Michelin-Trained, Mangawhai Dining
Bringing a little bit of France to Mangawhai Village, the French restaurant Frog & Kiwi has been enthralling regulars and visitors since 2005. French-born, Michelin-trained chef David Bonometti worked as the chef when the restaurant first opened, and with his partner Nathalie Branco, the pair proudly took ownership in 2010. The ambience is authentic French bistro while the décor and artwork reflect the owners’ passions - images of favourite cuisines, people, places and sports teams adorn the walls, and dogs are allowed inside the restaurant and courtyard.
Born in Toulouse, David trained at the hospitality university there; after several chef positions around Europe he returned to Toulouse and the Michelin-star restaurant, Le Jardins de L’Opera, followed by 11 years as head chef at the famous Teoula Golf Club Restaurant. It was there in 1991 he met fellow Toulousian Michel Puchaux and his Auckland-born wife Alison who were living in the South of France and along with David’s partner Nathalie the four became firm friends. A sportsman and arguably the All Black’s most fanatical fan, David kept asking his new Kiwi mates all about New Zealand. Several years later Michel suggested the four of them open a restaurant in Mangawhai. Alison had family in the area and David agreed immediately before even seeing the country. “Probably because of the All Blacks!” he says.
Fast forward to February 2005 - after much planning and hard work the Frog & Kiwi opened to a frisson of excitement and soon the venue developed a devoted clientele. “Our dishes either aim for a balance between French and New Zealand influences, or I’ll go completely French or completely New Zealand,” David says. “We like to give personalised service. If our regulars give me two days notice I’ll cook their favourite dishes if they are not currently on the menu. I also look out for special cuts of meat or superb seafood that our regulars would appreciate and if they’re coming into dine within the next few days I’ll cook them something special.”
When Michel and Alison eased their way out of the restaurant in 2010 David and Nathalie took over as proud new owners. Nathalie says, “People come to us for a unique experience and to enjoy our cuisine in a familiar and welcoming atmosphere. We have a lot of regulars and we know what they all like – which table they prefer, how they like their coffee; they don’t even have to ask. That’s all part of the service we love to provide.” Signature dishes include Duck Canard A L’Orange, Seafood Cassolette and Chocolate Fondant. David featured on Whanau Living a few years ago, “I cooked the Cassolette and Fondant on the programme and diners still ask for exactly the same dishes I cooked on TV.”
David’s biggest challenge has been adapting his cooking to New Zealand produce and ingredients. “The ingredients are so different here I’ve had to change the proportions of my recipes and working with sugar and the standard of eggs here has been a little challenging.” Frog & Kiwi offers exclusively French cheeses. Half the wines on the list are from New Zealand while all French produce and wines come via French gourmet suppliers Maison Vauron.
Refreshingly, for a Michelin-trained chef, David’s no Francophile food or wine snob. He’s impressed with New Zealand cheese, especially Puhoi Valley and some Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Noir he rates right up there with the best, “Right alongside the All Blacks,” he says.
09 431 4439