Time to veg

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 July, 2011, 12:00am


IT'S TOUGH GOING without meat in a town that celebrates eateries channeling freshly caught seafood, roasted poultry and -the most controversial of all- shark's fin soup. But whether you're a veteran or visiting vegetarian, or just seeking a break from carnivorous eating, diners can rely on the following restaurants that refuse to be overshadowed by neighbouring flesh-hungry venues. We've narrowed down your pursuit to these fine recommendations that also defy healthy vegetarian restaurant cliches. of these venues listed here serve rubbery tempeh, aggressively mutated soya-proteins, or pretentious price tags. at that.

Indian vegetarian fare, especially from the south, has a way of shattering stereotypes that meat lovers have about vegetarian fare. Here's a genre that has, for centuries, shoved aside the dominating meat flavours and replaced them with some of the pronounced spices from this country, combined with the nation's ingenious cookery showcasing the versatility of vegetables, grains, pulses and dairy. The table-length masala dosa is a fine example, made from fermented rice and lentils-based batter, centred with black mustard seed-freckled potatoes.

At Brantos (9-11 Lock Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, T 2366 8171), its full-of-crunch crepe practically streams out of the kitchen. Countless variations of the batter dominate the menu - there's the pancake-style uttappam with various savoury toppings, as well as disc-shaped idlys steamed or deep-fried. Other regional favourites include the scorching pav bhaji, a medley of simmered tomatoes, onions, potatoes, peas and spices, the gravy scooped up with soft buns.

If the decor at Brantos is too drab for you, head to Khana Khazana (1/F, Dannies House, 20 Luard Road, Wan Chai, T 8108 1070) where patrons are welcomed with white linen tables and warmer staff and ambience. The menu is crammed with familiar Indian specialties: alongside southern staples are northern-style tandoori favourites spanning spinach-based kebabs to tikkas and masala curries with nourishing paneer (Indian version of cottage cheese) replacing the usual flesh-based proteins.

When do themes like the city of San Francisco, all things vintage and vegetarian cookery deliberately collide in one place? This unusual trifecta made Veggie SF (10/F, 11 Stanley Street, Central, T 3902 3902) standout instantly when it opened last year. Distinctive Bay Area roots and retro bric-a-brac are flaunted in the Central premises (antique typewriters, old-school cameras, pin-up prints, retro music), a collection husband-and-wife owners Paul and Bess Choi picked up from their former hometown over the years.

Sometimes the backdrop outshines the dishes from the brief, globally inspired menu, unless you opt for the veggie burgers. The baked beet-root pate cheese burger, for example, arrives with the root-vegetable blended with beans, mushrooms and organic sea greens, centred in sesame-seed buns. So nothing like the aggressively processed kind veggie burgers are notoriously faulted for.

'We discovered the beetroot burger from a famous cafe in San Francisco which we liked very much, but they used onion and garlic in the patty which we don't in ours,' says Paul. Notice how Veggie SF's food are light as the kitchen uses minimal oil and employs cooking techniques like baking or steaming than deep-frying. Other than that, within the vegetarian vein, every other quirk and obsession of the founders are channeled by creating a venue that rebels against the usual health-restaurant formula.

Few restaurants -meat free or not- can out-marvel the stunning Chi Lin Vegetarian (Long Men Lau, Nan Lian Garden, 60 Fung Tak Road, Diamond Hill, T 3658 9388), located amongst 3.5 hectares of the Tang Dynasty-inspired Nan Lian garden. Here, the food follows Buddhist virtues, so no meat, eggs or anything from animals are used. But it doesn't stop there -garlic and onions are forbidden too: 'They are part of the five spices (others include spring onions) the nunnery does not use in cooking because according to Buddhist traditions, these spices are to known to affect desires, emotions, and in turn meditation and chanting practice,' explains Elaine Wan, a spokesperson for Nan Lian Garden. MSG is avoided 'for health reasons, but also because we advocate eating natural flavours,' she adds. The same rationale explains why mock meat isn't used either.

Restrictive as it all sounds, the menu doesn't appear that way at all, listing an exhaustingly array of some of the most creative vegetarian dishes around. Where else do you get fried beancurd sheet rolls speckled with aromatic black truffle? Cantonese favourites -fried rice, satay'd wheat or rice-based noodles, clay pot dishes and more, are reinterpreted based on a dizzying selection of leafy or root vegetables, grains and plant-based proteins especially seasonal mushrooms, fungi, and tofu. Coupled with the attentive first-rate service and serene surroundings, this eatery is a rare breed.