Type of Institution: Vegetarian
Address: 190 Middle Road, #01-13/14, Fortune Centre, Singapore 188979
Tel: +65 63331612
Opening Hours: Daily 10 am – 11 pm
Herbivore is a Japanese vegetarian restaurant located on the ground floor of Fortune Centre, aka the mecca of vegetarian food in Singapore. It was opened in 2011 by the owner of Zen Japanese Vegetarian Restaurant, which you might have heard of as it has been well-received by the blogosphere and veg*ns generally. I pretty much hated the food at Zen Japanese (which explains my erstwhile reluctance to relive the entire experience by blogging about it) but thankfully I had an enjoyable experience at Herbivore, despite the similarities in their menus. As I’ll elaborate shortly, both the quality of Herbivore’s Japanese cuisine and the portion sizes were satisfactory. However, do not come here expecting a faithful adherence to the principles of traditional Japanese cuisine. It is telling (and disappointing) that Herbivore uses long grain rice instead of short grain Japanese sushi rice for all their rice dishes. Herbivore used to offer Western food on their menu as well (nothing fancy – just the usual burgers, pastas, etc.) but that seems to have been taken off the menu.
Vegans should be cautious when ordering food at Herbivore – Although no eggs are used, dairy is used quite often. The main culprit is mayonnaise – their version is made with milk and is offered not only on the side but used within their sushi. I realised this because I had ordered the Unagi Maki and informed them to leave out the mayonnaise (there was obviously some dotting the tops of the sushi from the picture in the menu), but when it was served, there was mayonnaise inside the sushi. The manager apologized and offered as consolation the fact that it was eggless, but upon realizing that that didn’t help they promptly rectified their mistake with a fresh plate of sushi. Aside from the mayonnaise, dairy is found in their cheeses and in their desserts.
As you can see, the décor in Herbivore is simple, clean cut and dominated by brown and dark brown wooden furnishings. The ambience is not particularly casual but it is not quite semi-formal, i.e. I would not have a special date or a business lunch here.
Asparagus Bento Set
The Asparagus Bento set is definitely a great choice if you are craving variety and/or you want a representative sample of Herbivore’s Japanese cuisine, although it lacked sufficient contrast in the colours to make the bento set aesthetically arresting. Among the four side dishes, my favourite was the stir-fried asparagus with bunashimeiji mushrooms and red and yellow capsicum strips – the asparagus was fresh and tender-crisp, and the mushrooms were firm and chewy. The tonkatsu (breaded and deep-fried pork cutlet) was crispy on the outside and fairly meaty inside, and it was served with a sweet ketchup-like sauce and mayonnaise. The mock salmon and tuna sashimi were nearly indistinguishable in terms of their slightly fishy taste and their very soft, fishcake-like texture. The grilled eggplant in a light soy sauce was pretty well-cooked, but it could have been more tender. As mentioned earlier, the side dishes came with long grain rice instead of short grain Japanese sushi rice. To wrap it all up, the set also came with miso soup and a dairy-based soy jelly dessert which I did not try. If you have a regular appetite, you would almost certainly feel satiated after your meal, especially with the protein from the soy-based tonkatsu, asparagus and mushrooms. ($27)
Natto (fermented soybean) is my absolute favourite Japanese food ever and I loved that Herbivore gave a generous serving of the sticky, slippery, slimy and gooey goodness with an equally generous serving of springy soba noodles in their Nattou Soba, topped off with wasabi and seaweed. The natto was slightly too plain to eat on its own – it could have benefited from a bit of miso to make it more savoury – but this wasn’t really an issue since I was dipping the nattou with the soba into the tsuyu (dipping sauce). The tsuyu was a bit too salty though, so I would request them to taste test it before serving it in the future. As a side note, the original Nattou Soba is served with the sauce already poured into the noodles, but I asked for them to be separated.
If you’re health conscious, it helps that this dish is a nutritional powerhouse – the natto, soba noodles and nori seaweed will load you up with omega-3s, complete proteins, and tons of vitamins (including the B-vitamins and vitamins C and K) and minerals (such as calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus). ($12)
The Unagi Maki is a long row of avocado and cucumber sushi topped with slices of mock grilled unagi in a sweet and savoury unagi sauce, as well as sesame seeds. I was impressed by the mock unagi, with its crispy outer skin and rather realistic texture – my guess is that it can be attributed to an intelligent use of tofu. I generally enjoyed it except for the fact that the teriyaki sauce beneath the sushi was a tad too salty, and as mentioned, long grain rice was used instead of short grain Japanese sushi rice.
Also, as I’ve warned earlier, the original dish comes with both mayonnaise on top of the sushi and within the sushi, so vegans should take a good look into the sushi rice before they take a bite! ($14)
Grilled Teriyaki Chicken
This simple dish combined mock grilled chicken, a rich teriyaki sauce and toasted sesame seeds. The mock chicken had a sufficiently realistic texture and was quite tender. It would have been better if the teriyaki sauce was slightly less salty, but generally I would recommend it. ($12)
Conclusion: The food at Herbivore, while not mind-blowing, is largely satisfactory aside from some minor kinks. It is worth a visit, if only for the novelty of having Japanese vegetarian and vegan cuisine in Singapore.