Meet Nick Thomson - a good old fashioned mod butcher
Warren Elwin visits reinvigorated Meat on Ponsonby and, inspired, he updates four old-school favourites.
Assuming you haven’t already tried his superb homemade black pudding and that you are wondering why this black-bearded face looks so familiar, you probably recognise him as the barber in the butcher’s apron, hamming it up alongside Charles Dance on the NZ Post ad on telly - “You can!”
Meet Nick Thomson, the well-groomed butcher, actor and self-described "old school goofy dude behind the counter" who also loves his window dressing. “That window is my canvas, you know, meat is my art.”
And butchery is in his blood. Trained on the Hibiscus Coast, Nick honed his skills both here and in Oz for the past 12 years. His eldest brother is a butcher, his pop was a butcher, and he’s pretty sure his pop’s pop was too. “I’ve always wanted to be a butcher. Even as a kid growing up in Whangamata I used to love going to the butcher’s shop. That smell, and those honey minted lamb shoulder chops?” Nick laughs, “You couldn’t get enough of those!”
A butcher shop since 1947, when Nick came across the Ponsonby Road store it was run down and in need of a change, “It fit with my vision for a traditional butcher shop with a modern twist.”
He explains, “To get people excited about cooking with fresh quality meats again, healthy eating and traceability, from farm to fork, is what I wanna get out there. To get them back around the dining room table, gathered around a Sunday roast and family time. Get them coming back to the little guys, yeah?”
Reopened as Meat on Ponsonby, the butchery is redesigned and reinvigorated. The look of the store is clean and considered, a cool reflection of the man himself. Beer crates adorn the walls as shelves for a select few products, there’s a chalk board wall for the kids to scrawl, and that front window is indeed the work of a passionate craftsman.
Popular cuts of meat are all here: pork belly, shoulder roasts, beef cheeks, short ribs, ox tail, free range chooks, and even bone marrow. Homemade sausages are lean, plump and gluten free, and include pork, honey and macadamia, beef and blue cheese, and chicken and mango.
The grass fed Angus steaks are aged for a minimum of 21 days, the lamb shanks are French cut (which means they look as good as they braise) and the cheese kranskys (locally sourced from Albany) are a frank worthy of a hotdog for dinner! As for the black pudding, well, enough said. (Read Warren's black pudding column it here)
“The first year has been amazing. Seeing the shop come back to life and receiving such a positive response from the local community has been brilliant. I only want to sell the best. And if it’s not the best, then bring it back and hurl it at me!” he half jokes.
But he’s serious about what he’s doing, and clever enough to keep a keen eye on what’s going on in global food trends, then supplying new cuts accordingly. The "little honeymoon roast" is one he’s particularly proud of.
“Guys come in here looking to impress a date. I send them off with one of those mini rump roasts, write step-by-step cooking instructions on the wrapper, suggest a little candle light perhaps? Job’s done.” He grins slyly.
Nick’s full of good ideas, and he’s already looking ahead. Crocodile? Kangaroo? Sausage making classes with a few of the locals? Come Christmas there will be free range hams, champagne hams, apricot and macadamia-stuffed rolled pork shoulders, and just in case you can’t decide which bird you really want this year, why not have them all? He will be making his own turduckens.
Pork sausages with a spring mash
Roast sausages (Nick’s pork, honey and macadamia are good here) in a hot oven until cooked through. Serve on top of spring mash and smoother in your favourite gravy.
For the spring mash, boil 2 large peeled agria potatoes in cold, salted water until just tender. Add 2 cups shredded savoy cabbage and 1 finely sliced spring onion, bring back to the boil then drain. Mash the potatoes and cabbage with 50g butter, 2 Tbsp yoghurt, 2 Tbsp dijon mustard, a handful chopped chives and dill, then mash to combine. Season with pepper and lemon zest. Serves 2-4
Chicken schnitzel on sauerkraut with tahini sauce
Nick crumbs his chicken schnitzel in an old English herb stuffing, and it works a treat. Requiring not much more than a quick sauté in a large knob of foaming butter until golden on both sides, rest them in a moderate oven until you are ready to eat. Serve on a bed of warmed sauerkraut with a spoonful of beetroot jam, drizzled generously with a tart tahini sauce.
For the tahini sauce whisk 50ml creme fraiche (or sour cream), 50ml buttermilk, 3 Tbsp tahini, the zest and juice of a lemon, and ½ tsp sea salt flakes until smooth. Makes approx ½ cup.
Cheese kransky and kimchi hotdogs
Nick’s pure pork frankfurters are smoky, crispy and just the right amount of cheesy! Boiled or grilled, they make for the perfect hotdog, your way or ours.
In a hot grill pan, heat the kransky and a big handful of kimchi. Brush the inside of split hotdog buns with olive oil, toast them in the grill pan, then construct your dog, finishing it with coriander leaves and a generous squirt of mustard or the tahini sauce above.
Roasted bone marrow with a zingy parsley salad
Split down the middle so they cook quickly and spoon easily, these bones filled with marrow would make an impressive opening gambit at your next dinner party.
Lightly brush with a little olive oil whisked with crushed garlic and lemon zest, then roast in a hot (220C) oven for 15-20 minutes until the marrow is coloured and soft. Serve hot, spooned onto toasted sourdough with sea salt flakes and a smattering of parsley salad.
For the parsley and caper salad, mix a large handful flat leaf parsley leaves with 1 scant Tbsp roughly chopped capers, and ½ finely shaved shallot. Toss with a glug of good olive oil, the juice of ½ lemon, a little mustard, if you like, and fresh black pepper.