The Eaterie de Manon premises in Newtown, Wellington has had a chequered, but illustrious history with different owners, chefs and themes all working well, and only the occasional hiccup on the way. The latest change has seen the talented chef David Coleman take over the lease, and with it an ambitious plan to bring to the locale some sophisticated, but accessible cuisine. David is firmly settled in Wellington now, and his repertoire of food flavour expression will add to the varied and marvellous palette of colours that the Wellington dining scene enjoys. His input at the long-mourned ‘Anise’ Thai restaurant, ‘Pod’ and ‘Spice Island’ is an indication of some of the influences. He has a mastery of the flavoured ‘pastes’ that are a very significant part of his new menu.
Cleverly named ‘The 5 Acts of Manon’, David has devised three menus each of five courses in an analogy of the five acts of the Manon opera composed by Jules Massenet in the late 19th century. There are three options – ‘Sea’, ‘Land’ and ‘Garden’, where the produce for each of the menus is sourced. At present, the Manon wine list is serviceable, and David is aware of the need to upgrade it to match the flavours his cuisine offers. The new year will see the necessary changes.
We partook of the ‘Land’ option of ‘The 5 Acts of Manon’ and it was an enjoyable and interesting dinner experiencing the recital of flavours that David has put together.
Act One was Lamb pate, shallot toast, chunky with substantial lamb interest, earthy yet rich, not overly fatty at all, and in fact dry, especially with the piquant, but textured toast. In essence a course with substance allied to subtlety, whetting the taste buds. Act Two the Beef fillet, cashew oxtail, Roquefort. Perfectly judged beef, tender, moist with restrained flavour, but lifted to another plane by the powerful, salty cheese. The sweetness of the cashew and oxtail no doubt was an attempt to moderate and give moisture to the main features, but to me, probably just a little too light in the final analysis. The interlude came with Oscar’s beet sorbet, cassia dust. The perfect palate refresher, the beet’s earthiness tamed and sharpened by the cool temperature. An element and layer of intrigue was provided by the nuances of cinnamon spice. Seemingly lighter, but in reality richer and more varied in texture was the Sunset duck, red pork, spring asparagus. The contrast of the meat with the crispness and freshness of the vegetable a classic pairing. Here, David’s warm Sunset paste made this dish very fulfilling. That left 5 Chocolates as the last act to finish us replete and finish the meal, the variations on a theme again a classic reprise of the five acts the meal represented.
As noted earlier, the wine list is due to be revamped, with a selection more suited to the varied matchings required by the menu. Our choices were Kumeu River ‘Village’ Chardonnay 2008, probably a little too simple to match the theme of the ‘Land’ menu, though it was refreshing and very serviceable. The Julicher ’99 Rows’ Pinot Noir 2009 proved to be an excellent all-rounder with, surprisingly all of the five courses, including aspects of the 5 Chocolates.
One final point of note was the value of the meal. 5 courses for $50.00. Incredible, considering the amount of craft, imagination and experience put into the design of this meal. The ‘Sea’ and ‘Garden’ options of ‘The 5 Acts of Manon’ are now a must to experience.
Eateria de Manon, 167 Riddiford Street, Newtown, Wellington. Tel: 04 380-110
(Eateria de Manon is now known as ‘Do Re Mi’)