Little Bird Kitchen
Cnr Summer St & Ponsonby Rd
09 555 3278
Book online with Restaurant Hub
WE SPENT: $144.50
WE THOUGHT: 15.5 - Good
I felt guilty taking my vegetarian friend to Little Bird Kitchen. Sure, she could eat everything on the menu. But, also, there were no hot chips, no deep-fried balls of macaroni cheese and no wood-fired bread dripping with garlic butter.
Vegetarians are not saints. Those who eat at Little Bird can, however, claim a higher rung on the morality ladder.
Claude Levi-Strauss (the anthropologist, not the blue jeans maker) once said that food had to be good to think before it was good to eat. Dinner becomes palatable in the context of cultural norms and beliefs. What's good for the goose is, for some people, inexcusably force-fed foie gras.
There is no goose (or fatty liver or anything else animal-derived) at Little Bird. If you are what you eat, then here, you are a Westmere mum who did not get home from her BodyJam class in time to milk the house almond. (Again, to my vegetarian-but-not-vegan friend, I'm sorry - I forget you like to finish dinner with a cup of English Breakfast and a dash of cow's milk).
Little Bird started life as an "unbakery". Back in 2009, it was Auckland's first serious purveyor of raw foods. We'd all seen that episode of Sex and The City where Miranda declared the soup "lawn in a bowl", but that was New York. Did anyone seriously expect uncooked courgette "spaghetti" to fly in the land of the long white Sunday roast?
Well, yes, as it turns out. Shareholders in the empire that now runs to cookbooks, cleanses, and a seven-day cafe (open for dinner Wednesday-Saturday) include a Hollywood-level famous actor and a high-profile artist.
Little Bird Kitchen is licensed and, these days, some of the food has even been cooked. There is cheesecake (made from not-cheese cheese) and icecream (made from not-cream cream). I loved a Lone Bee honey mead and they do an exceptionally good cocktail take on an apple pie, but leave your hedonism back on Ponsonby Rd - around 8.50pm, a waitperson actually called for last orders.
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We started with a very pretty mezze platter ($24). The almond bread was exceptional and the raw baby carrots tasted so recently unearthed, I looked around the room for my granddad.
Google tells me falafel is Arabic for crunchy. My experience with these little fava-bean patties has always been more literal. If they don't fall apart in the cooking, they will definitely go to pieces when approached with a fork. Little Bird's were no exception.
The dips were beetroot, eggplant and carrot. A wholesome, tangy trinity, but no more special than anything a competent home cook might whip up before book club (Gone Girl was good, Girl on a Train was annoying). I wonder if this is Little Bird's weak point? The dessert cabinet gleams with vegan wizardry that nobody I know has the energy to emulate, but everybody I know is eating vegetarian at least once or twice a week. We've upped our home games, and some aspects of Little Bird's offering are not that far ahead of us. I needed more excitement on that mezze platter.
Luckily, a baked cauliflower sang with a piquant barbecue sauce. Order it by the $12 quarter or the $16 half because cauli is totally the new (but cheaper) chicken.
The titular component of my hemp tacos ($16) seemed to be just a bit of seed scattered on top, but no matter, because I'd mostly ordered them for the smoky mushroom filling (although that too, was a bit of an oversell - their flavour was a bit lost in a pile of corn).
Perhaps I'd played it too safe? Perhaps I should have gone full Sicilian kelp noodle salad or fermented quinoa and spirulina Vietnamese crepe. Frankly, that's why I'd brought along a full-time vegetarian.
She had the $22 burger (iceberg lettuce bun, kimchi-packed patty) and chips (kale). It was stunning in its minimalism. Sculptural and stark, with an aesthetic beauty completely outside current culinary boundaries. This is the shock and awe I was here for. It looked brave and it tasted great. Spicy, crunchy junk food, minus the diabetes.
Dessert was against my better judgment. I just can't get my palate around those cold nut-cream cheesecakes that taste all fat and very little fun. I'd rather just have the nuts. Precisely, the activated nuts, rolled around a salted caramel cashew-coconut icecream sandwich ($14). Delicious. Better (for you) than the real thing.