Service can be a bit slow, and the prices are a little above average for this kind of relaxed place.

Shrimp chao min noodles (Open's Rice, Nouméa)
Shrimp Pho Xao noodles (Open’s Rice, Nouméa)

 

Exquisite Millefeuille from Perfecta bakery (Open's Rice, Nouméa)
Exquisite Millefeuille from Perfecta bakery (Open’s Rice, Nouméa)

Open’s Rice

7 route de l’Anse Vata, 98800 Nouméa

Price range : Average/high- $$-$$$

  • Le Duke’s :

It’s my dad’s favourite. Of course, he’s French (from Belgian descent to make it worse) and loves nothing more than his steak and fries with a good pepper or blue cheese sauce.

Dishes are honest but rather uneven in quality. The flank steak was very good, the tuna tartare flawless, but the so promising dish that my mom and I ordered proved to be a big disappointment: our “slow-cooked kingfish with coconut milk and plantains, wrapped in banana tree leaves from Maré island” was a big piece of almost dry fish drenched in a sauce full of oversweet (and overpowering) banana chunks, wrapped in a good ol’ tinfoil. Botched and not cool.

Otherwise, people were nice and the restaurant is ideally located, in your typical pretty Noumea setting with a view on famous Baie des Citrons (Lemon’s Bay ;)) from the terrace.

We like: The seaside setting, smiling staff, the variety of the menu and the good classic dishes.

Not so much: Nasty surprises in daily specials and false advertising!

Flawless tuna tartar at Duke's (Nouméa)
Flawless tuna tartar at Duke’s (Nouméa)

 

Duke's very decent fries (and failed picture, the model wasn't really cooperative)
Duke’s very decent fries (and failed picture, the model wasn’t really cooperative)

 

Sometimes, pictures are more telling than words.
Sometimes, pictures are more telling than words.

Duke’s

Restaurant/Café

Baie des citrons, 98804 Nouméa

+687 28 17 47

Price: Average/High $$-$$$

  • Le Faré :

Brace up people, we are in luxury territory: Le Faré is one of the Le Méridien five stars hotel’s restaurants. My mom brought me here for a spontaneous/crazy/rebellious/secret lunch, just the two of us. (When we got back home, we told everyone we had a salad while exchanging knowing smiles. It was nice).

As soon as you step in there, you know what it’s about. Everything is sand and pink-colored, just like the wealthy tourists sporting fluffly pareos and beach hats all over the place, their skin reddened by the Pacific sun. And everything is also deep ebony, like the totem-shaped pillars and the majority of the waiting staff, smiling and running and sweating to please the crows according to high-end standards.

No need to say, your inner Karl Marx won’t feel very at ease. But don’t let my proletarian upbringing spoil your fun (or maybe do):  all is but order and beauty, luxury, quiet and delight. The view of the Anse Vata is unbeatable; I urge you to take a walk on the beach after your meal, just to watch the ballet of kitesurfers.

So what’s to eat? A range of local delicacies (from seafood to papaya and yams) highlighted in fancy dishes, not as mind-blowing as their pompous names would suggest though. A bit overrated, but still very good. We had the yellow tuna tartare with cream of avocado and lime, and the coconut lemongrass chicken with vegetables wok.

We like: The beautiful setting and the sea view, the tasteful and picturesque décor with woodwork sculptures reminding of traditional Melanesian (kanak) architecture. The balneo-chic atmosphere (this adjective is ridiculous and I just invented it). The fruit cocktails!

Not so much: The gourmet coffee, which was really meh. The waiting staff being obviously stressed out and under pressure. The impression of swimming in an ocean of dubious colonial clichés. I know it’s probably hypocrite to eat at a 5 starts hotel’s restaurant and expect to see a symposium of revolutionaries, but still. Aren’t you sick of the same old local-brown-people-serving-rich-white-foreign-people routine? Why must luxury always equals power relationship and inequality?

