Good Food Review: Plant Hub
Plant Hub sets itself apart from the growing trend with unique Mediterranean-Asian fusion dishes. Francesca Nicol heads down to Hackney to uncover the hype around this ‘research centre for plant excellence.’
More than an eatery, Plant Hub are also the creators of the Plant Hub Academy - a community space for teaching and sharing plant-based cooking and living. The restaurant and academy have already been home to supper clubs, workshops and classes devised by both in-house staff and collaborators, such as Hackney Herbal, since their opening earlier this year.
IN GOOD COMPANY
This busy part of East London is a vegan destination, with the likes of famed vegan fried chicken shop, Temple of Hackney and the curry, rice and noodle bowl specialists CookDaily a stone’s throw away. Whether or not Mare St. is a bold or logical choice for a new plant-based restaurant, I’m glad to retreat from the bustling thoroughfare into Plant Hub’s calm interior; the decor in the long, open dining room is simple, with white walls, exposed brick, wood and brass - co-founder David Bez comes to welcome me.
photo credit: Plant Hub
A TASTE OF HOME
Whilst it’s still relatively quiet inside, I eye the kombucha menu, presented like a new age wine list. David explains how, much like everything else at Plant Hub, they are brewed, flavoured and mixed in-house. After spotting some of the fermenting jars around the building, I settle on a kombucha spritz, inspired by its cocktail namesake. The spritz is sweet and refreshing, with none of the vinegary notes that small batches often have.
The airiness of my spritz contrasts nicely with the food – the menu is filled with strong, savoury flavours: mushrooms, miso sauces, umeboshi, pickles and ferments. Created by David, a cookbook author and restaurateur, plant-based chef Lauren Lovatt and classically trained chef and baker Antonio Alderuccio, I already know that Plant Hub’s vegetables are in good hands.
I’m very much proven right when my first dish arrives - an Aubergine parmegiana with a pistachio pesto. After experiencing a recent rubbery, spongey aubergine-disaster dish elsewhere, I’m slightly wary, but - as if setting the world of aubergines right - my parmegiana arrives in paper thin layers, cooked to perfection; it melts in my mouth and reminds me of my Nonna, all at once.
Next up is a Bulgogi of marinated maitake mushroom ‘beef’ over buckwheat, courgette and aubergine. In the sauce: ginger, tamari, garlic and gochujang unite for the restaurant’s signature dish, securing Plant Hub’s place in my mind as mushroom magicians. Spicy, faintly sweet and deeply umami, this dish packs a real punch - it’s not for the faint of heart - but despite my burning lips, I can’t stop my fork.
STRAIGHT TO THE SOURCE
David shares with me that they sometimes make their bulgogi with lion’s mane instead of maitake mushrooms, depending on what’s available; unknowingly, he has opened himself up to a deluge of questions about the rest of Plant Hub’s ingredient sourcing. He tells me that the foraging specialists The Wild Room provide their mushrooms; Audacious Veg, a London CIC and social enterprise, supply edible flowers and other items, such as radishes; Wild Country Organics bring the shiso leaves; The Suffolk grain and pulse growers Hodmedods and the Suma wholefoods cooperative supply their dry goods.
The team remains involved in the ingredient sourcing process, even visiting Chegworth Valley’s Broadway Market stall early on Saturday mornings to purchase produce. David stands up very well against my quizzing, proving knowledgeable about all of their sourcing choices. He also assures me that absolutely everything in the space is organic – down to the cleaning products. This sort of thoroughness both astounds and motivates me.
My meal winds down with a kombucha digestif; a new, but totally inspired, concept that I’m now 100% behind. The tart chai variety delivered to my table is the perfect palate cleanser before a wild card dessert - apricot and red pepper sorbet. Blended together with a tiny amount of basil, this mind (and tongue) boggling combination highlights the sweetness of red pepper and is an exciting application for the ingredient that I’ve never considered. It’s the perfect finish to a fascinating culinary journey.
Plant Hub are finding joyful new paths in plant-based cooking: bold, strong flavours; innovative applications of ingredients; and progressive combinations of textures and tastes, all built on the foundations of planetary health in the form of local, organic growing - this is contemporary London veganism at its best.