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