Not that long ago, it would have been hard to imagine Hong Kong’s food culture ever making a shift towards more sustainable eating. This is after all a city that consumes three times more seafood than the global average, buys more rainforest-destroying beef than Europe or the USA and where you always seem to be within twenty feet of a roast meat shop wherever you go.
Yet as of 2020, over 34% of people in Hong Kong identify as either vegan, vegetarian or flexitarian. That’s over 2.5 million people and counting eating plant-heavy diets. With such a lucratively large demographic, it was only natural that more plant-based restaurants should start cropping up here, many of which also place sustainability and climate consciousness at the heart of their business models.
WELL, here are 5 for you to sample:
This small American- themed restaurant and bar aims to create and serve plant-based comfort food. And it certainly succeeds with its menu of plant-based burgers, nachos, fried ‘chicken’ and even mayonnaise.
Aside from its completely vegan menu (even the drinks are screened for traces of animal products), the restaurant’s biggest claim to sustainability is arguably its insistence on homemade products. Whereas many plant-based meats are made by large US-based companies like Impossible Meat and thus incur a carbon cost through shipping, all of Big Dill’s food is made in its own kitchen. Meanwhile, 95% of its suppliers are Hong Kong-based and include local farms and the Wholesale Western Market in Sai Ying Pun.
While critics will immediately note the plastic baskets that their food is served in, these are reusable and currently the only plastic containers ever bought by the restaurant, which otherwise uses recyclable paper packaging and plans to introduce wooden serving plates.
Best Dish: Side Chick Burger
The texture of this deep-fried jackfruit patty probably won’t fool you into thinking it’s meat. But that hardly matters when its breadcrumb coating is as zesty, crunchy and liberally spicy as it is, leaving a pleasant, lingering buzz of heat in the mouth complemented perfectly by a fluffy brioche bun and a delightfully creamy soy mayo.
Address: 123 Third St, Sai Ying Pun
Attached to the eco-wellness retreat chain, Fivelements, Sakti Elixir is dedicated to healthy, sustainable plant-based food. Chef Arnaud Hauchon chooses, constructs and serves his dishes based primarily on ingredient availability, sourcing ingredients when they are in season and (whenever possible) locally, giving a dynamism to the menu not found in many restaurants.
Whereas many eco-conscious restaurants simply compost their food waste, Sakti Elixir tries to not create it in the first place. Each ingredient for a dish is meticulously weighed so that the resulting portion is exactly the right size to satisfy the customer without leaving anything behind. Any food waste that is created is either composted or, less commonly, reconstituted into new ingredients. Sakti Elixir also uses packaging made from home compostable sugar cane fibres instead of ‘biodegradable plastics’ (which actually don’t degrade any faster than real plastic).
Additionally, Sakti Elixir is a member of the sustainability consultancy, Food Made Good, which provides it with a platform to promote sustainable eating to the public through food expos and speaking events.
Best Dish: Pumpkin, Brown Rice and Buckwheat Risotto
This East-meets-West dish is a work of culinary art. Its centerpiece is a smoothly blended mix of brown rice and mashed pumpkin, garnished beautifully with stir-fried oriental vegetables, salad greens and pumpkin seed brittle for added crunch. A thin bed of rich tomato sauce provides an excellent contrast to the sweet but subtle-tasting risotto.
Address: Level 13A, Tower One, Times Square, 1 Matheson Street, Causeway Bay
With a goal to inspire other businesses and be a catalyst for eco-friendly change in Hong Kong, TREEHOUSE offers a wide range of homemade, made-from-scratch, unashamedly plant-based dishes, made with high quality ingredients sourced from organic farms just over the Chinese border. They also donate trees via edenproject.org to offset their carbon footprint. As an added attraction, customers can even assemble their own sourdough flatbread wraps, burgers and salad bowls according to their preferred ingredients.