 

Gourmet coffee (Le Faré, Nouméa)
Gourmet coffee (Le Faré, Nouméa)

Le Faré Restaurant et Bar

Hôtel Le Méridien, Pointe Magnin, Nouméa 98846, +687 26 50 00

Price range : High $$$

  • Au p’tit café :

We had great expectations for this restaurant. Their menu is minimalist: 4 to 5 dishes that change every week depending on the season and the chef’s (Gabriel Levionnois) inspiration. Once again, local delicacies are put on the stage. Fresh, simple, locavore and environmentally responsible (kind of, at least), with an undeniable gourmet touch: it sounded awesome.

Now, picture Queen Elizabeth if four strangers barged in her bathroom to ask her for an impromptu gangsta rap mash-up. See how annoyed and incompetent she would look? Well, you’ve got the attitude of the girls who waited on our table that day.

Believe me, I’d rather gobble up an entire soup of flies than complaining in a restaurant. I’m one of those awkward people who would clean up their table themselves if it was possible. But our main waitress was so plain rude and out-of-it that it was almost a joke. Considering the excellent reputation of the place, and the fact it was a thank-you gift to my parents before our departure, I was all the more disappointed by this cold and borderline hostile attitude.

On top of that, the décor and surroundings are rather dull, which is a shame because in spite of the non-ideal location, the terrace could be arranged into something quite nice.

So what do we EAT? (goddammit)

The slate of the day was full of tantalizing stuff!

We had a mi-cuit tuna accompanied by a guacamole with a twist and a mango salsa (well-done and delicate), a pulled duck with arugula, walnuts and pancetta salad paired with a sweet potato imperial roll stuffed with duck filet (creative, subtle and delish), a melt-in-your-mouth flank steak spiced up by a horseradish sauce, served with mashed squash and woodsy stuffed mushroom (not for the fearful palate, my favourite).

All dishes possessed a refined balance between flavours, textures and foodstuffs. Well done, tightrope walker chef! The food is a testimony to his boldness, and I love the fact that he’s daring to take risks and reinvent the menu continuously, with rigor and creativity.

(The portions were also perfect.)

Unfortunately we were not that convinced by the desserts, beautifully plated but lacking in finesse. The so popular passionfruit cheesecake was honest, light and nicely flavoured, but not amazing –and this time, the portion was too much. The milk chocolate, caramel and hazelnut crunchy pudding was way too sweet (and believe me, we’re no sugar snobs in this family), a shame because it would have complimented nicely its exquisite scoop of homemade cognac and candied fruits ice cream.

In the end, a culinary experience not as mind-blowing as expected, but worth the try. Though I couldn’t help but ask myself if the place was a victim of its own success… resting on your laurels much?

We like: The fresh and local produce, the creativity and refinement of the recipes, the good price-quality ratio, the beautiful (but not pretentious) plating, the open kitchen concept.

Not so much: The incredibly incompetent and rude service. The ordinary/plain décor. The little hint of je ne sais quoi lacking in the food that makes it really good but not extraordinary.

 

cafeeeee1

cafe2Au P’tit Café

Avenue des frères Carcopino, Nouméa

28 21 89

(Ouvert du mardi au vendredi)

Price range : Average/High $$-$$$

  • Le Ponton :

First of all, you don’t go to the Ponton only for the food. It’s all about the whole experience. “Touristy stuff”, mumbled my grumpy brother. Well, he was still keen to go and I have a few embarrassing pictures and videos to prove he had a blast whether underwater or at the table.

Only a seven minutes boat ride away from Noumea, Le Ponton is a little floating oasis, moored to the Tamanou reef. It offers a bar/restaurant and an ideal site to scuba dive in New Caledonia’s turquoise lagoon, making friends with bright-colored corals[1] and schools of shiny fishes. Shark-phobic ? You can always sun bathe on the canvas chairs, have a look through the submarine tunnel’s windows or just take in the sublime view while being on the lookout for turtles’ brief apparitions (we saw two!)

So what do we eat?

