Chef and entrepreneur Christian Mongendre is back with a new venue to whet people’s appetites for plant-based food. After suddenly closing the popular Home – Eat to Live vegetarian restaurant two years ago, the Hong Kong-born chef recently opened Treehouse at H Code on Pottinger Street in Central. It is a culmination of his experiences since he and Bobsy Gaia co-founded Mana! Fast Slow Food in 2012. “I always wanted to do one product and do it well and make it scalable, which has always been my dream,” the 34-year-old explains. “[At Treehouse] we’re not labelling ourselves as a vegetarian or vegan restaurant, we’re focusing on quality.” Tucked in an alley behind Nojo just below Hollywood Road, Treehouse helps people to reconnect with nature, Mongendre explains. There’s even a miniature tree house with a very long ladder that hangs from the ceiling. “Whether you have been in a tree house or not, you understand the feeling of being lifted and supported by nature,” he says. The long, narrow restaurant has an airy feeling thanks to the high ceiling, and there is a long open kitchen so customers can see their food being prepared. They can take it away in minimal packaging and compostable bowls made of sugar cane, or sit at one of the bamboo tables with chairs made from recycled plastic. Fans of Home will recognise some of the menu items, such as flatbreads (HK$98 for long, HK$60 for short), plant-based burgers (from HK$90), raw vegan cakes (HK$65 each) and cold-pressed drinks (HK$65). He has tweaked some of his recipes from Home; for example, the flatbreads and burger buns are now made with sourdough bread that has been fermented for 24 hours to make them more digestible. New at Treehouse are grain bowls that can be customised with a choice of purple rice, quinoa and millet, and customers can add toppings such as roasted beets, sauerkraut, spiced tofu, pickled cucumber, charred cauliflower, falafel and turmeric soft egg starting from HK$128. He plans to add ramen at the end of the month, and introduce breakfast items soon. Treehouse is leveraging technology to help process orders more quickly. Patrons will be able to place those orders on a pair of large tablets to be installed at the entrance, similar to those found at McDonald’s, or they can scan a QR code on their smartphones to order meals. There are also plans to use artificial intelligence and data analytics to suggest meals to customers. It’s this standardising of processes that Mongendre hopes will not only make Treehouse more efficient, but also expand the concept to see Treehouses take root around the city, as franchises and part of a chain of outlets. Mongendre says he has learned a lot from Mana! and Home – Eat to Live. “At Mana! we were trying to do fast food, but it wasn’t what I wanted, which was to scale up,” he explains. “And then Bobsy had different ideas, so I left.” Mongendre had an opportunity to realise his dream a second time with Home – Eat to Live in Central in 2016 through the backing of ZS Hospitality Group, which operates restaurants such as the two-Michelin-star Ying Jee Club, Moi Moi and Sakana No Aji. Home soon became popular with vegetarians and vegans looking for a good, reasonably priced food in Central. Just over a year after its opening, though, the restaurant closed abruptly. Mongendre will not go into details about what happened; he says only that there were plans to expand Home in two more locations, but internal disagreements about how to grow the business came to a head, and he had to make a difficult choice. “It forced me to make a decision whether to stay true to what I was doing or if I was going to accept to modify it purely for money. So I decided to take a hit. It was a really difficult time in my life. I was giving up something that I built and put so much heart into,” he says. He is still grateful to the Chu family that own ZS Hospitality Group for having had the opportunity to open Home. After that he took up an offer to consult for a plant-based restaurant in Lisbon, Portugal for two years, where he learned more about running a business, and realised that he needed to be the majority owner to ensure control of his vision. He also spent the time travelling, cooking for himself again, and recharging, always knowing he would return to Hong Kong. “I was born here so I have a sense of belonging here. Also, people kept asking for my food. They told me they were heartbroken and devastated when Home closed. So I knew I wanted to have an Asian-created brand. And Asia needs this kind of food because of the lifestyle, the fast pace,” Mongendre says. On the third day of Treehouse’s soft opening, he was heartened to see the line of customers out the door at lunchtime, many of them fans of his food. As majority owner of Treehouse, Mongendre says there are plans to open another Treehouse on Hong Kong Island – he is eyeing Admiralty and Quarry Bay – and later perhaps in Tsim Sha Tsui. “We don’t want to preach about how good it is to be vegetarian or vegan,” he says. “We just want people to feel comfortable and eat more plant-based food.” Treehouse, Shop 1, Ground Floor, Ezra’s Lane, 45 Pottinger Street, Central.