They say you eat with your eyes before your mouth and at Origine, a newish French bistro in Commercial Bay, the visual banquet begins at the door.  

Let’s make no bones about it, Commercial Bay is essentially a glorified shopping mall. It’s an unusually attractive mall, but it is still a mall.  

When stepping out for a two-person dinner that might cost up to $200, a local shopping centre isn’t usually the ideal destination. And walking your date up an escalator and through a food court does detract from the romance of the experience.  

However, you enter Origine itself through a beautiful glass door that acts like a portal into a more luxurious world. 

The entrance to Origine.

There was, for me at least, a slight air of mystery and excitement as that door opened and gave way to an expansive French bistro.

Nominally, food and drink are the most important aspect of a dining experience. In actuality, the atmosphere and sense of adventure play an outsized role in making it worthwhile.  

Origine delivers on this front. The spacious open-plan atrium is enormous – it has ultra-high ceilings and room for over a hundred diners – and overlooks the Waitematā Harbour. 

An enormous cruise ship, a rare sight during the pandemic years, sits on the water looking back at the restaurant.  

A table with a view.

As the sun goes down, an abnormally bright LED billboard reflects green light into the dining room. It is surely unintentional, but adds a stylish sharp edge to otherwise soft lighting.  

Okay, enough talk about décor; let’s get to the food.  

Origine was opened in August by husband-and-wife duo Cara and Ben Bayly, with Ahi founder Chris Martin and his French-born wife, Lucile Fortuna. 

It is pitched as being an “intersection of classical French cuisine and a modern local approach to cooking”.  

The founders all have experience working with French cuisine and have employed Toulouse native Thibault Peniarbelle as its executive chef. 

Our meal started with hors d’oeuvres: gougère with goat curd and a cherry tomato and foie gras (duck liver parfait) served on a truffle brioche.

Faux foie gras des landes, left, and the gougère.

As is often the case with starter dishes, the delicate presentation was the best part. 

The absolute star of the show was the poisson cru à la Tahitienne (Tahitian raw fish), marinated in lime, coconut, and chilli. It was bright, refreshing, perfectly balanced, with the chilli giving it just a little kick.  

We were so captivated by the dish, we failed to notice the silver-haired cruise-ship passengers waving at us from their balconies as the vessel left its berth. 

Our hearts were already in Tahiti.  

Poisson cru à la Tahitienne, left, and coquillages en escabèche.

We also ordered escabèche – shellfish served in a spiced vinegar – which was more stereotypically "French", with carrots and onions in the mix.  

It was also good, but it was the Tahitian dish I thought about on the drive home.  

That may just be my own subjective opinion, but it has been confirmed by another BusinessDesk staffer who celebrated her birthday at Origine this week.  

What came to her mind when asked for a highlight? The Tahitian fish.  

Next up was a wood-fired leek dish in a truffle vinaigrette and Tête de Moine, which is a cheese delicious enough to be used by Swiss monks as a type of currency in the 12th century. 

The leek is cut lengthwise and charred on its bottom, served with an egg crumb which brings a sulphuric accent that complements the wood-fire char.  

“It would never, ever occur to me to do this to a vegetable,” my dining companion said. This is what you should demand from fine dining: an experience you couldn’t dream up yourself.  

Wood-fired fish, left, and gnocchi à la Parisienne.

The opposite of this was the wood-fired fish, with scampi stock and red wine sauce, which was, dare I say it, uniquely boring. Don’t order it. 

It was significantly outshone by a mystical gnocchi dish served in a mushroom fricassee. Lemon butter, shiitake mushrooms, aged cheese slices, a range of herbs strewn around like a lucky accident. The gnocchi were firmer than some types, which allowed it to meet the challenge of the shiitake. 

We were working with full stomachs by this point, but one cannot go to a French restaurant and not order a soufflé.  

Soufflé à la rhubarbe, glace pain d'épices.

And so, to finish: a rhubarb and raspberry soufflé served with gingerbread ice-cream. Do you really need me to tell you it was perfect? 

Origine, Level 2, 172 Quay St, Auckland,

027 674 4463

Hours: Thurs-Sat, noon to midnight, Sun-Wed, noon to 10pm

Images: Dan Brunskill