Tucked away at the end of a short arcade and part of the Cubacade was Le Normandie restaurant established in 1961 by Renée Louise Charlton. Also known as Madame Louise, she arrived in Wellington in the 1950’s and first worked at the Montmartre Coffee House.
Madame Louise brought top quality French cooking and fine dining to the city. During the 1960’s and early 70’s Le Normandie was popular with politicians, diplomats and international entertainers such as the Rolling Stones and those members of the general public who could afford the high prices. People would book weeks in advance to taste her famous Chateau Briand for the costly sum of 17/6 . Many dishes on the menu involved flambéing carried out at the diners table, often by one of her imported European waiters.
In 1961 the liquor laws changed allowing wine to be served in restaurants and it is said the wine list was French, extensive and expensive, perfect for those customers wanting to impress guests not used to such fine dining. Madame Louise was a formidable woman, known to have fired waiters or chefs for mistakes that would not be considered admissible today. She is also known to have hit her staff with whatever was at hand .
Sir Des Britten worked for her very briefly before setting up his own fine dining establishment, the Coachman. Tony Astle of the famous Auckland restaurant Antoine’s started out here at the tender age of 15. Astle worked as a waiter and kitchen hand for Madame Louise. Tony remembers being fired for setting alight to a customer’s cloth napkin. He left and joined Des Britten at the Coachman. Madame Louise believed them to have copied some of her famous recipes and didn’t speak to either man ever again.