French Paradise: Noumea’s Food Trail
People told us the South Pacific island of New Caledonia was a little piece of France with a lot of azure water, but we didn’t truly believe them until we touched down in the capital. Noumea is set on a hilly peninsula surrounded by sweeping bays and a handful of virtually untouched islets just off the coast. The scenery screams South Pacific, but the food scene is French fusion.
Expect to see baguettes and gooey French cheeses sold alongside coconuts and yams at the local market – the tropical and Gallic blend of influences makes the island such a delicious destination for foodies. Here’s our guide to eating your way around town:
Spring rolls for breakfast?
Noumea’s no-frills snack bars have adopted several classic Asian dishes over the years, so it’s not unusual to see locals slurping bowls of Vietnamese pho for brunch. Head to the Chinatown district and look out for vendors ladling nem from the deep-fryer. Deliciously naughty, this grease-laden street-food looks like a fat spring roll and consists of minced pork, beef or crab wrapped in a wonton and plunged in bubbling oil.
If you prefer to start the day with something sweet, head to Noumea’s oldest bakery – La Vieille France (77 Rue de Sébastopol). The team start baking at 2:30am, making 20kg of croissants every day. Like kids in a candy shop, we grabbed doughnuts, strawberry tarts and chocolate eclairs before trying to sample all 32 flavours of macaron – the Coca-Cola variety was interesting. Their speciality is the Coeurs de Voh, a heart-shaped chocolate made in honour of the stunning heart-shaped magrove glade north of the main island of New Caledonia.
If your sweet-tooth still isn’t satisfied, or you need a few souvenirs, make a beeline for Chocolat Morand (9 Rue Porcheron) in the old Latin Quarter – this is artisan chocolate-making at its best. Classically French-trained owner Patrick sources chocolate from all over the world to feature in his inventive creations. He’s keen to show off the latest recipes (the guy has more than 200 up his sleeve) so samples are forthcoming – we suggest you request the delicious 55% dark French chocolate filled with a mint and green tea white chocolate ganache. Other flavours include mango, Szechuan pepper, basil and mandarin. Need we say more?
Lunch on local ingredients
When it comes to lunch, it’s all about locals flavours prepared and served in two very different locations. To connect with the island’s ancient Melanesian culture, head to one of the island’s many indigenous Kanak communities. Most of Expedia’s Aussie travellers spend around five nights in New Caledonia – that’s plenty of time to head out to the rural areas for a taste of local life. Try a bougna – yams, taro, sweet potatoes, Chinese greens and chicken infused in a coconut broth, wrapped in a banana leaf and slow-cooked for hours. The result? A creamy, sweet and insanely filling meal courtesy of Chez Marie-Georgette, who prepares the dish daily with the help of her daughter and granddaughter in Tribu de Oua Tom, La Foa.
For a more modern take on native ingredients, head back into the city and the charming Au P’tit Cafe (8 Avenue Carcopino). Choose from four mains and four desserts (changing weekly depending on what’s fresh at the market) on the blackboard and be rewarded with some of the island’s most accomplished cooking – it’s fresh, vibrant and very locally sourced. The owner even bought a patch of land in La Foa to help the restaurant be more self-sufficient. The one dish that never leaves the menu is the passionfruit cheesecake, and having tried it, we understand why. Pure heaven.
Dine out in style
Thanks to the Chateau Royal Beach Resort and Spa’s location on Promenade Roger Laroque, diners at La Pirogue lap up stunning views of the bay while enjoying the modern Asian-French fusion food – head chef Ludovic Copleux is currently a judge on New Caledonia’s version of MasterChef, so it’s safe to say he knows his stuff.
For a fine dining experience, head upstairs to Le Taom. Stand-out dishes served in this intimate space include lobster salad with artichoke caviar and a creamy risotto that’s studded with duck foie gras, scallops and blue prawns.
If you’re staying at Chateau Royal, you can work up an appetite in the pool or chill out at the Aqua Spa, but don’t forget to venture out at night. Chez Toto in the Latin Quarter is as French as it can be. Dust off your French speaking skills and make sure you check the blackboard for specials.
Situated at the end of a boardwalk on Anse Vata Beach, Le Roof is perched on wooden stilts above the water. The main dining room is built around an opening in the floor that offers a glimpse of the frolicking marine life below, while diners on the balcony can gaze at the sunset. Keep your eyes peeled for dolphins – we saw three the night we dined. Delicious mahi mahi, incredibly tender steak and the spectacular setting makes this one of the city’s most memorable dining experiences.
For a romantic evening, head to L’Hippocampe, Le Meridien’s signature restaurant. Elegant and intimate like the rest of the hotel, the dining room draws on its French colonial and Pacific island heritage. The service is immaculate and it’s hard to stop eating French favourites such as snails, duck breast tartar, pork fillet mignon and Dauphine potatoes but save room for local specialities like picot lagoon fish, mud crab and mango marmalade.
Once you’ve indulged in the food, the Meridien has plenty of other decadent experiences on offer. Hang out at the huge swimming pool, stroll the landscaped tropical gardens, charter a catamaran for the day, or head to a deserted island with a gourmet picnic.
It isn’t Paris, but this stunning town is a patch of paradise. For more ideas on Noumea, head to Expedia’s Noumea Travel Guide.