We know that plant-based diets are good for us, and better for the environment. According to the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), eating meat and dairy products is a significant contributor to global warming . Studies show they account for more than 50 per cent of emissions from food production, with beef the major culprit. The reality, however, is that most diners aren’t ready or willing to become fully vegetarian or vegan. Rather, people are adopting flexitarian or pescatarian diets , which allow them to eat more healthily and sustainably without giving up animal products, and chefs are tailoring their menus accordingly. At Moxie , one of the hottest restaurants to open in Hong Kong in 2021, head chef and vegetarian Michael Smith believes it’s about choice. “We don’t want to be a restaurant that says if you’re not vegetarian, you can’t eat here. We want to make our food appealing to everyone.” The restaurant, backed by Shane Osborn of Michelin-star restaurant Arcane in Central on Hong Kong Island, has a menu that’s two-thirds vegan and vegetarian, and one-third seafood; no meat is served. Stand-out dishes from the menu, which changes often, include a starter of roasted Jerusalem artichokes tossed with green beans, endive (a leafy green), red radish and a walnut dressing, and a salad where green jalapeño sauce contrasts with the intense hue of ruby beetroot. The dishes are a visual rainbow that “let the quality of the ingredients speak for themselves”, says Smith. Octopus, clams and fish are popular main courses, while desserts go from relatively healthy figs to an indulgent chocolate and cardamom torte with salted caramel. The British chef admits that he didn’t care for fruit or vegetables as a kid. “I grew up in a working-class city without a deep culinary heritage,” Smith says. “You could count the variety of vegetables I’d eat on one hand, and everything went into a steamer and turned to mush.” His résumé includes a stint at renowned Gidleigh Park in England, but Smith credits Osborn with opening his eyes to the importance of high-quality produce. Arcane is “by far the most produce-forward restaurant I’ve worked in”, he says, and it was while working there that he became vegetarian, and gave up smoking and drinking alcohol. Smith dislikes being labelled, and wants Moxie to be accessible to a broad church of diners. “We don’t want to make a big deal that it’s meat-free. This is the food that we cook, and I hope to normalise it by serving food that’s delicious, with punchy flavours and textures.” Rather than forcing people to give up food they enjoy, he wants them “to try and eat better, and less, but higher quality”, with attention paid to sustainably-sourced produce where possible. Corey Riches tried to become vegetarian for about six months. The head chef at Bedu , a casual Middle Eastern restaurant in Central, acknowledges that he felt healthier and less sluggish, but missed meat too much to continue. “The first steak I ate after that time was the best I ever had, and I realised that finding balance was the most important thing in my life.” Balance is a philosophy that he applies to Bedu’s menu, which is evenly split between vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. The former includes classic dips such as smoky house-made hummus and tangy beetroot labneh (a soft cheese), and the latter a three yellow chicken tagine with dates and almonds. Fruits and vegetables are always the star of the show Leonard Cheung, Cultivate Like Smith, Riches believes in choice. “I want Bedu to be somewhere vegetarians or vegans can come with a meat eater, and no one feels guilty about forcing the other to come.” He also believes that “if you give non-meat options and make them just as delicious, people will order them”. For example, the whole aubergine, charred, sliced and laid flat, then finished with torched tahini, chilli dressing, pistachio crumbs, lemon juice and spices. Or grilled corn, roasted in its husk until blackened. The kernels are cut from the cob, then marinated in chilli and spices, and served atop a purée of roasted carrots. Both are vegan, and likely to win over carnivores. Bedu is part of the Zero Foodprint charity initiative, which donates a small percentage of takings to renewable farming practices. In addition to financial donations, Riches has committed to making the restaurant more sustainable, though there are no set targets to reduce its carbon footprint. Instead, he is striving to increase the amount of produce sourced locally. He acknowledges that doing so in commercial quantities is challenging in Hong Kong. “It’s not about rushing to be 100 per cent sustainable, it’s a step-by-step process. It takes time for farms to grow what I want, and there are supply issues, but we are working towards that goal.” Asaya Kitchen is more pescatarian than flexitarian, but chef Fabio Nompleggio faces similar issues in trying to source ingredients locally. The restaurant at the Rosewood Hong Kong hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, positions itself as serving sustainable and nourishing Mediterranean cuisine. It supports local growers and producers where possible through its Partners in Provenance programme. Nompleggio, who grew up surrounded by farms and vineyards in Italy, says he finds that “nature is hostile to farming in Hong Kong”. “The climate, soil, humidity, extreme weather and farming here is really a challenge,” he says, arguing that it’s not possible to be fully farm-to-table in Hong Kong. That said, he and the other chefs in the hotel are on the constant lookout for local producers to work with. They have sourced aubergine, carrots, celery and herbs such as basil, as well as organic eggs from the New Territories, used at breakfast in an egg white omelette with kale, spinach and feta, and poached eggs with mashed avocado. Nompleggio is excited by the discovery of a sustainable aquaculture farm in Sai Kung, which supplies him with cobia (a saltwater fish). He slow-cooks it on a charcoal grill, and serves it drizzled with octopus jus, on a bed of smoked chestnuts and chanterelles (a type of mushroom). It’s a beautiful white-fleshed fish that he hopes becomes more popular. Although the Mediterranean diet is full of legumes and grains such as spelt, barley, chickpeas, beans, bulgur wheat and more, and tomatoes are a cornerstone of the cuisine, Nompleggio admits that he couldn’t be vegetarian. Since joining Rosewood, however, he has noticed a significant change in his diet. There is no meat on the menu, so he no longer has to handle or taste it, and rarely eats meat when at home or out. But he loves seafood too much, and it’s a passion that shines through his cooking at Asaya Kitchen. What to make of Cultivate , a restaurant whose name evokes images of abundant crops and harvests, yet uses meat or seafood in most dishes? According to chef-owner Leonard Cheung, “fruits and vegetables are always the star of the show. Any chef can sear a piece of steak, but not many can take ordinary vegetables and transform them into delicious new heights.” To Cheung, vegetables are a sign of culinary prowess, and the “ultimate test for true craftsmanship”. Rather than explicitly pursuing a sustainable and meat-free ethos, his priority is to use the best seasonal ingredients, which he believes in itself “encourages the entire food supply chain to focus on only using products that do not threaten the natural ecology”. Cheung emphasises that vegetarians and pescatarians can be easily accommodated, with prior notice. For example, the current menu features salt-baked lobster, which can be substituted with heirloom rainbow carrots. When cracked open, the salt-baked carrots release aromas of star anise, orange peel, thyme and ginger that are every bit as appealing as that of the lobster. “This type of vegetarian preparation requires time, and cannot be done on the spot,” he explains. Such a fresh approach to produce has won Cultivate many fans, and the upscale restaurant, with just 22 counter seats in front of an open kitchen, has been fully booked since opening in mid-2021. Moxie, Shop 203, 2/F Alexandra House, 18 Chater Road, Central, tel: 2718 8211 Bedu, 40 Gough Street Central, tel: 2320 4450 Asaya Kitchen, 6/F Rosewood Hong Kong, 18 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, tel: 3891 8732 Cultivate, 27-29 Elgin Street, Central, tel: 5303 1230 Like what you read? Follow SCMP Lifestyle on Facebook , Twitter and Instagram . You can also sign up for our eNewsletter here .