Mission Chinese Pop-Up Dining, Auckland

Pop-up dining is becoming the next big thing in dining experiences; some recent campaigns included: Positively Wellington Tourism created a pop-up restaurant called WLG in Melbourne over 2 weeks and Malaysia Kitchen opened one in Sydney for a single night to publicise the year-long programme. Also known as supper clubs, these are usually announced using social media and allow chefs to showcase their talents without the expense of a long-term lease, staff, etc.

Ben Barton, of Kiwizine blog, is the brains (and heart) behind this series of pop-up dining in Auckland. Ben had been working on luxury yachts in Europe and Asia, and had recently returned to NZ. Using the online social networking portal Meetup.com, Ben’s idea took shape surprisingly fast, and within a fortnight, 20 hungry strangers (with Ben’s supportive family and friends) met in Devonport to experience Mission Chinese cuisine.

Mission Chinese Food is the name of a much lauded pop-up restaurant in San Francisco, the owners/chefs cook Americanised Chinese food, done in a quirky and totally delicious way. Ben took inspiration from their menu. And yes, there is a flying ninja on the screenshot.

Crispy pigs ears with tamarind, chilli and coriander. I am a latecomer to this delicacy, having been only introduced to them last year. I have only had boiled or stewed version, so this was a very pleasant new taste sensation.

Braised lamb belly Bao – A Devo take on the pork buns David Chang (Momofuku) made famous, hoisin, siracha, pickled cucumber, coriander. This is ultimate in hors d’oeuvres; warm, soft buns, with tender belly meat and touch of seasonings. Yum! I take my hat off to Ben for making his own steamed buns; which is still on my “to-cook” list.

Sichuan Long beans – snake beans, green garlic stipe, chili, kumara, tofu, sichuan pepper. The flavours were nice but the beans were a tad overcooked. I still enjoyed the dish.

Chicken rice with Chinese wine, chicken fat and peanuts. Unfortunately, the chicken was chewy and rice was too wet and bland. This was mainly due to the the gas cooker; – stir-frying requires a lot of heat, and the output of the stove was insipid.

Beef broccoli – beef short ribs, a little tongue, oyster sauce. Recipe here (includes Ben’s write up of the evening) I loved this dish. The crunchy kai lan stems and the tender meats is a great textural combination. The short ribs and tongue were cooked to succulent perfection; and meat readily eased off the ribs (As I was amongst strangers, I resisted the urge to pick up the ribs with my fingers, next time!). Kai lan and oyster sauce is a classic pairing.

The green tea sweet potato brulee was a standout. Maybe it’s because we got to play with fire, or maybe the custard-y brulee against the rich sweet potato was a magnificent combination.

Black sesame financiers. I am realising what a great ingredient black sesame seeds are. These delicious financiers are so nutty and beautiful looking.

Ben did a fantastic job. Great food, great company and great atmostphere. If you want to sign up for Pop-Up Dining Auckland, check here for more events planned, and hope to see you there! I’ll be the hungry one with the camera.

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