The Butcher’s Son

De­spite its name, a Herne Bay venue is a haven for ve­g­ans

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS - Kim Knight

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 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 sul­tana­soaked 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.

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 plant­based 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.

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