Nov 3, 2014 Restaurants
1A Summer St, Ponsonby. Ph 555-3278. littlebirdorganics.co.nz
Hours: 7-4pm each day; 6-10pm Thurs-Sat
Dinner bill: Little Shared Plates $9-$14; Large shared plates $19-$30; Raw Organic Desserts $14.
By Jessie Mulligan. Photos by Ken Downie.
First published in Metro, October 2014.
When I was a London food PR, one of my jobs was to get press for a struggling health-food cafe in Soho. The owner was doing a lot of the same things as Megan May at The Unbakery — dairy-free, gluten-free wholefood — and journos loved it. But no matter how many stories got printed, business never improved. You know why? Because everything tasted like muck.
May’s not the first Aucklander to make healthy food, but she’s one of the first to make it taste incredible. She’s also the first to do raw food on a large scale, and although there is some cooking, particularly during the bleak harvests of late winter, not cooking is largely how she’s made her name. It’s good marketing, too — raw food is so much sexier than all that worthy “no animal products” stuff. Raw eaters live forever; vegans ruin Christmas.
You can barely get a table during the day, so now The Unbakery on Summer St is open for dinner, and doing a pretty good job of it. The food is still brilliant, though there’s not quite enough else going on to make it feel more than a cafe open late. No lighting, no table decorations, the same brown recycled paper napkins and not much sense of the heightened occasion from the (nonetheless excellent) serving staff.
Why is this important? Because at lunchtime you’re competing against Subway, and at night time you’re competing against Clooney.
Dishes are delivered as they’re made, which only works for sharing, not when people have ordered an entrée and a main each. The food is very complex, but nobody explains it unless you ask.
Camembert cheese made from cashews, kale chips crunched up in a dehydrator, pumpkin ketchup, avocado hidden in the desserts — the flavours and textures are comparable to very high-end dining, without the body-overload afterwards.
The tacos may be the best in town — just lettuce, marinated mushrooms, a spicy salsa and a soft taco which benefits from not being cooked: you can taste the sweetness of the corn in each bite.
There’s no booze. Given this, and the style of food, shouldn’t they be doing Monday to Thursday instead of weekends? Nothing wrong with a night off, of course, but how many people are willing to commit to an alcohol-free Saturday dinner before they know what sort of week they’ll have? I’m pretty sure the benefits of raw food are negated by preloading.
Still, it keeps the bill down, even if you’re drinking the excellent but expensive house-brewed kombucha (a cold, sparkling fermented tea full of good bacteria; where’ve you been?).
Besides the tacos, I’d happily recommend everything, but particularly the beetroot, with horseradish, macadamia feta and red onion purée. The Unbakery empire began with their desserts, and they’re unmissable — try the brownie with raspberry coulis, or mango mousse, both perfectly sweet yet sugar free.
Megan May has a bun in the oven (or should that be dehydrator?), but she needn’t worry about the energetic team who’ll be representing her while she’s away. They’re a great advertisement for healthy eating, that lot, though they might consider a field trip to somewhere dirtier one night for some tips on dialling up the atmosphere once the sun has set.