Megan and Olivier Rochery of Cafe Mirabelle. PHOTO/FACEBOOK

ARTHUR HAWKES
arthur.hawkes@age.co.nz

Wairarapa’s celebrated French restaurant Cafe Mirabelle announced it would be closing its doors permanently, which has prompted an outpouring of support and nostalgia from its patrons, many of whom had been eating and drinking there for 10 years.

In an open letter to their supporters, owners Megan and Olivier Rochery thanked patrons for their “fantastic, kind support”.

“We have come to the end of an era and closed the doors of Cafe Mirabelle,” they said.

“We appreciate all the good times we have had together and wish everyone all the best for the future. Merci a tous.”

The Dominion Post reviewed the establishment in 2014, and awarded “four to five stars” for the food, which capped off a glowing write-up. On tourism site TripAdvisor, the restaurant had been reviewed 153 times; it was awarded five stars 100 times, and four stars 44 times.

Before opening Cafe Mirabelle, Megan, a Kiwi, worked as a top chef in Wellington. Her husband Olivier, a Frenchman, generally left the cooking to her and serviced the front of house, advising on wine pairings and food choices.

At Cafe Mirabelle’s peak, a Friday night booking would have to be made weeks in advance, with patrons travelling from all over the lower North Island to sample its wares.

After Cafe Mirabelle’s closure, Le Marche Francais, on Wellington’s Thorndon Quay, was left as the only comparable offering.

As Cafe Mirabelle cemented itself as a Carterton staple, several patrons developed a deep connection to the unique venue.

One regular called it “magical”, and detailed the infectious, laidback ethos – where you’d keep your dirty cutlery to save washing up, often hear conversations bubbling up in French, and sometimes find the restaurant mysteriously closed as its owners made a trip to visit family in Paris.

Carterton-based artist Martin Doyle was another such patron. He and his wife Marie had fond memories of Cafe Mirabelle, having first visited about 10 years ago, when they were still living in Wellington. They moved to Carterton five years ago and became more regular patrons.

“It always had a certain elegance about it,” Doyle said.

“You’d go in sometimes and find couples sitting close together, or some elegant lady sitting at a table having her onion soup, and we always loved their motifs.

“They had mirrors all around, Olivier collected them, and lots of quaint little paintings hauled back from Paris.”

One of the paintings, a white dress, became a kind of talisman for the restaurant, and would become deeply associated with the place among its regular visitors.

“And they had a lot of funny touches: they had a little warning in the window that they wouldn’t serve young people alcohol, but it was in French!”

The Rocherys also supported Heart of Arts, a community art space and gallery in Carterton which regularly held events – they would provide various consumables for the events.

“Olivier used to sometimes bring donations over to us when we had launches,” Doyle said.

“I also did a large painting of my feelings of Mirabelle, over the 10-year period, and that got auctioned as part of a fundraising auction about a week ago, and it sold for over $800.”

Doyle’s painting of the Cafe Mirabelle ‘vibe’ will hang in The Brewer’s Co-operative in Auckland’s CBD.