Review and Photos by Joao
Pickled Tea Leaves with Ripened Tomatoes and Mung Beans $12++
We Singaporeans love our hawker food. Char kway teow (extra hum), laksa (again, extra hum), chicken rice (with the skin on of course) — these are just a few of our guilty pleasures. Even though a part of us knows that we shouldn’t, we do. And sometimes, we overdo. There’s a Hokkien phrase that we love to use to assuage our guilty consciences: gu gu jiak jik bai — to eat once in a long while. So on Monday we indulge in a plate of greasy chai tao kway (“Gu gu jiak jik bai!“), on Tuesday we indulge in a big bowl of bak chor mee (“Gu gu jiak jik bai!“), on Wednesday we feel a little guilty so we eat poh piah… followed by kaya toast because we’re not full (“Gu gu jiak jik bai!“), etc etc. All the “once in a long whiles” add up and that’s bad news for our health. The sad truth is that most hawker food is high in the stuff that’s bad for us and lacks the stuff that’s good for us.
Sometimes we just feel like we need to eat something to make ourselves feel less guilty; as if eating one healthy “detox” meal will absolve us of the sins of the past 20 hawker food indulgences. Thankfully, this doesn’t have to mean eating like a rabbit. Enter Heart Bistro, an Orchard Road establishment that seeks to provide great tasting food that’s also far less prone to killing you than our beloved hawker food.
I recently met up with William Tan — the creator of Heart Bistro and a strong advocate for maintaining a healthy lifestyle — to pick his brains on the philosophy behind the concept of his restaurant. William is fashionably dressed and looks like he’s fit enough to run rings around indolent me. You’d never guess that he’s nearly twice my age; the man doesn’t look a day above 40. As we chatted I found out that he’s been keeping up a disciplined exercise routine for the last 25 years. He also casually mentioned that he had just done a three hour trek through a nature reserve that same morning. Eep.
Eventually we got to talking about the restaurant. With a hint of pride in his voice, William explained that Heart Bistro attempts to serve its customers food that doesn’t just taste good, but is also good for them. This entails using low-salt or low-fat recipes and eschewing frying for healthier cooking methods such as poaching or grilling. However, he caveat-ed, Heart Bistro isnt’ trying to be a health restaurant; there are items on the menu that are undeniably “sometimes foods.” Instead, William prefers the term “wellness restaurant.”
Heart Bistro’s Handmade 100% Beef Hamburger ($18++) is a prime example of this philosophy in action. It’s served with a simply dressed mesclun side-salad instead of fries, but the fries are available upon request — just not encouraged at first. The burger itself is pleasant enough; a thick juicy beef patty with dried herbs and spices, caramelised onions, some veggies, and an egg sunny-side-up in a delightful pumpkin seed and sunflower seed bun. Unfortunately the burger was let down by a marked lack of beefy flavour. It’s a decent-enough burger, but I’ve definitely had better at lower than that price point. 3.5/5
Another item that’s obviously a “sometimes food” is their Pan Roasted Rib of Beef ($36++). We know that anything involving significant portions of red meat should be eaten in moderation, but when it’s a succulent beef rib that has been roasted to tender perfection such that it just falls off the bone, moderation is unlikely to be foremost on your mind. Still, served with asparagus spears, mushrooms, and a red wine jus, I’d like to think this dish was as healthy as red meat gets. 4/5
A conversation about healthy cuisine will inevitably touch on the topic of salads, and Heart Bistro doesn’t disappoint in this regard. I tried their Pickled Tea Leaves with Ripened Tomatoes and Mung Beans ($12++). Its name is a bit of a mouthful, but this dish has a shorter name in Myanmmar: Lahpet thohk. Apparently this dish is as authentic as it gets. The recipe was taken almost verbatim from the Burmese version. It’s made of Burmese pickled tea leaves (lahpet) which have a unique mild savory flavour, crunchy toasted mung beans and peanuts, and smokey roasted garlic. The resulting flavour combination is quite unlike anything I’ve ever tasted, and the salad becomes quite addictive after a while. 4.25/5
Unexpectedly, the best dish I tried just happened to be the one that seemed to be the healthiest. I was pleasantly surprised by the simple elegance of the Roasted Black Cod with Baby Spinach and Edamame in a Ginger Broth ($28++). A fresh steak of black cod roasted and then braised in an invigorating clear ginger broth and served with a small bowl white and brown rice topped with furikake. Very simple and clean flavours. This dish really worked for me, and I heartily recommend it. 4.5/5
At the end of the day, a healthy lifestyle requires everything in moderation (including exercise). Heart Bistro can’t claim to be able to change your life for the better, but at the very least they make the concept of moderation more appealing with their attention to detail and their subtly-healthy cuisine.
This was an invited review.