Chef Peggy Chan needs little introduction. Since opening Grassroots Pantry in 2012, Chef Chan has proven herself a force to be reckoned with. Her plant-based dishes have been consistently met with resounding applause from vegans, vegetarians and carnivores alike. In 2016, Peggy Chan was awarded our Foodie Forks Readers’ Choice Top Food Hero award for her consistent commitment “to make food do good” (the slogan of Grassroots).
When the Foodie team received news that Grassroots was set to close its doors and reopen as Nectar, it was a bittersweet moment. What would happen to our favourite raw vegan cinnamon buns that had graced so many of our listicles? On the other hand, we were excited to see where this new road would lead…
Vegan and fine dining are not concepts we often hear coupled together. While a few high-end HK restaurants offer vegetarian and vegan tasting menus, Nectar is a pretty groundbreaking concept.
Nectar practises integrative dining, allowing guests to become more informed about the nutrient-heavy dishes and locally sourced ingredients and the restaurant’s overall philosophy. This information is something that Chef Chan hopes guests will take with them when they leave. Making informed food choices is something we too believe is vital when working towards a more sustainable food ecosystem, something that we will discuss at length at our Food’s Future Summit 2019.
Now, on to the dining experience. Nectar offers seasonal tasting menus including the Original Grassroots (OG) five-course tasting menu ($680), Integrative eight-course tasting menu ($950) and Edible Solutions 12-course tasting menu ($1,380). A weekday three-course lunch menu ($258), weekend sharing brunch menu ($550) and an à-la-carte menu are also available. I had the pleasure of sampling the Integrative tasting menu.
Note: all prices are subject to a 3% carbon tax. Proceeds from this tax will go towards Nectar’s ongoing efforts to support organic producers, researchers, NGOs and social enterprises.
We were off to a good start with the arrival of the amuse-bouches. The dolmades were deliciously tangy, and the crumbed okra tasted far more indulgent than a vegetable should. The teff crisps (teff is a fine grain loaded with fibre) had a satisfying crunch underneath the delightfully creamy avocado purée. These amuse-bouches, like many of the dishes, are made to be eaten with your hands. While slightly messy, it’s a fun way to eat that is usually frowned upon at more refined restaurants – not to mention the amount of water that is saved by not replacing utensils at every course.
I was very excited to try the tomato tuna served on a bed of lettuce with avocado and the freshest, crispest nori. The tomato tuna, surprisingly, did not taste like tomato at all and very convincingly mimicked the taste and texture of a piece of rich and fatty tuna.
Next, we were served a little bowl containing a leaf and a few unknown ingredients. Then, a large flower was presented. Chef Chan went on to explain that this was actually a banana blossom (which many of us had seen on the menu but remained perplexed). Most people (including myself) did not know that this part of the banana plant contains edible pieces, and therefore much of the plant is wasted when it’s cut down. Chef Chan peeled off the thin yellow pieces at the end of the blossom to show us how she would do so when prepping the dish (which requires hours of preparation). They kitchen team soak the banana blossom fibres in lemon water to remove some of the tannin. It is then cooked with Nectar’s homemade XO chilli oil with shiitake conpoy and fermented tofu. Again, the end result tasted nothing like banana. Instead, this dish – eaten whole in a wild betel leaf – had a very fishy, slightly spicy taste. I was beginning to question if I actually knew what things really taste like!
Serving bread in the middle of a meal is a genius idea – you’re not ravenously devouring carbs at the start, but you still get to satisfy that carb craving before the meal ends. Not only was the scheduling of the bread basket perfect, but these homemade vegan breads were ridiculously delicious. The assortment included sourdough and sesame buns and was served with two butters. One was a brown cashew butter made with toasted cashews blended with chickpea miso and balsamic vinegar, while the other was comprised of aquafaba (the water in which legumes are cooked), refined coconut oil and black salt. Both were so good that the whole table joked about sneaking the breads and butters back home to eat again for breakfast!
Another dish I was excited about was the faux gras. As we know, foie gras is a luxurious delicacy, but the way in which it is produced is exceptionally cruel. This rich and velvety faux gras with nutty notes may appear to be a tiny portion, but it was very filling, proving that good fats can be just as satisfying as nasty ones.
Before our next course, we were shown an array of herbs, spices and botanicals – all of which are ingredients in traditional Chinese medicine. Chef Chan explained that she uses all of these in the next dish, her rendition of bak kut teh, a Malaysian and Singaporean herbal soup made traditionally with pork ribs that is said to have a cooling effect on the body. No pigs were harmed in the making of this dish though, which uses truffle wonton instead of pork.
The truffle wonton’s delicate casing was the perfect chewy consistency. However, the overall dish was a tad bitter for my taste.
Another item on the list of things I didn’t know are edible is purslane, a succulent that can be eaten as a leaf vegetable. The purslane fettuccine is a winning dish. Cooked to perfection with al-dente fettuccine, crunchy hazelnut “Pecorino” and subtle vegetable “salami” (made with sun-dried tomatoes), this succulent (haha) pasta dish could rival any carbonara on the market.
Another highly anticipated course was the Nectar cheese course. I must admit, I have had vegan cheeses on multiple occasions in the past, and not once have I actually enjoyed them. Cheese is sacred to me, and it is incredibly difficult to recreate the same textures and flavours of this dairy product. Chef Chan has gone the extra mile for her vegan cheeses by creating an entire board featuring different types of cheese – starting with a soft “goat’s” cheese and moving all the way to a hard “Manchego”. The table the cheese is served on is made out of wood from trees that fell over during last year’s destructive Typhoon Mangkhut. I was thrilled to find out that these trees were serving such a wonderful purpose in their second lives.
So how did these cheese-free cheeses fare? Well, much like everything else on the menu, they were a pleasant surprise. I particularly enjoyed the pepper-crusted goat’s cheese, which had the same creaminess you’d expect from an authentic chèvre. The Pepper Jack-style cheese had a lovely spiciness to it, and the Manchego, with a clearly nutty taste, also had an amazing tartness. I could quite easily eat these cheeses every day.
Dessert was served in two parts, beginning with a very refreshing course of papaya with ginger ice cream. The sweetness of the fruit paired well with the spice of the ginger ice cream (which had a malted texture thanks to the oat-milk base). The second dessert was a gorgeous tower of kataifi, moringa ice cream, kefir, banana and banana bread. Turns out, moringa tastes a lot like matcha! The bitterness of the cold ice cream beautifully complemented the sweetness and warmth of the banana bread.
If two desserts aren’t enough to satisfy your tweet tooth, have no fear – the petits fours are here! All these little goodies were delightful. The almond mochi was one of the creamiest mochi I have ever tasted, the coconut cream tart with blueberry jam was a bite of happiness and the organic chocolate was flavoured with orange zest.
The immense amount of passion and effort that go into each and every item on Nectar’s menus are blatantly obvious. As Chef Chan pointed out, this effort and passion was also put into each and every dish at Grassroots Pantry. However, with the integrated fine-dining element at Nectar, each guest will now get to experience that commitment to excellent taste, sustainability and boundary-pushing plant-based cuisine first-hand. Bravo to Chef Chan and her team for creating such exciting, flavourful and creative dishes.
108 Hollywood, Sheung Wan, 2873 3353, book online
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.
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