What’s on the menu at Hawker, Kensington Market’s new spot for fine plant-based dishes

What’s on the menu at Hawker, Kensington Market’s new spot for fine plant-based dishes

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Last name: peddler
Contact: 291 Augusta Avenue, peddler.to, @hawker.to
Piece: Kensington Market
Previously: TVX
Owners: Jeff Merkel and Darshan Dorka
Cooks: Jeff Merkel and Leah Steduto
Accessibility: Not fully accessible

The food

Chef Merkel’s artfully composed small plates aren’t just a creative take on vegan food, they’re a mediation of her naturalistic philosophy of life. “We’re in an almost transhumanistic state of evolution, but that nourishment isn’t about manipulating things away from their natural state,” he says. “It’s about finding the resonant frequencies of nature and adopting them. I don’t want to take anything away from what already exists.

From left to right: chef Leah Steduto, executive chef Jeff Merkel and co-owner Darshan Dorka

Organic landscapes and arboreal themes inspire Merkel’s clad designs. A dish called Creek Bed is a pool of deeply flavorful sage-infused oat milk in a ring of mashed butternut squash with spruce tips and garnished with marigold petals; The bushfire is a bed of rosemary surrounding an eggplant curry and lit next to the table, releasing plumes of woodsmoke.

Whether or not you embrace naturalism, Merkel’s pure and balanced flavors will delight you. Homemade ferments, infusions and syrups abound, such as a floral lavender oil served with a heady biryani or a caramelized birch syrup used to glaze the parsnips. Merkel may be committed to the basic laws of nature, but it’s easy to imagine these whimsical plates in a fantasy setting.

Crispy papadums topped with cumin seeds are topped with fermented cashews, garlic-roasted cherry tomatoes, pickled ginger, fenugreek and grilled cilantro. Funky, cheesy cashews offset the sweetness of the tomatoes for a balanced bite. $13. (The Cashew Ferment is also sold as a pantry item for $10).
Seared radicchio is sprinkled with tangy fermented cashews, dressed in an intensely sweet and smoky red pepper oil and topped with fresh marjoram. The dish, aptly named Colours, punches well above its weight for a relatively simple ingredient list. $14.
Charred runner beans are piled on red chili paste and finished with pine nut cream, toasted pine nuts and red chili oil with aromatics. Creamy, vegetal and deeply flavorful, God’s Work is a masterclass in balance, once again proving that a spare ingredient list is no problem if you know how to play off flavor versus flavor. another one. $18.
Here’s the Roots: an earthy crumble of pistachio and mushroom enhanced with spruce and sumac syrup, with a crunch from the addition of ube and taro chips. It is enhanced with an aromatic perilla leaf pesto, where the addition of ginger, garlic and Thai basil accentuate the licorice notes of the perilla. All sprinkled with cherry tomatoes marinated in garlic confit and a tasty cream made from tofu and a mixture of pasilla and bird’s eye chili. Watercress, shiso and fennel fronds combine for an herbal finishing touch. $14.
Arboreal ingredients are Merkel’s favourites. In the fall, parsnips glazed in a powerful caramel-like birch syrup are served on a smoky tomato sauce with pasilla peppers and candied garlic. It is finished with chives and fine turnip shavings. $13.
Inspired by aguachile, Spring is a heap of shredded fennel in a coconut sauce enriched with mace, pasilla peppers and hazelnut-sweetened fenugreek. Beet reduction, marigold and perilla leaf lend their lively nuances to this vernal vision. Crispy blue tortilla chips come on the side. $14.
The base of Starry Night is a well-spiced biryani, but delicious dollops of smoky poblano paste on top take it to new heights. The most surprising element here is the lavender oil served as an accompaniment: it is not an obvious pairing with the biryani, but there is a kind of particular alchemy between the spices of the rice and the floral notes of the lavender. $15.
Bushfire is a version of baingan bharta, an Indian eggplant curry, in which eggplant is smoked with rosemary for a deeper bass note. A dusting of Mexican oregano cuts the richness and provides a sharp herbaceous tone. A bed of rosemary, flaming next to the table, releases plumes of aromatic smoke that echo the flavors of the dish, and it’s all served with tender, spiced roti. $15.
Creek Bed is a pool of flavorful sage-infused oat milk surrounded by spruce butternut squash lined with fennel leaves, shiso and watercress. $13.
In winter, it’s coconut ice cream, flavored with thyme and spruce, on an almond crumble, candied hazelnut and brown sugar. Next to it is an ethereal mist of spruce and birch syrup. $9.
Starry Night, Part Two brings dollops of ube purple whip and pale pink and pandan whip topped with fennel leaves and marigold petals. The sweet nuttiness of Ube plays wonderfully with the vanilla-tinged grass of the pandan. $9.
The drinks

The cocktails, with and without alcohol, are constructed with spices, syrups and freshly squeezed juices: try a vibrant turmeric, Earl Gray and lavender creation called Resonance or the Grand Marnier-based Atonement and of vodka, with a cold infusion, black cardamom and rose petals. The wine list, which includes a few local options alongside old-world producers, focuses on natural, unfiltered bottles.

Meet Resonance, an earthy, almost musky combination of turmeric juice, Earl Gray tea and lavender syrup. Also available with tequila blanco for an alcoholic drink. $17 with tequila, $12 without.
The Repentance combines sage-infused oat milk with sweet fern syrup and beetroot juice. Spice it up with whiskey for the cocktail version. $17 with whiskey, $12 without.
Space

An earthy, woodland palette of dark wood and moss embodies the restaurant’s philosophical bent. The walls are intentionally art-free, decorated instead with canvas that (a bit ironically) resembles animal skin. A notable exception is a large-scale suspension in moss and birch, which was handcrafted by Merkel. Floating beige fabric covers the ceiling, and Spanish moss hangs in decorative bundles between the tables. Outside, climbing ivy decorates a romantic and picturesque patio.

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