By Peter Calder - The New Zealand Herald - Wednesday May 22, 2013
Next week, the Parnell restaurant will notch up 40 years of continuous service - an Auckland record.It doesn't look much of a kitchen: the bench is barely a metre long and the chef has just enough space to swing a Sabatier.
The saucepans on the rack about the hob are flame-blackened by years of use. Out the back, where his three sous-chefs work, there's an oven so old that a small crescent spanner does service as a control knob. A recess has been crudely hacksawed into a stainless-steel bench. The plates are kept hot in an old pie warmer.
But out of this kitchen in an old house at 333 Parnell Rd have emerged plates of luxurious rich food that exultantly celebrate the chef's view that there is, by and large, nothing so good that it won't be improved by the addition of butter and cream.
That chef is Tony Astle, whose restaurant, Antoine's, adds a French accent to his given name.
Sometime in the next week, Antoine's will notch up 40 years of continuous service to the city's more well-heeled diners. In a town where the average longevity of a restaurant is counted in months, that's some achievement.
It's also an Auckland record: the Tony's steakhouses in Wellesley St and Lorne St have been opened longer, but the ownership has changed over the years.
"I'm not sure of the exact date," Astle told me when I sat down with him at one of the tables, taking care not to spill any espresso on the starched linen. "It was some time in May. We've always said May 29."
Astle had returned from England, where he'd been cooking in a pub in Croydon, to open Antoine's. The house he had chosen was one of the rather derelict flats that Parnell was known for before its gentrification. "About 500 people have told me they lived here," he says, "and I say 'whatever'."
The front part was originally Dame Sister Mary Leo's rooms at St Mary's Convent, where Kiri Te Kanawa learned to sing: Parnell's redeveloper, Les Harvey, "brought it over and clipped it on".
What Antoine's brought to Auckland - and still delivers - was the most formal of fine dining.