I read a recent food review in the South China Morning Post asking whether a US$215 afternoon tea set at the new Artisan’s Lounge in Tsim Sha Tsui is what Hong Kong really needs right now. It’s a fair question, but a better one might be whether such a tea set is what Hong Kong, or any city for that matter, has ever really needed.
Necessity has certainly never been the rationale for luxury, and that article’s central question bespeaks a certain guilt of the privileged. But what good is guilt, and the attendant self-denial, if it leads to nothing? Rather than chucking the baby out with the bathwater — or the lobster out with the court bouillon, as the case may be — there may be ways to enjoy life’s luxuries while also doing a little something for the planet.
At Nectar, the new plant-based offering from Peggy Chan, you don’t have to give up on luxury (though you do have to give up the lobster) to feel just a touch virtuous — particularly if you, like many these days, find yourself blanching at the environmental impacts of the meat industry.
Peggy first introduced Hong Kong to her creative vision for largely vegan, plant-based cuisine at Grassroots Pantry, which operated at 108 Hollywood Road for four years, and which I wrote about two years ago. Earlier this summer, Grassroots Pantry closed and the newly renovated space reopened in late July as the more upscale Nectar. Grassroots Pantry had a warm, rustic feel while Nectar, with its grey and white palette and sparse design, feels cooler, more stark. The diffuse lighting adds to the effect.
Dinner consists exclusively of tasting menus and, on my recent visit, my guest and I opted for the Original Grassroots 5 Course (HK$680 per person). The meal was entirely plant-based and vegan; the weekend brunch is where some non-vegan — though still vegetarian — items (e.g., eggs) are included on the menu.
The first course was a vegan bagna cauda with summer vegetables and a sourdough crouton. Classic bagna cauda is a hot dipping sauce made of garlic, olive oil, and anchovies that originates in the Piedmont region of Italy. Nectar’s version is made with a cashew cream base and flavored with fermented tofu.
The creamy sauce is generously drizzled over a bowl of blanched okra, carrots, strings beans, and other vegetables accompanied by a crisp slice of brown sourdough toast. It’s a fresh-tasting start to the meal. The rich, delicious cashew cream, a miracle ingredient if there ever was one, accented with the fermented tofu is an excellent accompaniment to the fresh vegetables and crunchy toast.
Next came the pandan hedgehog mushroom with sweet and sour vinaigrette. Diners at Grassroots Pantry will recall its signature popcorn chicken made from these same thickly textured hedgehog mushrooms. If anything, this replacement for pandan chicken, a classic Thai snack, is even better and is consistent with Peggy Chan’s welcome application of plant-based techniques to Asian flavors.
Like pandan chicken, the mushroom is wrapped in pandan leaf and fried, ensuring the aroma and flavor of the leaf is infused into the dense, lightly breaded mushroom within. The accompanying vinaigrette is a mildly spicy and sour accompaniment, not as sweet as a typical pandan chicken sauce might be. It was excellent — as much flavor and texture as the chicken original, but less greasy in result.
The third course, one of two mains, was a Thai green curry with sweet corn, tempeh, seasonal greens, and brown rice crackers. The curry was more refined than a typical green curry, with much of the liquid having been reduced from the sauce and the ingredients sparely presented. It didn’t lack spice, though, and packed enough of a punch that those averse to fiery food might ask for a milder version.
The fourth and heaviest course was a pasta dish consisting of homemade tagliatelle noodles, maitake and chanterelle mushrooms, and generous slices of summer truffle. The portion was ample and filling, aromatic from the truffles and rich with the mushrooms in a cashew cream sauce. Compared to the other dishes, I thought this dish was less creative and more of a classic vegan-style pasta, although elevated with the addition of the truffles.
Next came a dessert of blueberry cheesecake made with activated cashews and young coconut served with locally grown blueberries from a farm in the New Territories. Activated cashews, for the unfamiliar, are nuts that have been soaked in alkalized water to begin a sprouting process. Crushed along with the young coconut, they form the “cheese” for the cheesecake.
The soft cake sat on an almond date crumble, making for a tasty combination of ingredients that, while not sinfully rich, seemed an appropriate, reasonably sweet conclusion to a satisfying meal.
After the five courses, and befitting the mood of this upscale vegan restaurant, an attractive plate of vegan petits fours – three each – was served. There was a soft and delicious mochi, a rich fruit butter encased in a light shell, and lastly, a somewhat dry and chalky brownie, the weakest of the three.
All in all, I think Nectar is a solid evolution of the project started with Grassroots Pantry and shows that plant-based cuisine in Hong Kong can be both a luxury and delicious. I will certainly be back.
Nectar is at G/F, Centrestage, 108 Hollywood Rd, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
Open Mon & Wed-Fri, noon-3pm (lunch), 6-10:30pm (dinner), Sat & Sun 10am-3pm, 6-10:30pm, closed Tues
Reservations +852 2873 3353
MTR: Sheung Wan
About the Hungry Lawyer: Marc Rubinstein, born in Baltimore, USA, has been in Asia for 22 years, 16 of those in Hong Kong. He has split his career between banks and law firms, and is currently the general counsel of an Asia-based real estate and alternative energy investor. Marc is a co-founder and co-chair of the Hong Kong Gay & Lesbian Attorneys Network. In addition to being a hungry lawyer, he has run three marathons, nine half-marathons, completed the Hong Kong Oxfam Trailwalker and won the U.S. National Debate Tournament way back in 1991.
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