March 2017 Update: Vanimal has closed down.
We had the pleasure of tasting our way through Vanimal, Kennedy Town’s hip, veggie-forward eatery and we came away seriously impressed. The space and the decor make for a paradoxical first impression, with its combining of opposing elements: concrete and glass are set against potted plants and natural wood. Even their logo is oxymoronic, a T-Rex for a vegetarian restaurant, as if to say cheekily that plant-based dining can work for the hungriest and most carnivorous amongst us. What this means for diners is that Vanimal is working to create something unexpected. They achieve this by focusing on perfectly executed, creative vegetarian dishes influenced by cuisines from across the globe.
Our meal started with a dish that was truly special, not to mention very apropos given our current fascination with gut health, their Pickle Fascination. As you have probably heard, pickles are regularly heralded as a miracle food packed with probiotics, as well as antioxidants, and they reportedly can help you feel full longer. We are unabashed fans of all things pickled so this dish was a revelation, with its wide array of pickles from all different gastronomic traditions and a myriad of vegetables and roots, all homemade over a period of two or three weeks, and served with crispy house flatbread. We loved them all but the gorgeous lotus root stood out along with the beets, garlic, bitter melon and chayote.
Next we had a fun take on a seasonal salad, what they call the wittily named Daily Catch. Ours featured 12 different veggies and leaves, all purified in ozone water, including the truly special lily bulb and tiny grape seeds, in addition to more common salad constituents such as fresh rocket, peppers, avocado, fennel, radish, tomato, grapes and asparagus. Half the fun of this dish is its ‘dressing’ accompaniment, with bottles of fragrant house-made infused chamomile oil (surprisingly fitting), pickle juice (cleverly standing in as vinegar) and paprika-spiced sea salt (this should become a thing).
Vanimal offers a select of Vakitori skewers, their plant-based take on Japanese yakitori. Just like the original these skewers are cooked over a charcoal grill giving them an intense, smoky flavor. We sampled the Dried Tofu with Zesty Miso, which was firm and well cooked, and the Pineapple with Tom Yum Flavor, made using pineapple marinated with Thai ginger galangal, one of the key ingredients in the traditional Thai soup. The latter leaves you wondering why grilled pineapple is not on more restaurant menus, so juicy and caramel-like are the skewers.
For those not familiar with the wonderful world of pakoras, these delectable fried delights hail from India and involve frying a vegetable piece in a light, spiced chickpea batter. Think of them as Indian tempura. The pakora at Vanimal hit all the right notes; airy, crisp and not too oily. They served a selection of vegetables including lotus root, pumpkin, eggplant, pepper, potato and okra. The mango puree dipping sauce was truly unique and added a nice sweet contrast to the savory and slightly spicy pakoras.
You can find many a curry at a lot of restaurant these days but Vaninal’s green curry is a step above most. The dish was an incredibly brilliant and vibrant green color, reminiscent of a Tandoori coriander chutney. We learned the secret to keeping the color: don’t leave fresh herbs on a high heat flame for too long or the color fades. Served with mixed vegetables including okra, eggplant and squash, the dish was pleasantly filling and fragrant. Instead of the staid bowl of rice to go with it, we were served grilled squares of Japanese rice cakes, and their crispy texture was an ideal counterpart to the creamy curry.
For dessert the elegant Chocolate 5572 is a must. The chocolate mousse base is made with 55% cacao, whilst the chocolate brownie chunks are made of 72% cacao, hence the name of the dish. The mousse was creamy, light and the perfect decadent end to our meal. The splendid crown of flaky filo dough dusted with black pepper made for an ideal contrast to the mousse. There was also a chia seed, maca and cauliflower pudding for those looking to end their feast on a holier, more superfood-y note.
Lest we forget to mention it, Vanimal has an impressive beverage menu. Not only do they have a full range of certified organic, biodynamic and vegan wines as well as organic and craft beers, their bespoke cocktail range is astounding and features over 15 types of bitters, as well as florals and special touches like dehydrated fruits & spices. Whether you are a herbivore or a meat-lover, Vanimal is a delicious assault on the senses, and well worth a visit.
Vanimal hosts Happy Hour daily except Fridays from 5pm to 8pm during which all drinks are 50% off; dinner is served from 5pm daily and they offer vegetarian lunch sets from 12 to 3pm. The restaurant is closed on Tuesdays.
Vanimal: Shop 1, Cadogan, 150 Belcher’s Street, Kennedy Town; for reservations, call +852 2872 8880.
Images courtesy of Vanimal (lead photo) and Green Queen.