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French flavour in a Pacific paradise

Flicking through Air Calin’s in-flight magazine on my flight from Sydney to Noumea, I am greeted by pages of photography capturing the picturesque landscape of New Caledonia. I soon discover on my arrival at the French-Melanesian nation that it’s not just the clear blue waters and pristine beaches that make New Caledonia a slice of paradise. With bountiful fresh produce and a blend of South Pacific and French cuisine, my inner foodie is about to embark on a journey full of flavour.

My food journey begins at a quaint café-restaurant named Au P’tit Café in the heart of Nouméa. This unassuming establishment offers a casual, yet chic open-air location for lunch or dinner with the feeling of being at your local neighbourhood café. As the dinner menu board (which is written in French) is propped up on the adjacent chair beside me, I see a selective yet substantial offering of authentic gourmet French-style dishes. What is special about this place is the constantly changing menu of four main dishes curated by the chef, who utilises fresh, seasonal produce. One of the highlights for me is the cheesecake a la passion, salade de fruits frais (passionfruit cheesecake with fresh fruit salad), which is the café’s signature dessert and thankfully one of the few items that are available year-round – as this is a dessert I’d want to go back for.

The next morning I embark on another day’s exploration of Nouméa’s foodie haunts. My driver Harold drops me at the morning markets, an interesting way to start the day for those wanting to see how the locals eat and shop for produce. The market includes a wide variety of fresh fruit, vegetables, a fish market, local coffee and a smattering of gift/souvenir stalls. My take-away from the markets is a foodie-inspired, screen-printed canvas bag by local artist Pilou that reads: Dans la vie, on a juste besoin d’amourmais un petit chocolat peut aussi aider – “In life we just need love… but a bit of chocolate also helps”.

Perhaps my driver notices my new purchase, as the next stop on my itinerary is Chocolat Morand, the famed creation of artisan and master chocolatier, Patrick Morand. Upon entering the store there are big glass windows that not only showcase his fine chocolates and cakes but also provide a literal window into his workstation, where visitors can see the team at Chocolat Morand create their masterpieces.

 

Patrick Morand showcases some of his signature creations | Belinda Craigie

 

Patrick, a French native, tells me about his passion for chocolate and his ongoing journey to create new flavours inspired by local New Caledonian ingredients like vanilla bean and passionfruit. As a chocolatier with more than 10 years’ experience running his business in Nouméa, he says that one of the most important things to remember is to keep learning and travelling to develop fresh ideas. I sample a delicious vanilla bean French macaron, as well as an assortment of his famous chocolates, the most notable of which is a mint flavoured dark chocolate. Quite far from the average after-dinner mint, the explosion of fresh mint with the sweetness of the outer casing is très bon.

Luxury travellers wanting to get off Nouméa’s beaten tourist track should visit the recently opened and increasingly popular local institution Domaine du Faubourg, a specialist premium wine and spirits bar. Opened in December 2015 by three childhood friends from the south of France, this hidden gem has a selection of 500 wines and spirits by the glass with new arrivals every week. The bar includes an impressive machine that provides wine-on-tap for tastings or half/full glasses, with most of the wine sourced (of course) from France.

 

Domaine du Faubourg | Jessa Melicor

 

Decked out with modern interiors, it is tastefully decorated with artwork by co-owner Laurent Mô, also a painter and sculptor. The ethos behind the artisan bar, as co-owner Roman explains, is about sharing a drink with friends and family and enjoying each other’s company while having access to a premium and varied supply of beverages.

 

Co-owner Roman serves up tastings of premium spirits at Domaine du Faubourg | Belinda Craigie

 

The last stop on my food trail in Nouméa is found back at my hotel, Le Meridien Nouméa, where I decide to dine at the hotel’s fine-dining restaurant for dinner: L’Hippocampe – an experience not to be missed. Met with impeccable service by restaurant manager Thierry, the evening completes my very tasty foray into Nouméa’s fine cuisine. As I savour the last morsel of my smoked duck foie gras, it is as clear as the waters off Nouméa’s shoreline that the food and wine culture here is certainly worth exploring.

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