8 December 2011
la boulange lorne st
Story by Nat Cheshire
Photography by Anna Kidman
A little piece of France opens its micro doors in the heart of the city.
I lived on Lorne Street for seven wonderful years. In that time it changed dramatically, most notably when Architectus went nuts at the bluestone paving shop, slathering our footpaths in huge slabs of granite and adorning them with art-furniture hybrids. Quality follows quality, and before long the tenancies of Lorne Street were upping their game – Gow Langsford moved in, little dives turned into respectable restaurants, and it all started to look like a believable extension of High Street.
As always, there are casualties. We lost a lot of big, precious trees in the upgrade – apparently they were diseased, but aside from a couple of stragglers I’m not convinced – and they were never really re-established. Where once a beautiful gleditsia filled our first floor window, filtering the light of the city and projecting its delicate silhouette across the walls, now stands the snapped stem of the fifth or sixth sapling to be tried – and failed – in its place. The city’s drunken children know no mercy.
Our window now bare, the little apartment lost the one thing that sheltered it from the city. No more dappled shade in summer, no more sparrows chirping on a quiet Sunday morning. Between this and the 4am bluestone shampoo-and-blow-wave machine, we at last conceded defeat and retreated to live out our old age in the ‘burbs.
I can’t keep away though. Sheinkin still serves up the best cafe food in mid-town, Scotties boutique beckons every time the important women in my life are celebrated, and around the corner Parsons still draws me and my pocket money to its wonderful book sales. I enjoy too the restless growth. There’s always something that’s changed here, and two weeks ago delivered up the best new entrant yet: La Boulange.
I reckon this place must occupy less than three square meters. Picking up on the success of the tiny and ever entertaining Korean pancake joint across the road, La Boulange pushes small space further. A tiny cabinet at the street front holds a clutch of baguettes and organic juices. Service is carried out atop the cabinet, between little baskets of bread and pastries. The glass top is decorated by the jewel-coloured macaroons hovering under its surface. To one side sits a huge espresso machine, which takes up about a third of the store. At the back, a little fridge holds the chilled drinks stock, and supports a blackboard of prices. What little wall space is left is covered in the now-ubiquitous white butchers’ tile, and old photographs. Somewhere in all of this there’s room for a young man to stand, and a door by which he comes and goes. I’ve not the faintest idea where the till is, except that a little eftpos handset appears from below the counter every now and then.
When I visited, that young man happened to be one of the owners. I wasn’t surprised – you’d think that with a cafe this small, an owner would necessarily be their own barista, chef, waiter and maitre’d – but this hole-in-the wall is the third enterprise in Mattieu Gosset and Jess Brewer’s mini-empire. Jervois Road and The Department Store precede Lorne Street; if you’ve ever nibbled even the smallest morsel from either establishment you’ll already know how good this place is. If you haven’t, you need to eat their pastries immediately. La Boulange is smart business, and great city making. A suburban start-up now ready for the big smoke, it stared-down the city’s big-rent cafe spaces, and found a smarter way. In miniaturising the operation, Gosset and Brewer side-stepped upfront fit-out costs, minimised their ongoing overheads, and made their emporium of ‘Freshly Baked French Goodness’ all the more charming in the process. A triple-whammy.
Apparently a couple of sidewalk seats are on their way, city council permitting. If they have any problems, I’ll camp out in the mayor’s office myself.
32 Lorne St
(09) 379 9833www.laboulange.co.nz