I am a staunch advocate of dining alone. Perhaps my enthusiasm for this exercise has been born of necessity: the combination of my love of eating out, financially responsible friends, and a perpetual lack of significant (or even regularly dateable) other means that I am often without a companion for gastronomical escapades. But I’ve come to love it. I’m always surprised when otherwise independent, self-actualised acquaintances state that they’ve never sat at a café or gone to a movie by themselves. In contrast, I routinely take a kitchen-side seat at Burger Burger in order to gorge myself on kumara fries, smash a salmon karaage at Renkon, and, of course, frequently polish off a cinnamon brioche at Little and Friday, with a podcast in my ears, an out-of-date Metro magazine at hand, obnoxiously comfortable in my own company. As a regular at these establishments, I like to imagine the familiar staff pitying my singledom and psychologically high-fiving me whenever I turn up with a friend.
Only recently, however, have I ventured into the realm of dining solo at a “fancy” restaurant. The first occasion falls squarely in the pathetic camp: a few Tuesdays ago, a potential date evaporated, and then I gracefully wiped out on High Street in the rain (cue your pick of Daniel Powter’s Bad Day or the F.R.I.E.N.D.S theme song), so I remedied the situation with an impromptu binge of pizzette, parmesan-crumbed mushrooms, goat cheese balls, and three glasses of GSM at Vivace. The maître d’ asked if I was “in town on business from Sydney or somewhere”; instead of claiming that cool-as cover story, I opted for the Bridget Jonesian truth.
But with that under my belt, I was determined to have a more purposeful single-at-a-restaurant experience. Where the legendary Vinnies once stood on Jervois Road, a new venture named ParisButter has recently opened and, as a big fan of both of those concepts in noun form, I was sold. And so it was that I found myself on a Sunday night, novel in hand, phone switched to airplane mode, at a table for one – a booking which was, quelle surprise, not hard to secure.
Devised by executive chef Nick Honeyman, the menu is both structurally and elementally traditional. As an entrée, I opted for confit pork belly, served with scallops, boudin noir, cauliflower, and soy. A glass of Cave de Lugny Bourgogne Blanc from Burgundy was the perfect accompaniment and, as ever, a complimentary side of crusty bread was most welcome. For my main course, I selected the butcher’s cut (a medium cut, slow-cooked at that ephemeral 62 degrees), with the eponymous Paris butter, house fries, and black garlic rouille. Yes, I ordered glorified steak and chips, and my god, it was glorious. Sticking with wine from L’Hexagone, a Château Magnol Cru Bourgeois from the Haut-Medoc region in Bordeaux went down a treat.
And then dessert, or more accurately, the cheese course. In my presence, no self-respecting cheese selection stands a chance. At the recent wedding of two very dear friends, I infamously raided the cheese boards of surrounding tables to such an extent that I must have eaten close to my body weight in fromage. Appropriately restrained this time around, the choices for consumption included a blue and a washed rind, both from Puhoi, and a brie from Normandy. All were sampled, and all were délicieux.
At the end of the day, the experience was supremely satisfying, if not a cause for reflection on my stagnant relationship status. A passage from a recent New York Times Modern Love column by Sarah Moses really hit home for me:
Everyone says you have to be happy with yourself before you can find happiness with someone else. I find that notion extremely frustrating. I am happy enough: I have a good job, great friends and live in New York City [substitute Auckland, but you get the picture]. But I am not going to say the loneliness isn’t palpable, that I don’t wake up in the middle of the night in a state of panic, wondering if I am going to be alone for the rest of my life.
At the same time, I also try hard to accept that it may never happen for me. I tell myself that I don’t need a partner to lead a happy and fulfilling life.
I’m certainly not saying I don’t long for a man whose arm I can regularly twist into indulging in a decadent night out (for any eligible suitors: my shout). But it is a liberating thing to be able to relish doing so by myself.
166 Jervois Road, Herne Bay
Open for dinner from 6pm Wednesday to Sunday and lunch from 12pm Thursday to Sunday
$95 for entrée, main, cheese course, and two glasses of wine