Last week, Sous Vide Kitchen (SVK) joined NYC’s sprawling food hall scene, where associations with celebrity chefs are the norm and $300 caviar is a thing. Comparatively, SVK’s take on the food hall concept is far more down to earth, focused mostly around technology and how it can streamline and improve the process of ordering and eating in a food hall setting.
Billing itself a “virtual food hall,” SVK combines four trends currently popular in the restaurant industry: self-order kiosks, cashless payments, the sous vide cooking method, and, of course, food halls. And so far as I can tell from my visit earlier this week, the combination works when it comes to delivering a fast, easy dining experience with good food that’s affordable (for NYC).
As a physical space, SVK looks much like any other food hall, with high ceilings and extremely minimal design. When I visited, I was struck by how calm the place felt and how friendly the staff was, even with a good number of customers inside seated at tables or in line waiting to order.
The place offers Latin and Mediterranean items, grain bowls, and banh mi sandwiches. All food is cooked in the same central kitchen at the back of the hall. And using the sous vide method exclusively means it’s easier to train employees on cooking consistently good food, since sous vide allows for more precise cooking temperatures and frees the cook from “the tyranny of the clock.”
Since I’m a cheapskate and quality varies greatly around the city, I’m always a little wary of paying over $14 for a bowl of meat and vegetables. I also have next to no appetite when it’s 90-plus degrees outside, so a dish’s potential to make good leftovers is also key. The Texas BBQ bowl I ordered passed on both counts. The beef was packed with flavor, the dish was wonderfully and ridiculously spicy, and what I didn’t finish at lunch made for a pretty decent quick meal later in the evening.
The big draw of SVK’s approach is that customers can order and pay for all food from the same self-serve kiosk, hence the “virtual” aspect of the business. So, for example, if I wanted a curry bowl, a Paleo bowl, and a Texas BBQ bowl from a traditional food hall, I would have to wait in three different lines to get each dish and make three separate payments. When I visited Sous Vide Kitchen with a couple buddies, we got that same combination of dishes with one quick order.
What struck me most about the kiosks was their simplicity. Touchscreens are becoming more ubiquitous every year, from airports to doctors’ offices, but they’re not always intuitive in terms of UI, and some are downright ugly. Sous Vide Kitchen’s kiosks score points for having an attractive interface that’s as minimal as the physical space’s design, making it easy to use. This will likely cut down on both customer frustration and long lines.
SVK does offsite catering and delivery, too, and there are grab-and-go items for sale at the physical location customers can scan themselves at the kiosks. A coffee and breakfast bar are reportedly in the works. The delivery option, in particular, is key right now, given its popularity not just in NYC but all over the country.
The only real drawback to my experience was the actual physical space which, although calm, was pretty loud and made it difficult to hear everything said at the table. Then again, that might just be Manhattan at lunchtime.
As Eater pointed out, SVK will probably not be a destination for “food-obsessed” customers, since none of the vendors are major names. And while it’s true the place isn’t offering “living walls” and celebrity chefs, that might be a plus. If the many-meals-one-kiosk order and payment concept proves successful, it could easily find a home in all manner of food courts, be they trendy Manhattan spots or suburban cafeterias. Already, some airport restaurants have embraced self-order kiosks, and earlier this year, Costco began testing them in its food court. Wow Bao, meanwhile, is rolling out Eatsa’s kiosk tech. We’ll have to wait and see where the technology fares best, though my guess is that SVK won’t be the only food hall in town offering this concept along with the food.