Where to go when it's time to veg out
Irene Jay Liu
Whether you are a full-time vegetarian or an avowed carnivore looking for a change, the city offers a broad variety of places to eat guaranteed to satisfy any craving.
A meal at Chi Lin Vegetarian (Long Men Lou, Nan Lian Garden, 60 Fung Tak Road; Tel: 3658 9388) begins with a walk through the tranquil garden of the Chi Lin Nunnery. Follow the sound of rushing water and you'll find the restaurant behind the waterfall. The dinner set menu for four (which can be scaled back to two) features smaller portions of the a la carte offerings.
The restaurant eschews imitation meats and, following the Buddhist tradition, avoids garlic and onion. The result is a number of tofu-based dishes focused on emphasising the subtle complexity of perfectly fresh vegetables and fungi (morels, porcini, golden and shimeji mushrooms, even the coveted black truffle, to name a few). Fireworks you won't find in the food here: think a fine spring mist drifting through flowering trees.
For the bolder flavours of southern Asia, head to Aashirwaad (1/F 1 Minden Avenue, Tsim Sha Tsui; Tel: 3106 0860). This vegetarian eatery serves northern and southern Indian, Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian food, and easily caters to vegans. The Thai chef was in (make sure to ask before ordering) for this review and served up a fragrant vegan green curry indistinguishable from its vegetarian cousin. The dosa are large, arriving with lentil-dotted sambar and coconut chutney.
Ignore the 'members only' sign and walk right into Veggie Palace (Room 3, Loft, Block B, Kwong Sang Hong Building, 6 Heard Street, Wan Chai; Tel: 2838 6506), a private kitchen tucked away in a rather rundown building off Hennessy Road.
This Buddhist eatery serves a set menu of mostly Chinese fare, served banquet style, in a spacious and high-ceilinged dining room. The menu changes daily and features a variety of imitation meats and seafood. Dishes of the day included a platter of cold cuts, vegetarian California rolls, and preserved duck eggs, a clay pot stew of vegetarian beef, and a fish ball and cauliflower curry. A faux-sausage-stuffed mushroom cap with sprouts and a chewy slice of nian gao (glutinous rice cake) topped with tomato, melted cheese and a dash of mayonnaise make for odd, quirky fusion bites. A refreshing slice of golden osmanthus jelly and a final sip of lavender tea complete the meal.
Pure Veggie House (3/F, Coda Plaza, 51 Garden Road, Mid-Levels, Hong Kong; Tel: 2525 0552) offers vegetarian dim sum from 10am-4pm and all-you-can-eat vegetarian hotpot in an upscale setting.
For those who want a more Californian-organic-vegan-raw-veggie-cheeseburger-with-a-hemp-milkshake-on-the-side kind of vibe, look no further than Soho, where two restaurants serve up Western-style vegetarian and vegan cuisine in two distinctly different surroundings. Located alongside the Mid-Levels escalator, Life Cafe (10 Shelley Street, SoHo; Tel: 2810 9777; takeout available at 50C Johnson Road, Wan Chai), is the staid, established first born, serving excellent globally inspired Western cuisine. 'Raw power' is a delicious raw dish of pasta-like zucchini ribbons tossed with organic pumpkin seed pesto, almond parmesan and garlic oil. Those looking for something heartier can tuck into pizza, pastas, stir-frys and stews. The sesame tofu skewers and fragrant African sweet potato stew with quinoa are popular standouts.
SF Veggie (10/F, 11 Stanley St, Central; Tel: 3902 3902) is the artsy younger sibling, playing excellent jazz and dishing up 'I Am Fabulous' beetroot burgers and ice-cream sundaes drizzled with San Francisco Ghirardelli fudge in a space charmingly cluttered with retro Cali knick-knacks.