Hong Kong has more than its fair share of gastronomic meccas, but diners are becoming more health-conscious than ever. The healthy eating craze is eating into many aspects of Hong Kong's food industry, and it's not just restaurant customers who are trying to slim.
Some of Hong Kong's biggest name chefs, Michelin star winners Harlan Goldstein and Alvin Leung, recently took part in a much-publicised battle over who could shed the most weight. Even influential food blogger Peter Chang, of Diary of a Growing Boy, has begun a series he calls Diary of a Shrinking Boy, detailing his new healthy lifestyle.
The craze for health-conscious dining is also an opportunity for restaurateurs to cash in, and many have been adding special healthy eating options to their menus.
The Great Vision Group - which runs restaurants such as Q-Deck in Wan Chai, Bulldog branches across town and most recently Forbes 36 in Kennedy Town - has gone a step further, enlisting muay Thai world champion Alain Ngalani to design a special healthy menu to his exacting standards.
You would be hard-pressed to find a better poster child for healthy living than the rippling mass of muscle that is Ngalani. He has a personal stake in the proliferation of healthy menus, too. "I don't really cook," he says over a thick mozzarella and spinach stuffed chicken breast from Q-Deck's Impakt Your Life menu (Ngalani represents Impakt gym).
"Eating out healthily in Hong Kong is not easy. There are now a few places with healthy stuff, but you're generally better off cooking for yourself," he adds.
Ngalani hopes to change that situation. Those who still picture healthy food as a pile of steamed spinach or cottage cheese and half a grapefruit will be pleasantly surprised by the Impakt Your Life menu. Aside from the chicken breast, there is also a large portion of salmon, a 12-ounce Australian rib-eye, and seafood linguini, all served in big, pub-style portions.
Ngalani admits he had to make some compromises when he designed the new menu. He began by selecting the existing items that were already fairly healthy. "I tried to pick out the things that were calorie-friendly."
Getting too extreme would have been a waste, he says: "I don't like crazy diets or crash diets. I like to be realistic; it's about making a slight change. Hong Kong people like to party, they like to enjoy themselves. In my experience, if you put them on a diet it will never last. You have to give them something nice, so they'll stick to it."
Ngalani is more than hands-on as far as the menu is concerned: he claims he eats the chicken breast every day. Whether his physique is thanks to the chicken, or the two hours he spends training in the gym each day, is open to debate.
Other restaurants that have hopped on the healthy eating bandwagon include Cantonese fine dining destination Ming Court at Langham Place in Mong Kok, which has teamed up with a doctor who specialises in traditional Chinese medicine.
The menu, with dishes such as whole superior pigeon with wolfberry and lily bulb, uses traditional Chinese medicinal herbs and ingredients to focus on holistic health over calorie counting. The pigeon is supposed to improve vision and nourish the liver and kidneys.
The Ritz-Carlton has introduced a lunch buffet at Café 103 that features organic produce and options such as seafood and a selection of greens.
Then there's chef Harlan Goldstein himself. He has added healthy dishes to the lunch menu at Gold, no doubt inspired by his recent weight loss.
Now lunchtime calorie counters can enjoy dishes such as salmon over soba noodles. Goldstein takes his healthy menu seriously. "These dishes focus on balancing calories from protein and complex carbohydrates," he says. Since he "eats this way every day" he is personally invested in making sure the items are flavourful.
But don't expect a lot of diet options for dinner. "A healthy lunch keeps people energised throughout the day, but at night I want them to go crazy," Goldstein says.