First Look: Scarecrow
Photos by Ken Downie.
Scarecrow, says owner Alison Dyson, “is all about bringing the countryside into the city.” And it’s true: the shelves here are packed with meat, dairy and produce culled from as far north as Matakana and as far south as the Waikato.
But this new pop-up cafe and grocery, located at the eastern tip of Victoria St, is more than a glorified farm shop. It’s also a showcase for some of the region’s most exciting small producers, like Poppy & Olive (nut butters), Wild Out West (raw sauerkraut) and Daily Organics (kombucha), plus Soy Candle Company candles, Ceres Organics groceries and Nice Blocks ice cream. Coffee is cold brewed or filtered Kokako – there’s no espresso for now – and pastries, tarts and chocolates are by Swedish-born pastry chef Björn Svensson.
Tucked into a corner of the room is a tiny, bare-bones workstation where chef Ben Barton (pictured above with Björn – Ben’s the one in chef’s whites) prepares breakfasts, lunches and dinners, to eat in and takeaway. At present he’s working without a kitchen, so he does the majority of his prep at the AUT culinary school up the road, hauls everything back, and finishes the dishes on site.
If that sounds too much like hard work, then you don’t know Ben Barton. After a couple of years creating location-specific culinary events under his Pop Dining umbrella – and before that, a stretch working in the tight confines of yacht galleys – he’s well versed in finding inspiration in adversity. “It’s got to the point where I almost prefer the constraints of this kind of cooking,” he says. “Having some limitations makes it easier to focus, to concentrate on getting the best out of ingredients without messing around with them too much. And I like the challenge.”
His menu changes daily, depending on what his suppliers, many of them from the local Ooooby (Out Of Our Own Backyards) network, bring in. On the day Metro visited, breakfast dishes included rhubarb, blueberry and coconut crumble, apple strudel with yoghurt and tortilla espagnole. For lunch: beef brisket on rye, organic chicken with Gourmandine potatoes and spinach, and chickpea stew.
With a pied a terre above the shop (she and her husband also have a house on Waiheke), Alison says her investment in Scarecrow is emotional as well as financial. “When we moved into the city, this was the kind of store we wanted but couldn’t find. There are thousands of people living in the CBD and they shouldn’t have to get in a car to find quality, sustainably produced food.”
33 Victoria St E
Open Monday – Sunday, 8am-8pm.