At first glance, it is hard to understand why Au P’tit Café is known as the best little cafe in Noumea. After all, it is set under a large, tropical tree, the wind-swept leaves of which often end up on the floor of an eatery that is half-open to the elements.
Combine this with an uninspiring view of a busy local street and fairly ordinary furnishings, one has to ask why patrons don’t go around the corner to the view-filled marina and the up-market Le Bintz.
Perhaps many disappointed patrons do go around the corner as it is almost impossible to get a table without a reservation. The fact is Au P’tit Café is a great place for a leisurely lunch with its great food, and relaxed and casual ambience.
The concept behind Au P’tit Café is to use the best local produce available to tempt and satisfy your appetite. The menu is inspired by a visit to the local market and the seasonal ingredients on offer. This evolves into four main dishes and four desserts for that week.
The absence of a fixed menu allows the chefs to adapt to what they find in the market, thus avoiding large stocks, or importing products from outside, and avoiding waste. The owner, Gabriel Levionnois, truly believes in sustainable living.
This unusual approach requires an incredibly flexible kitchen. The cafe is only open from Tuesday through Friday (“to give my staff a life”, says Gabriel). But, by 10.30am on Tuesday, the week’s menu (four mains and four desserts with prices) is posted on the website.
Gabriel also owns a country property where he further indulges his Fresh & Local food philosophy, with a free-ranging environment for goats, sheep, pigs, and game birds. However, he is also a man of the sea having served as a chef on several luxury yachts and enjoys diving for fish, lobsters and scallops.
Despite many visits to Noumea, this was our first visit to Au P’tit Cafe. I expected more tourists given its high Tripadvisor ranking. It is not within the Anse Vata tourist precinct, and it does not have the views of other well-known restaurants.
Despite the local ingredients, the French influence is not far away, and on our visit the clientele seemed French also, mainly well-dressed women out for lunch with friends just before Christmas. No other tourists were evident.
The atmosphere is busy and casual, but you will look out-of-place if you turn up in shorts and thongs. Reservations are essential, although we noticed some locals arriving about 1pm and managing a vacated table. Reservations can be made online with 48 hours notice.
The restaurant is open from Tuesday to Friday from 11:30am to 1:30pm and from 7.00pm to 9.30pm. However, it is wise to check the website for unexpected closures. At time of writing, I noticed a closure notice on the website between February 1 to 17.
Menu and wine list are on blackboards, which are placed on a seat next to your table while you make your choice. Service is prompt with little waiting between dishes. Spoken English is sparse, so bring your dictionary and leave the AMEX at home.
With no entrees, the mains are quite large helpings. I had Chausson de porc à la pistache, poitrine de porc confite grillée, salade mélangée, crème de foie gras while Ruth had Mignon d’agneau et épaule confite, salade aux légumes grillés, houmous et jus au thym. For sweets, I had Cheese Cake á la Passion, la Star des desserts du p’tit café (believe me, it is a star). Ruth had Nougat glacé aux amandes, coulis de fruits rouges.
It is difficult to get a bad meal in Noumea, but the casual ambience and delicious food combined to make this outing, by far, our most enjoyable meal in Noumea. Their commitment to excellence and creativity is obviously paying off. We wanted to go back before we left, but the restaurant was closed between Christmas and New Year. It is on our list for when we next visit.
Au P’tit Café de Noumea
Avenue des frères Carcopino, Noumea, New Caledonia
Tue to Fri: 11.30am to 1.30pm and 7pm to 9.30pm. Reserve online 48 hours in advance or by telephone. Check website for unusual closures.
Bus 10 or 11 from town or Anse Vata. Easy walk up Rue Georges Cémenceau from markets.