Canvass Bistro & Bar On Pushing For Sustainability In Malaysia
There is no one specific definition for sustainable food. It can be defined and interpreted in as many ways as an egg can be cooked. Some think that it entails replacing all meat with plant-based foods whilst others believe it is consuming food that does not harm our natural environment. One thing is for sure, a restaurant that doesn’t produce enough food waste for its own compost pile is definitely sustainable.
There is a sense of responsibility at Canvass that is hard to find elsewhere. Head chef Nikolaj Lenz and mixologist MI Rony are determined to show everyone that it is indeed possible to eat good food while abiding by sustainable practices without giving up on flavour or burning a hole in your pocket.
"What the kitchen cannot use goes to the bar and vice versa," says Lenz with Rony sitting beside him, nodding approvingly. Frothed milk from the bar is turned into crumbly feta and thick cream, leftover charred pumpkin is turned into a syrup that adds an intense savoury sweetness to Rony's crafted cocktails, and coffee grounds are dehydrated into a crispy tuile that gives their brownies and mascarpone a little crunch.
You won't find any ostentatious or convoluting names on the menu. Each dish is named so you know exactly what you are ordering. Their signature dishes like Caesar Salad and Fiske Frikadeller (Danish style fishcakes) are a constant, whilst other dishes make recurring appearances depending on the season and the availability of ingredients.
Fresh and marinated heirloom beans with crumbled feta & a free-range egg
Heirloom tomato salad and a bio-diverse pesto with organic feta
For an idea of what Canvass serves, Lenz walks us through the first dish: When the kitchen is delivered an excellent supply of beans from their local producer in Cameron Highlands, Canvass ferments half of them. Those beans are then plated alongside freshly grilled beans for a balance of tangy and smoky flavours. Sitting between the duo of beans is a perfectly cooked free range egg that oozes silky yolk when cut. Crumbled feta and dehydrated egg yolk powder (made from leftover egg yolk) are sprinkled on top for an extra hint of savoury.
An excellent choice for pescatarians, the scallops dish uses not only the floret, but also the stalk and leaves of the cauliflower. First fermented then deep fried, the cauliflower is reminiscent of Pavvakai Varuval (an Indian dish of fried bitter gourd). Golden brown scallops, caramelised on the outside but sweet and tender on the inside, are set upon a bed of silky smooth cauliflower velouté that doubles as a sauce for the dish.
Representing the "hedonism part" of their menu, the free range Angus flank steak is slow-cooked and seared with jus. Crispy, airy pommes dauphines accompany the cut of meat. Fermented lemons are made into a kosho, a Japanese citrus chilli paste that adds an aromatic acidity to the otherwise heavy dish.
Seared Japanese scallops and fried cauliflower with soybean cauliflower vélouté
Free range Angus flank, slow cooked and seared with jus
We couldn’t talk about a chef-bartender driven bistro without mentioning the drinks. Rony was more than happy to show us how he makes his signature cocktail, the Linea Verde. Leftover liquid from lacto-ferments, fresh basil juice and gin are theatrically shaken with a secret ingredient that gives it a foamy finish.
And then there’s the Not A Jam—after taking a sip, you’ll realise why the drink is named so. Rony concocts a sweet syrup from charred pumpkin that the kitchen can no longer needs, and adds to it a mixture of vodka, yuzu and passionfruit. The result is a refreshing cocktail that tastes astoundingly like marmalade.
Their goal is to one day become a fully self-sustainable bistro and we must say they are well on their way. Cooking oil is turned into biofuel and steps are being taken to make rainwater capture and solar energy harvesting possible. Everything is taken into account here, right down to the fair-trade cotton T-shirts worn by the waitstaff.
- PhotographyKhairul Imran