What was in the vegan aioli? I have no idea. Neither did the waitperson.
She was new, she explained. Later, we got free desserts because someone forgot our mains.
"I'm quite hungry," said Peggy, quite politely for a 10-year-old who had been waiting a long time for her nachos.
Earlier, her mother and I had been quite thirsty. Our starters had arrived, but our wine had not.
The Butcher's Son does tasty food but it needs to up its service game. Once, vegans couldn't be choosers. Now, plant-based eateries have sprouted all over Auckland and no one should rest on their (edible) laurels.
The nachos were delivered approximately four seconds after I inquired as to their whereabouts. How were they?
"A bit cold," said Peggy.
She is a lifelong vegetarian whose vegan cupcakes were a recent smash hit at her primary school bake sale. Her mother has been meat-free since 1994. I had been meat-free since approximately midday.
My first Auckland flat was so plant-based you couldn't see the front door for broad beans and self-sown sorrel. There was an extremely free-range chicken in the backyard. If you left the door open, it would jump on top of the toaster and peck at the insanely expensive organic breadcrumbs. I perfected a corn and zucchini bake and ate a lot of mushroom risotto. I didn't mind not eating meat but if you had cut me, I would have bled cheese.
Vegans don't eat cheese or eggs or honey or anything else that uses an animal's time, energy or flesh. If you want a flat white, first you must milk an almond.
The Butcher's Son opened earlier this year with a daytime vegan menu that included bowls and burgers. It has recently segued into dinner service with a series of small plates that sit around the $14 mark.
Pakora bites ($14) came with a delicious sultana-soaked chutney. The deep-fried salt 'n' pepper tofu ($14) had an unusually stretchy coating that was initially off-putting, but it grew on me. The chips and the aioli (cashew nut? Aquafaba? Don't ask the waitperson ...) were excellent. Arancini balls ($14) started crunchy and finished creamy. They were texturally good but had an ubiquitous "savoury" taste that I'm not sure I would have picked as mushroom if I hadn't read the menu first.
The main point for this omnivore was that I didn't miss the meat. These were, by any definition, bog-standard bar snacks - vegans might not fry in butter but they certainly fry. And who doesn't love fried?
Making plants palatable is big business. Corporate giants like Nestle are on board. ("We need to make meals based upon plant protein as ubiquitous and as easy to prepare as meat dishes," said one executive.) Any food trend forecast worth its flaky sea salt will have plant-based eating at, or near, the top. A Google Trends analysis of New Zealand-based queries for "vegan" show a steady increase from late 2014. By January this year, searches for "vegan" were double those for "vegetarian" or "gluten-free".
What does this look like on a Friday night in Auckland? At The Butcher's Son, a multi-generational family celebrated a birthday. An elderly couple ordered burgers. Twenty-somethings outweighed 40-somethings - but only marginally. It was buzzy (bordering on noisy) and the fit-out was classic contemporary cafe (blond wood, plants, a cabinet of treats at the counter). The menu includes enough Sunfed-brand "meat" options to satisfy those who want to fake it, but why not go the whole, um, hog?
Thick-cut cauliflower steaks ($24) were perfectly charred and served with a creamy, caramelised puree. Giant capers and a lemon and almond salsa added sour cut-through. Analogies miss the point of plant-based eating but, if forced, I might have likened it to a pan-fried fish dish - minus any sustainability concerns.
We chose our desserts from the cabinet. I'm not a huge fan of raw "baking" but our dinner delay meant we had literally nothing to lose. Pudding was on the house. My eyes voted for the chocolate cheesecake, but my taste buds preferred a jellytip slice, with a raspberry layer that punched through the sludgy solid-fat texture. Cashews? Coconut cream? I didn't like to ask.
The Butcher's Son
204 Jervois Rd, Herne Bay
Ph. (09) 930 8610
We spent: $136
We thought: 13 - Good