Carrie Steele has close encounters with two very different Auckland eating establishments with ‘bird’ names.
AS MENTIONED HERE where I shared some great (and not so great) vegan dining experiences overseas, one of my New Year resolutions is to visit what Auckland has on offer for vegan diners like myself. Over the last couple of days hubby and I assigned ourselves the task of visiting two cafés which on the face of things, looked like good contenders for appealing to plant eaters like ourselves. Though the names of the cafés may share something in common (‘tweet tweet’), they both offer completely different dining experiences, and it’s pretty obvious why one of them has gained huge popularity with diners, be they vegan or not.
Let’s start with number 1 (because they deserve that spot), Little Bird Unbakery in Ponsonby. Until today, my only experience with the Little Bird brand was having eaten their delicious vegan macaroons and crackers, both available at select retailers. Although on the pricey side, neither of those tasty treats disappointed. Having paid my first visit to one of the Little Bird cafés today, I can only say I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get there. Located near the Ponsonby Road end of Summer Street, this little gem is neatly tucked away, with an inauspicious entry through a side door. What makes it hard to miss is the constant troupe of people coming and going; clearly this place is doing a lot right to satisfy customers. Although this café hardly needs a plug from me, it would be unfair not to tell you how amazing the food is, how pleasant the surroundings and staff are, and that you should go there right away if you haven’t already!
The Little Bird Unbakery offers raw, organic, vegan, gluten-free, cane sugar free, and fantastic food. We visited for brunch and I ordered Carter’s Sprouted Bread served with a side salad of organic greens and aged cashew cheese with chives and a hint of truffle oil. The buckwheat, flax and coconut bread just blew me away, and it was a perfect combination of flavours and textures with the other components of the dish. Hubby ordered the Portobello Benedict, a raw bagel topped with spinach, marinated portobello mushrooms and a hollandaise sauce. That too looked amazing and tasted equally so, from his report. As part of a long drinks/smoothies menu, there is an excellent selection of teas to choose from and we both chose to order green teas – Jade Sword and Gyokuro, two very different teas, but equally appealing. To be picky, I would have liked a slightly bigger pot, but I can see that tables here are at a premium and this café needs to turn over customers fairly quickly to satisfy demand. Hubby bought a slice of passionfruit cheesecake to take home. Needless to say it was as delicious as it was beautiful to look at, and at $9 a slice it should be, but then I know from experience that the ingredients in vegan raw desserts are expensive, and that the methods can be labour intensive.
Little Bird Unbakery has two locations, Ponsonby and Kingsland. I couldn’t help but think how wonderful it would be if the team opened their doors in my local neighbourhood. I’ve more than a sneaky suspicion that given the right location here on the North Shore another runaway success would be guaranteed. Visit the Little Bird Unbakery website and drool over the menu, it’s a great website and it’s imminently clear that the team behind the Little Bird Unbakery are seasoned professionals at every step of the game.
Yesterday’s café experience was somewhat different; another bird, this time blue, rather than little, namely the Blue Bird Café in Dominion Road, Mt Eden. I was very much looking forward to visiting this place, as the café is run by members of the Sri Chimnoy Centre, and I’ve blogged previously about the wonderful Lotus Heart Restaurant in Christchurch, also run by Sri Chimnoy members. Disappointingly, the Blue Bird Café is nothing like the Lotus Heart. I’m not going to be unkind about this place, as I’m sure the team that run the Blue Bird are great people and we had no complaints about the tastiness of the food we ate there, but I will make some comparisons for the purpose of ‘balanced reviewing’. First up, the Blue Bird Café is not a full service café, in that you need to go to the counter to order from the board overhead, which I always find rather unsettling as you feel the need to make hurried choices when there is someone standing in front of you waiting to take your order. As far as the surroundings go, suffice to say the premises are not in the same league as somewhere like Little Bird Unbakery, but it was clean and tidy.
There is a fair range of dishes to choose from although again, I would have liked to take a little more time in selecting, had I been seated at a table reading from a printed menu. None the less, we both chose items off the ‘bowl’ menu and freshly squeezed juices, carrot, and apple. Our bowls arrived with a slice of bread and a triangle of butter on the side (this is a vegetarian café, but there are still choices for vegans). Hubby had the African Beans – red kidney beans in a mild coconut and tomato sauce served on top of kumara – and I chose the Bali High, rich peanut sauce served over steamed vegetables on top of brown rice. It was only when I looked at the website for reference while writing this review that I noticed that while the African Beans is listed as (V & GF), my choice only shows (V), so likely the sauce was thickened with wheat flour and I normally avoid wheat when I can. I would have noticed this had I taken more time to review the menu and the surroundings been more condusive to doing so. However, since I was starving and ate the slice of bread as well, it didn’t matter too much this time. Fortunately, a very occasional liaison with wheat does not have dire effects on me, but rather it takes more regular consumption before I start to experience the achey joints, which obviously proves that wheat and I are not great companions.
The food was delivered to our table, and it was very tasty, though a little on the pricey side at $15.50 per bowl. Considering we paid less than $3 extra for our mains at Little Bird Unbakery, the difference was vast. Hubby went back to the counter for a (small) piece of chocolate/peanut brownie (charged at $4.50, but the cabinet price was $4, maybe that’s a take-away price and the extra 50c was a dine-in price? Or maybe it was just an error). I tasted the brownie and it was very nice, creamy and peanutty (which I know isn’t a word, but it describes it well.) At half the price of the cheesecake I mentioned earlier, I guess it was about right.
The Blue Bird café is a perfectly nice place to go for a quick bite to eat, but I don’t think we’ll be making the trip to Mt Eden especially to eat there again, though I might certainly stop in if we were in the area and wanting a quick lunch. I could imagine that if you lived locally, you might wander up the road in your jandals on a weekday evening if you didn’t feel like cooking that night, but you wouldn’t linger over the meal. One last thing about this place, and I know I said I would be nice, so I’ll try and couch this as best as I can. When we visited the service wasn’t exactly ‘warm’. Perhaps the guy on the counter who served us hadn’t had a great day, or maybe he just didn’t like the look of us. Whatever it was he never cracked a smile, which I don’t think is very hospitable in any setting. Don’t be put off going on the strength of that though, you might have quite a different experience if someone else was on the counter. There was also an upstairs area, and we didn’t see that, so whether those surroundings were a little more auspicious, I really can’t say. The Blue Bird café also has a comprehensive website, and this includes their menu. With a menu offering so many choices, I think it’s particularly unsatisfactory to have to choose standing at the counter. It wouldn’t be that difficult to print off and laminate a few menus I wouldn’t have thought. After all, this is not just a takeaway bar.
So there we have it, two birds with very different feathers; both catering for vegan diners. CARRIE STEELE
* The Blue Bird Café, 299 Dominion Road, Mt Eden, Auckland
Little Bird Unbakery, 1a Summer Street, Ponsonby, Auckland, & 385 New North Rd, Kingsland, Auckland