To reduce waste, all of TREEHOUSE’s packaging and takeaway utensils are biodegradable or compostable, even if not all of them are home-compostable. Customers are encouraged to return and dispose of all packaging in special, designated bins (complete with helpful instructions on what items go where) to be taken to an industrial composter. They bottle all their juices & shakes in glass bottles and aim to maintain a closed loop system by professionally cleaning the bottles and reusing them. Even the premise itself is as eco-friendly as possible, featuring Bamboo tables, lead-free cement tiles, reclaimed wood, 100% recycled plastic chairs, LED lighting, organic cotton uniforms for the staff and more.
But so that their food doesn’t just attract the converted, TREEHOUSE also offer free-range organic eggs and high quality Halloumi cheese alongside its vegan alternatives. The hope is that this will warm non-vegans to the latter enough to eventually choose them over the former.
Best Dish: Willow Flatbread
Made with Treehouse’s signature homemade organic flatbread, this wrap contains just about every vegan favourite in the book. From mixed salad awash with freshness to falafel that crumble in the mouth to the tangy spreads of tahini and za’tar, this dish is bursting with flavours and textures evocative of a rustic Middle-Eastern street food vendor.
Address: Enter via Ezra’s lane, H Code, Shop 1, Ground Floor, 45 Pottinger St, Central
They also have a shop inside Basehall in the basement of Jardine’s house.
Like other restaurants in the Hong Kong-based Green Common chain (itself an offshoot of the Green Monday movement), Kind Kitchen was born out of the realization that Hong Kongers needed a greater range of plant-based foods to convince them to embrace the lifestyle. Thus it offers a variety of MSG free, plant-based meat dishes, few of which exceed HK$100 in price and many of which include its signature creation, omnipork.
But Kind Kitchen isn’t only interested in keeping its own house in order. It also aims to make the rest of the community eco-friendly. Its main means to doing so is through the health food shop attached to its restaurant, which sells all sorts of plant-based products from meatless frozen pizza to plant-based egg. It also makes efforts to reduce plastic pollution, offering eco-friendly bags that dissolve in water as well as a free water dispenser (so customers can cut down on plastic bottles) and a ‘Bag Relay’ corner where people can donate their disposable bags for re-use. Moreover, in addition to composting its own food waste, it also collects and composts that of other restaurants.
Best Dish: Omnipork Chop
This dish certainly captures the appearance and crunchy, breadcrumbed exterior of a Japanese-style pork chop. Although its intentionally limited seasoning (for health reasons) does give the chop itself a rather plain taste, this is somewhat offset by the fragrant curry sauce accompanying it, complete with chunks of mushroom, carrot and okra.
Address: Nan Fung Place, 173 Des Voeux Road, Central
Though easily one of the more expensive restaurants on this list (up to $368 per dish), Ma…and the Seeds of Life is a must-visit for eco-gourmets in Hong Kong. Fashion designer-turned-chef, Tina Barrat, brings all of her creativity to her innovative vegan reinventions of animal-based foods, from vegan sushi to ‘faux-gras’ to ‘sham-embert’ cheese, many of which brilliantly capture the taste (if not always the texture) of the real thing.
The restaurant adopts plenty of standard sustainability practices, from growing its own herbs to sourcing ingredients locally to converting would-be food waste into new ingredients (e.g. using byproducts from almond milk production to make cheese and cakes). However, its most powerful tool is arguably the taste of the food itself, which Chef Barrat believes is key to enticing people into a vegan lifestyle, a tactic that appears to be working judging from the feedback.
“I have many customers who have said to me after eating my food ‘If this is vegan, I can be vegan everyday’” she says.
Best Dish: Vegan Crab Salad
This truly exquisite dish substitutes lion’s mane mushrooms for crabmeat, though the soft, delicate texture and beautifully fresh taste could fool anyone into thinking it had come straight from the shell. Mix with red cabbage, alfalfa and a potato salad base, top with a dehydrated potato crisp and serve with a sweet, creamy tomato and cashew based thousand island dressing and you have what may be the best vegan dish you ever eat in your life.
Address: Shop no.11, 1/F, H18 CONET, 23 Graham Street, Central, Hong Kong
Written exclusively for WELL, Magazine Asia by Thomas Gomersall