Fish ! Sea products are definitely highlighted (but there’s alternatives, even if the menu is quite minimalistic -which is a very good sign considering the size of the kitcen). Fresh produce and local delicacies, simple but impeccable, with generous sides (you can have both the vegetables and the potatoes, mind you!). Gourmet coffee with assortment of desserts was the bomb (way better than the Faré’s).

We like: Eating in the middle of the lagoon, while sporting our swimsuits and sunburnt smiles. The friendly and relax staff. The fish tartar and delicious sides. The overall unpretentious but delicious food, including the great desserts. The sustainable and environmentally-friendly approach of the owners.

Not so much: If you have severe seasickness or panic attacks on boats, keep in mind that a floating pontoon (even on a quiet lagoon) doesn’t stay perfectly still. I barely noticed it, but some may find it a bit upsetting while eating. I also would have appreciated more information about the impact of human activity on the extremely fragile lagoon ecosystem. Is our sunscreen poisoning the sea creatures? How was fished the delicious tuna we ate? What can we do to protect this marvellous environment, instead of just making the most of it? (A valid question for the whole world as we know, but we have to start somewhere) The Ponton seems a great place to raise those questions.

Cocktail, lagoon, filters. We're on a slippery slope leading to sausage-thighs selfies, I'm afraid.
Cocktail, lagoon, filters. We’re on a slippery slope leading to sausage-thighs selfies, I’m afraid.

Tuna tartar with generous sides (Le Ponton, Noumea)Le Ponton

90 38 84

Price range : Average/High $$ -$$$

  • Phare Amédée Island All-you-can-eat buffet:

Not your typical restaurant here either. You cannot just pop on the island and have a look at the menu on your lunch break: the all-you-can-eat buffet is part of the all-included day trip on the island. But it was such a nice surprise that I couldn’t not mention it.

A day on the Phare Amédée island is not cheap. But for such a wonderful day, it’s really not expensive either. And, wether you live in New Caledonia or are just spending a holiday there, it is a must-see (voted best attraction on TripAdvisor, if that’s not a testimony!).

It was my dad’s birthday gift: we figured he needed a break from his geometrical figures, beehives, rabbits and detective shows.

I won’t tell you about the beautiful day we spent so your surprise won’t be spoiled. But let’s just say the buffet was one of many pleasant discoveries.

We didn’t expect much of it, considering the “all-included” aspect (really, it’s a steal, you won’t regret it). But, after being welcomed by fruity cocktails (with or without alcohol, and yes you can have refills), we were presented with a myriad of fresh salads and fancy appetizers (smoked salmon, New Zealand’s green mussels, and so on), a good choice of hot meals (deer sausages, grilled spearfish…), multiple vegetables and sides. It was quite international with a locally-inspired take.

Same thing at dessert time: a profusion of fresh fruits and various sweets (from Tahitian papaya pudding to panna cotta), including ice creams.

Oh, and there’s a bottle of wine comprised with the meal.

Note that lunch comes with a south-pacific music and dance show. Members of the assistance are invited to participate: if you don’t feel like sporting a coconut bra and rolling your hips in front of dozens of cracked-up tourists, pretend you’re absorbed in your pineapple piece when the gorgeous vahines start looking for their preys. For me, it worked.

We like: Everything !

Not so much: The “unwilling volunteer” aspect of public participation (it reminds me too much of maths class). Well, except when it forces my boyfriend to climb a coconut tree. That was fun. And we got to brag when he reached the very top in a flash: we’re island people too, biatches!

Not bad eh ? (Phare Amédée island)
Not bad eh ? (Phare Amédée island)

 

On dira ce qu'on voudra, les moules c'est pas super photogénique (sauf Lolo)
I know…

 

Mussels have never been photogenic anyway.
Mussels have never been photogenic anyway.

Phare Amédée island daytrip

+687 26 31 31

Price range : Average/High $$-$$$ (but quality price ratio is unbeatable)

 

Coming soon: Sketchy fish, great coffee and more adventures in the North and South Province of New Caledonia. Don’t want to miss it? Subscribe and follow us on Instagram 🙂

 

 

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