Lauraine Jacobs: The Seasoned Palate

The Street Collective and Miss Moonshine’s

This is a blast. The two hottest trends on the culinary landscape collide in a fantastic new destination on Ponsonby Road - southern-style barbecue, which is served in a sassy upmarket restaurant space with full service, alongside a cacophony of pop-up and food truck operators that offer amazing specialist fare to give punters a wide range of eating choices.

Miss Moonshine’s and The Street Food Collective are the brainchildren of Ryan and Annelise Clarke, who have spent the past fifteen years in the hospitality scene in cafes and more recently doing pop-up barbecue. The pair were enroute to London when they fell in love with barbecue in the southern states of the United States where everything revolves around this smoky deliciousness created in wood-burning pits. It must have been one of those uh-huh moments because they turned back, came home and set up a pop-up portable barbecue operation, complete with a proper Texas/Kansas style portable steel pit.

We have seen a lot of pop-ups and although food trucks are late to the party in New Zealand, (Portland, Oregon has over 500) this is the path that young and passionate cooks and chefs are taking in their quest for a viable and ultimately profitable business. So Ryan Clarke had
a vision to create a space where these operators can come together on a regular basis. Lot 3 building on Ponsonby Road provided the perfect opportunity. The building is pretty sharp as the terracotta façade that fronts the street has been empathetically designed to sit beside that historic brick building on the corner of Ponsonby and Richmond Roads.

Clarke found the laneway behind the retail stores on the street front ideally suited his concept of shared food and drink space and built a permanent, fully equipped kitchen where pop-up chefs could cook their specialties and yet also provides room for food trucks to drive in. The central courtyard with retractable roof offers casual seating and it is from here that the drinks for the whole complex are dispensed. The selection is quirky - terrific cocktails, a tidy little wine selection and an ever changing array of craft beers, and all housed in a van called Herby. Such fun!

About 16 operators are rostered for appearances in The Street Food Collective. The timetable is published a week ahead on the website but, rest assured, take pot luck and there will be some brilliant food at any time for both lunch and dinner. Some of the names will be familiar to many: Lucky Taco, the Roaming Dive, Coreano, Bearded Clam, Fort Green sandwiches and more.

On a recent evening we had a memorable meal, perched at the high-top table right in the kitchen where some of the collective were working.

First up, the freshest of oysters shucked to order by Andrew Hay, owner of Mahurangi Oysters. I do not remember ever having an oyster which was quite so salty, quite so fresh. Diners who order the oysters can buy Moet et Chandon with a 30% discount. Now that is one classy deal.

Next up Judge Bao’s fluffy hand-rolled buns stuffed with free range Xi’an lamb, cumin chilli and pickle for me, and the signature free range char sui, floss, hoisin and coriander for him. I love the quirky names owners Jamie and Debbie assign to their buns - Baabra Ann for the lamb and Peggy Siu for the pork. Sides were Persimon and Garfunkel and Bok ‘n Roll - check them out - fresh and lovely. A third bao, Sloppy Po, may be one of the tastiest vegetarian single items on the planet, with fabulous bean curd, mapo funghi, Sichuan pepper and douban mayo.

Finally for our street food feast finale we were lucky enough to strike Lisa Norling in the kitchen; she creates her Sweet Val’s ice cream in front of your eyes, rather like magic. With four Kitchen Aid beaters and a cylinder of liquid nitrogen the ice cream is frozen instantly. No time for crystallisation so the ice cream is super smooth and creamy. A seasonal fresh pear for him, and vanilla with hot slated caramel for moi. Heaven! And so to Miss Moonshine’s, the adjacent fully set-up barbecue restaurant. Vegetarians, look away now as it would be rather frustrating searching the carnivorous menu for anything other than fleshy treats. Meat is unashamedly what barbecue is about. And what wonderful meat this is. Long, slow-cooked meat is exposed to carefully controlled smoke and heat in a massive machine imported from Kansas to produce meat that literally melts in the mouth.

This is fare designed to share and everything comes dished up on metal trays carrying bowls and platters. Fourteen-hour beef brisket comes in juicy slabs, the beef short rib is dark and sticky, and so good that you should order two servings if there are four or more of you. Spicy pulled pork is topped with crackling and the lamb shoulder is tender and falls apart as soon as it is touched. Sides of soft lettuce, goat cheese and pecans; apple mint slaw; dirty rice; cauliflower cheese with truffled crumbs; and traditional southern-style collard greens (which needed a little more of that long slow cooking to be truly authentic) all provide a welcome accompaniment to the rich meat.

Before that there’s a good line up of starters - smoked kahawai tater tots with remoulade; a fantastic wild boar sausage; shrimp jalapeno with mango and iceberg lettuce; buttermilk fried chicken with corn and avocado; corn bread and more to dabble in before the main event arrives.

The food is very influenced by southern barbecue but definitely given a New Zealand twist, emphasising local ingredients. It’s all deliciously tempting and tasty and has quickly established this restaurant as one of the go-to destinations on the strip. Service is swift and cheekily pleasant, but there are no bookings except for groups of eight or more. We showed up at 6.45pm on a midweek evening and there was a wait of well over half an hour for a table for two. So go early or late but do not expect to be seated at the dinner hour by walking in. At least we could change our plans and go all trendy with delicious street food.

And, by the way, both MM and TSFC have excellent websites. Open 7 days, lunch and dinner. Laneway access from McKelvie Street and Richmond Road.

Miss Moonshine’s and The Street Food Collective,
Lot 3, 130 Ponsonby Road, T: 09 360 4075,