Ponsonby Central, 4 Brown St
09 360 8080
Small $5-$16; large $16-$28; sweet $15.
Eating early is the new rock 'n' roll, I reckon. The Professor and I have been doing a bit of it recently, taking advantage of the number of places that have continuous service - and knocking stars off the ones where they tell you, at 5.56pm, that the kitchen doesn't open until 6.
It's great. There's less competition for parking when it's rush hour on the roads and you sleep better if you have had time to digest your meal.
It has the added benefit that it lessens the risk of having anything to do with diners, the worst of the occupational hazards of the restaurant reviewer: the brayers, the big-noters and the boozers, the parents who think their kids make a great floor show, the passive-aggressive women who use their perfume as a weapon of mass destruction. If you eat at 5.30 or 6, you beat the lot of them.
This is how it came about that last Wednesday evening, Che Barrington was cooking dinner for us alone, at the newest outlet for his talent for taking Asian food through the looking glass.
"Is Che in the kitchen?" I had asked our waitress, knowing damn well he wouldn't be (he's in charge of Blue Breeze Inn, Chop Chop, MooChowChow and Woodpecker Hill as well). Before she could answer, he popped his head through the pass. "Here I am," he said cheerfully.
Honeybear occupies the repurposed premises of the unremarkable Mexican place Maldito Mendez, at the northernmost end of the Ponsonby Central alley. It's a slick spot, with a pink neon tube around the ceiling edge and a cool soundtrack, although I think the wagon-wheel chandeliers are a bit over the top.
There's a convoluted and quite spurious explanation of the name on the menu: it evidently has something to do with eating with your paws, which they encourage you to do, supplying disposable towels since the handwashing facilities are a trek away.
The place purports to offer Indian-Burmese street food, although it mostly looked pretty Indian to me. An exception is what is called Burmese tofu, which is not soy curd, but a sort of polenta made of chickpea flour and turmeric. Thin, deep-fried slices graced a salad of crunchy roasted lentils with ginger, green chilli and coconut to which peanuts added texture.
It's not a dish I expect to meet on any Indian or Burmese streetside any time soon, but there was plenty that was: the pakora is the standout street snack of the subcontinent, a deep-fried vege bite in a batter made of chickpea flour. Here it gets the ritzy treatment, as Barrington uses soft-shell crab to create bar snacks made in heaven.
I was keen to try the dosa, not only because I'm a fan (it's my go-to breakfast dish in south India) but also because the price on the online menu had gone up by a dollar in the time it took us to get there. They don't do the masala dosa here, filled with potato curry, but just the tube-rolled crisp pancake with chutneys, just the ticket for grabbing handfuls of one of the curries.
The one we shared, of lamb shoulder, lent crunch by ribbons of pickled fennel that looked like delicate linguine, was mild to a fault: some of the food could do with spicing up, though tamarind chicken wafers, like little wraps, left their mark for an agreeable length of time.
But the desserts, a chocolate mousse with an Indian twist and a semolina cake, had all the right exotic accoutrements including pistachios, pomegranate seeds and popcorn. They left a very sweet taste in the mouth.