Tucked up the end of the M+ hub lane on Xikang Lu, Empty Jar opened late last year. Their opening period being somewhat rudely interrupted – for reasons we don't need to go into – we felt they were well deserving of a second round of introductions.
A small outdoor patio in Greek colors – an early indication of the Mediterranean vibes – leads to a cavernous yet bright interior with modern design.
Both owner Rico and his Taiwanese chef Kai are graduates of the Culinary Institute of America, and cut their teeth in a Michelin star Mediterranean vegetarian eatery in New York City.
The result is here healthy Mediterranean-Taiwanese fusion food that, despite the impressive CVs on display, is easy on the wallet. There are also plenty of vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options.
Empty Jar pride themselves on their Homemade Hummus (RMB58), the classic dip served with fresh avocado, homemade beetroot chips, pickled cornichon and toasted pita; a fine way to start any meal.
Another fresh and light intro is the Hibiscus Jicama Salad (RMB38); ribbons of jicama – a tuberous root in the pea family – with fresh mint, pumpkin seeds and endive, drizzled with a hibiscus dressing.
The Vegetarian Shakshuka (RMB92) sees pomodoro, parmesan, micro-cilantro and carrots topped with a soft egg. More of that pita is a must for soaking up the lightly spiced tomato sauce and egg yolk combo.
Speaking of spicy, the parpika dressing of the Butter Lettuce Salad (RMB42) gives it an addictive zing – this humble dish of butter lettuce, croutons, parmesan and smoky vinaigrette makes for a surprising standout.
Another incredibly good value dish is the Avocado Crudo with Genmai (RMB36), with yam and oat puree, potato, chili oil, micro cilantro and homemade ponzu – a citrus-based Japanese answer to vinaigrette.
Finally, there were fights at our table over who got the heaped serving of the Healing Harvest Orzo (RMB78). Another standout, the short-cut pasta – masquerading grains of rice – is paired with Asian ingredients: zizania latifolia – Manchurian wild rice – shitaki mushrooms and snap peas, as well as potato, parmesan and candied lemon.
As for desserts, the Vegan Chocolate Mousse (RMB32) is spiked with Sichuan peppercorn for that perfect piquant end to the meal.
While we went all vegetarian, Empty Jar do have carnivore options, but still keep it light and healthy. Point in case – they have a Mediterranean Full Breakfast with fish (mackerel) rather than the usual pork-fest. We'll be back to check that out for sure.
Casual and convivial, with friendly and attentive service, Empty Jar is good for a chilled lunch or brunch, while it gets livelier in the evenings; they offer a good selection of natural and organic wines, serve a wide range of gin and tonics and make a mean cocktail.
For those with furry friends, there is a small outside seating area and M+ hub is dog-friendly.
Who's Going: Trendy young folk, healthy people
Good For: Lunches, brunches, dates, etc.
Empty Jar, 850 Xikang Lu, by Xinfeng Lu 西康路850号, 近新丰路