St Germain has been a favourite restaurant in Christchurch for a number of years. Not for its funky modern food (that it doesn’t have) but for the classic French cuisine it does serve to perfection.
Established in the Tram Exchange building in 2008 by French brothers Frederic and Vincent Berhault who were joined by another brother, Benjamin a few years later, the classic French food and service quickly found favour with diners, many of whom are now regulars.
When the earthquakes struck they were very lucky to be able to quickly re-establish the business in an under-utilised function room on the ground floor of the Cotswold Hotel, since rebranded as the Heartland Hotel. The dark themed décor of this room was a perfect fit for this classic French restaurant. For some months St Germain was one of the few fully functioning fine dining restaurants in the region.
The philosophy and secret to success is quite simple – beautiful ingredients cooked with respect, exceptional service and a very good wine list.
The menu is classic French featuring dishes like a warm, comforting Cassoulet with duck leg confit and homemade Toulouse sausage, the traditional Duck Breast a l’orange, or maybe a Veal Fillet with pistachio and mustard crust.
I always find it very difficult to go past the aged beef eye fillet “En Croute de Sel” with beetroot puree, pistou dauphinoise, baby ratatouille confit garlic, crispy basil, foie gras and truflle sauce which is the crowning glory in the dish. En Croute de Sel is where the beef fillet is cooked in a salt crust, this is cracked open at the table creating just the right amount of intrigue for diners.
Before you get to the mains you will need to choose from the traditional French onion soup, succulent sautéed scallops with creamy crayfish bisque, Foie-Gras with strawberry and rhubarb compote berry coulis or maybe the Escargots Gratinated with Bleu d’Auvergne. On our recent visit my wife enjoyed the sautéed scallops with creamy crayfish bisque, a bisque that is packed with flavour and richness.
When it comes to wine, the choice is outstanding with Champagne Bollinger available by the glass as are several other French and New Zealand wines. Anyone who knows us will not be surprised to know we spent more (much more) on wine than we did on food, it was the bottle of 2007 Chateau Leoville Barton Saint Julien ($300) with our main and cheese that did the real damage but we did start with a glass of Bollinger each and followed that with an aromatic wine chosen to match the entrée we each ordered. In my wife’s case it was a glass of Arthur Metz Pinot Gris, Cuvée Anne Laure ($13.50) to pair with her seared scallops while I had the Albert Mann 2012 Riesling ($17) with my Foie-Gras with strawberry and rhubarb compote, a perfect match.
This dinner was a special anniversary dinner for us so we splashed out on some premium wines, however you don’t have to take out a new mortgage on the house to dine here, prices are fair and comparable to other fine dining establishments. Entrees range for $15 to $20, mains from $25 to $42 and desserts are all $15 while a selection of French cheese will cost you $28 and the servings are generous. The wine list is very well balanced with a good selection of New Zealand wines, an extensive selection of French wines and a very good range of premium spirits, and ports.
If you are not as confident as I am choosing a wine to enjoy with your meal then Vincent is there to help you. He studied as a European Master Sommelier in Spain and has won many awards. In 2006, he was voted best Sommelier in Madrid, followed by best Sommelier in Spain in 2007. With experience like this he can help you make great wine choices from a list that has a wine for every taste and budget, from $9 to $29 for wines by the glass or $39 to $588 by the bottle.
St Germain may have exceptional, semi-formal service and beautiful classic French food but the atmosphere is relaxed and inviting. This is the perfect place for an intimate dinner for two, a family celebration or business dinner. It is also a restaurant we will continue to visit whenever we are in Christchurch.
Wine List 4.5*
St Germain Restaurant
Located with the Heartland Hotel Cotswold
88-96 Papanui Road, Christchurch