Kitchen Takeover's latest pop up restaurant, The Secret Garden edition, had a challenge... and holy cow it was a biggie... but there was no cow, or any meat... or dairy... or eggs.
For their third edition, pop-up restaurant founder Stacey Jones and international chef Shane Yardley decided to explore the biggest food shift of our decade - plant-based eating. Using only plant-powered ingredients they challenged themselves to come up with a six-course botanical degustation dinner. Could a t-bone top a turnip? We were just about to find out.
From the moment we got a text message one hour before dinnertime, we knew this was not like heading out to any ordinary restaurant. When we did get the details, it was still shrouded in secrecy… "look for a spade, follow the candles, find the yellow bike."..but that’s half the fun of a mystery pop-up restaurant.
Arriving The Secret Garden felt like stepping into another world. We were greeted with a complimentary beetroot, rosemary and gin fizz or a Seedlip, rosemary and lemon cocktail.
As we mingled with like-minded foodies, canapés were circulated, but these weren't your ordinary. We’re talking salt-baked baby potato with smokey ketchup and vegan aioli, pulled jackfruit toastadas with roasted and pickled watermelon, and spiced chickpea and potato mousse with tamarind chutney… you’ve heard the saying ‘melt in your mouth’ ? That’s just what it was like.
Then it was dinner time. We were seated at shared tables offering a great chance to chat more with new found foodie friends. First up was a handmade kumara sourdough with black bean butter, except the ‘butter’ was served in a tiny terracotta pot, with a radish poking out of it… With the mood lighting set I seriously thought this was another plant on the table, but turns out it’s the actual food. Another cute touch ticked off.
Next the starter - a beetroot ravioli stuffed with broccoli and almond served with a foraged nettle pesto and crispy kale. The saltiness of the pesto went perfectly with the slight sweetness of the ravioli. Nutritional yeast gave the dish a slightly parmesan flavour. I would never have guessed it was solely plants.
Next the main event. Smoked miso tofu wrapped in collard greens with slow roasted butternut, roasted cauliflower & cashew puree, mushrooms, crispy chickpea and vegetarian demiglass. If I would have eaten the dish blindfolded, I would have never guessed there was no meat. The umami flavours, partucularly excentuated by the demiglass made every mouthful a moment of joy. Yum.
Three courses down, two to go. Next up, the palate cleanser. A coconut yoghurt rock... with a side of liquid nitrogen… and we get to see it all unfolding. For the chefs it was like child’s play …squirt, dip, place on the candied fennel and fennel pollen… and just like everything else, it was picture-perfect.
Last but not least, dessert…. You know how you sometimes look over the dessert menu first before you order your main? That was me, and I was eager to see how marvellous a meringue could be - without egg. The pièce de résistance didn’t disappoint. The spit roasted drunken pineapple pulled it all together and the presentation once again was faultless.
While the food is finished, the experience will keep us talking for weeks to come. Kitchen Takeover took us through our courses flawlessly. There was no lag between courses and we never felt like we were waiting. Stacey excelled as hostess and didn’t miss a beat as she talked us through the menu every step of the way.
Bring on the Christmas edition I say.