Review: HRVST - 'This is trendified vegan fare elevated'
HRVST | Kilter Avenue, #05-01, OUE Downtown Gallery
6A Shenton Way, Singapore 068815 | +65 6920 7500
There seems to be, for all intents and purposes, a burgeoning trend of new restaurants housed at almost Delphian locations, serving up a niche menu for the most discerning palate. Maybe the pleasance is in the eventual discovery for there is barely any motivation I could conjure for a famished diner to stop and smell roses intentionally planted as a preamble to the (hopefully) gastronomical delights to come.
HRVST is a worthy addition to this pattern of discovery; the restaurant is perched on the fifth floor of Downtown OUE at the wing directly opposite Singapore Conference Hall. Getting to HRVST is in itself an exercise in choice. The easier route is by elevator to the fourth floor, finished by an escalator ride directly to the front entrance of HRVST. The more scenic route takes you by the perimeter of the rooftop, past the glass walls of Kilter Avenue gym (with tight, toned physiques on display if you’re lucky) before opening up to the cavernous Edible Garden City plot of herbs and vegetables grown in-situ. Although housed within the gym compound, HRVST is clearly not a management decision mired in financial gains. Just one look at the kitchen and you will see that HRVST was purposefully built to accommodate serious cooking and inspire culinary flair. The dramatically lit décor exudes warmth and casual intimacy with tables that are at a width perfect for compelling conversations and discussions, backed by a playlist of songs by the vocal stylings of Mary J. Blige, Destiny’s Child or Bruno Mars that curiously sounds like a Compact Disc being played on repeat after thirteen tracks of nineties pop.
Like the deliberate exclusion of vowels in their namesake, the food at HRVST is consciously stripped of daedal plating festooned with much too much, opting instead for a more rustic approach to presentation that lets the ingredients shine on its own merit, taste, and flavour. To underline this dedication, look no further than the menu; completely devoid of formal names, instead, reading like an ingredients list for a very healthy, very sustainable grocery run. This is trendified vegan fare elevated. One does not come to HRVST in search of food to satiate and satisfy the carnivorous soul, oh no. Food at HRVST is conceived with much deference and commitment to sustainability (their herbs are grown right outside at the urban garden) while duly avoiding the pertinacious cliché of vegan food as simply being a plate of quasi-meat on a quest for animal protein replacement. Although looking sleek and effortless, make no mistake that every perceivable method of cooking has been employed to create the food you see. What has been achieved here is a brilliant distillation of everyday ingredients (tofu, potatoes, soy, plums), astutely prepared and presented at it’s minimal, like a haiku on a fresh piece of parchment.
HRVST is the brainchild of chefs and owners, Dylan and Addis (no last name, and superstars, like Adele and Beyoncé). For Dylan (unassuming with eyes that sparkle in a mystery of its own making), formerly of Cheek by Jowl fame, the ideals of HRVST intersects with the Venn diagram of his own belief systems, especially after making the switch to veganism early this year in an effort to cleanse and improve his well-being. Addis (chef in the sheets, skater on the streets) is a vegan on weekdays; he refers to himself as a part-time vegan. Having worked in Park Bench Deli prior to this stint, Addis wants to devote himself to the practice of conscious eating; a perfect fit for the objectives that HRVST aims to serve.
The hors-d'oeuvre for this evening’s tasting comes in the form of two potato spuds that have been twice cooked (steamed for thorough cooking and then fried to a flavourful crisp). Served on top of vegan mayonnaise - made with aioli, soy milk (as a substitute for butter), and apple cider vinegar - and sprinkled with finely chopped chives, these baby spuds are served with the HRVST brekkie as a side, although relegating it to such a purpose hardly do it justice.
This is quickly followed by an appetiser that brings to mind a Norwegian garden in summer. With a bold quotation mark proclamation, the King Oyster “Scallops” is essentially a King Oyster Mushroom; seasoned, pan-seared and plated with perfectly pert baby corn, baby carrot, toasted hazelnuts, garlic snow, and spinach puree. The substitution of chewy mushrooms for actual scallops while coyly inventive also serves as an easement into the new world of Haute-vegan cuisine for the dedicated carnivore. There truly is nothing more accurately reflective of a textbook example of texture and flavour than this dish; something crunchy, something creamy, something acidic. Components many ambitious chefs conveniently dismiss.
The midpoint of this tasting is marked by a sharing bowl of Soy satay with a medley of dehydrated lotus roots, carrot, and zucchini that has been seasoned rather delicately with salt. As with most satays, the star of this dish is the sauce - a basic amalgamation of peanuts and gula melaka, elevated to a creamy consistency, almost like a savoury fudge. The satay itself lacks bite, though I’m certain this is due to the use of soybeans. Instead, it gives way rather facilely in the mouth which therefore makes it a good vessel to soak up all that satay sauce goodness. Trust and believe, I’m not complaining.
With the next dish, we truly have left the land of meats and pleasure and settled nicely into the brave new world of vegan dining. Sourdough bread with handmade nut butter spread lies at the base of this pyramidal structure; a stable foundation for the tofu which has been marinated with orange glaze overnight, giving it that delightful interplay of flavour between sweetness and bold char from being grilled over charcoal. Moving on nearer to the top are broccoli and cauliflower florets blanched in kelp stock and topped with pickled yellow zucchini ribbons, here pickled with equal portions of raw sugar and white vinegar. If I may be so bold to proclaim, this here is certainly the pièce de résistance of HRVST; a bold example of how deftly Dylan and Addis brandish their arsenal of common ingredients to create a masterpiece that is not only delectably gratifying but defiantly iconoclastic.
Enroute to this tasting, my dining partner questioned the ability of vegan food to keep her suitably gratified. To which I added, “Do you know what’s vegan? Potatoes are vegan.” If you are amongst those that doubt the ability of vegan food to leave you feeling suitably full, then you have yet to meet HRVST’s rendition of a hearty fare. Served in a bowl is Butternut Pumpkin Gnocchi submerged in a creamy tom-yam broth that screams Bangkok, unbelievably cheap deals, street food, and culture. As far as tastings go, I have begun to appreciate the well-planned journey my palate has experienced today because this dish packs some serious heat. Not spicy enough to make one beg for penance, but surprisingly fiery for something that looks so unassuming. This truly is like two-thirds of Bangkok in a bowl (two-thirds as we were informed that the actual serving portion is slightly bigger than what we have been given).
Finally, dessert. And what a gratifying way to end this tasting. Here, in a casual, almost insouciant plating, hand-spun Matcha-coconut ice cream is served on top of plums poached in raw sugar syrup and tarragon. Yes, tarragon. Tarragon adds a distinctive anise-like aroma to the plums, perfectly balancing the sweetness of raw sugar. Dip the plums into the blood-orange puree and say a little prayer. The sourness of blood-orange will hit you like a brick, but give it time. Let it settle and tango in your mouth like two lovers in romantic desperation. Enjoy the burst of juicy plums as it mingles with the acidity of puree. This is a brave dessert, but it is also one that is academically assembled with finesse, competence, and guile.
HRVST is an audacious and romantic tribute to food farmed from the Earth. Livestock is responsible for an estimated eighteen percent of greenhouse gas; if everyone in the world became vegan, methane emissions would be reduced by twenty-four percent by 2050. Although an impractical possibility, establishments such as HRVST is the perfect breeding ground for the locavore who appreciates good food prepared with exacting standards. To quote the wise adage of Addis the part-time vegan, “If half of the world population is part-time vegan, then half of the world is vegan.”
And wouldn’t that be an encouraging start?