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Archive for March, 2011

I didn’t mean for two vegetarian posts in a row, but here we go! Two weekends ago, a group of friends and I had lunch at Nan Lian Garden in Diamond Hill. I first noticed this garden (and the nearby Chi Lin Nunnery) from the bus window when I still lived in Tai Po – just as we’d come out of Tate’s Cairn Tunnel, there would be a wonderful patch of green and – gasp! – open space next to all the highways and high-rises. I went to the Garden and the Nunnery once in 2009, but hadn’t been back until my friend D suggested we try the vegetarian restaurant in the middle of this garden. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera that day, so the iPod had to suffice – sorry for the fuzzy photos this time.

Long Men Lou entryway

To be perfectly frank, I didn’t find the food at Long Men Lou: Chi Lin Vegetarian (that’s the full name of the restaurant, as given on their website; I think it sounds like a movie title for an epic trilogy) to be anything mind-blowing. However, I wanted to write about it for two reasons: namely, because I think this is one of the few places you can get vegetarian Chinese food in Hong Kong that is not deep fried and pretending to be some kind of meat; and, because I acknowledge that my taste buds favor very heavy flavors, and perhaps others have a better appreciation for subtle flavors. The dishes at Long Men Lou are all free of MSG and low in sodium, oil, and sugar, which is great – but for me, that translated into things tastings a bit bland. In any case, it’s definitely a unique restaurant, so I’ll give it a mention on the blog.

First things first: For lunch, there’s a minimum spend of $85 a person. You can hit that target by ordering one of their set lunches or ordering a la carte. We chose the latter, and ordered about 6 or 7 dishes for our table. We ordered an appetizer platter to start out with, which had a beautiful color scheme. The brown slices in the foreground were these really yummy tofu pieces that had the mouthfeel of beef. P, who usually hates tofu (it’s the texture, he says), even enjoyed these. The green beans to the left were a disappointment for me because I was expecting more flavor, perhaps some garlic.

Vegetarian? There's an app for that.

The seasonal stir-fried vegetables were average gai lan. Normally, I do not like the oyster sauce they’re customarily served with in Hong Kong. However, in this case, I kind of missed that sodium; they were served bare and it tasted…bare.

Naked gai lan

I was really intrigued by the fried rice with pine nuts and ginger puree. When I ate it initially, I again didn’t taste much. However, D mentioned he could suss out the subtle flavors of the toasted pine nuts and ginger, and I’m willing to concede that perhaps at that point of the meal, I was too engrossed in conversation to properly taste subtle undertones. Unfortunately, I couldn’t taste much ginger either. I wanted to add salt to my rice…or chili oil (the northern Chinese girl in me was kicking in). But, if I were to ever go back, I would definitely order this dish again and taste it more carefully to see what I could discern.

Fried rice with pine nuts and ginger puree

The dish I liked most during lunch was the fried vermicelli with eggs and bean sprouts. Actually, it seemed to be heavier on the bean sprouts than the vermicelli, but I didn’t mind. I think I liked this one most because I could taste salt (hurrah!).

Fried vermicelli

We also got vegetarian dumplings, which I really wanted to like but, again, seemed bland. Even the vinegar that came with it seemed a bit watered down. I did like the mushrooms in the dumplings, though, which again evoked a fuller mouthfeel. We also ordered a baked cheese, avocado, and tomato dish. W had read that this dish was highly recommended. In our opinion, however, it was a fusion failure – the cheese was way too soupy underneath the baked crust and the avocados were unripened. It was a bit unsettling to eat such hard avocado swimming around in a bowl of cheese soup. I would not get this dish again.

Vegetarian dumplings

Avo bake: very...interesting

So, even though it’s not my favorite restaurant, I do think Long Men Lou is unique. If you’re a vegetarian visiting Hong Kong who wants to have a taste of vegetarian Chinese food, I’d definitely recommend this as a spot to try it out. There have been so many instances in Hong Kong where restaurants have tried to tell my vegetarian friends that a dish is “only vegetables”, only to forget that it’s cooked with lard or chicken stock or flavored with fish oil. This is one place where you don’t have to be afraid of that! Also, the building itself is quite different – a waterfall cascades over the top of the restaurant and you dine “behind” the waterfall, if you will, which you can see through a large picture window. It’s a calming view, although the chatter inside the restaurant is as loud as you might expect in any Chinese restaurant on the weekend. (We came on a Sunday; it was full and there was a short wait before we got seated.) In any case, it’s a different kind of dining experience and if you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life, this is definitely an (affordable) option.

Long Men Lou: Chi Lin Vegetarian Cuisine
Nan Lian Garden, Diamond Hill
3658 9388
Check their website for lunch, tea, and dinner hours
Cost: minimum charge of $85 HKD/person for lunch

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Another restaurant I quite like for brunch is Life, located in Mid-levels. Yes, it’s a vegetarian restaurant. I know there are plenty of carnivores out there who gasp at the thought of a bacon-less brunch, but fear not: brunch at Life won’t have you missing meat at all. P and I have gone there a couple times now and even he’s been convinced.

One menu option that’s substantial and full-flavored is the Mushroom and Herb Omelette. It’s fairly bursting with mushrooms; if you looked up “stuffed within an inch of its life”, this omelette would be there! The caramelized onions add a hit of smoke and sweetness – really well done.

Omelette with all the trimmings

Omelette!

P and I also get the Gluten Free Flax Seed Pancakes. The name might make you expect a sterile, bland stack, but actually, these flapjacks are quite fluffy and a bit sweet. You can amp up the sweetness by adding some of the wonderfully-made mixed berry jam. The chunks of berry are tart and tasty, and this jam really reminds me of the homemade stuff P’s mom sends us when she jars her own jam at home.

Flavorful flax!

And though these two dishes are enough to fill us, we always end up ordering a couple extra pieces of their sunflower toast. It’s loaded with grains and so delicious.

Also served with a side of berry jam

The rooftop is open from noon on the weekends, I think, and it’s the perfect place to zone out and forget you’re in the middle of hectic Central. I just saw on their website that they don’t take reservations for the weekends, though. Must be a new thing, as I remember you could book ahead before. Also, downstairs they have a take away deli with daily soup and dahl, in addition to a selection of cold deli dishes. If I remember right, the prices are really reasonable – something like $50 for three choices of deli selections and a bit more for five choices. I haven’t gotten their takeaway yet, but someday soon, I will.

I really enjoy brunch at Life because my belly never feels overly heavy when I leave. There’s none of the lethargy associated with eating some traditional brunch foods (not that I avoid that all the time, mind you – the next brunch entry will induce anyone into a food coma, I promise). I also like that Life doesn’t make me miss meat at all; rather, they use interesting flavors and fresh ingredients to make the meal great.

Life
10 Shelley Street
2810 9777
Cost: ~ $150 HKD/person

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After a frenzied fall of applying for grad school, I was finally able to take a breath and enjoy one of my favorite things on earth – lazy weekend mornings. Well, actually, my favorite thing on earth is what you eat on lazy weekend mornings: Brunch. There’s nothing I love more than having a nice, leisurely chat with friends while stuffing my face with 2,000 calories before noon (or after noon, in some cases) and not feeling too guilty about it because hey – it’s brunch.

P and I have been casually scouring the city for brunch spots, and one of our favorites is Classified on Wing Fung Street in Wan Chai. The space itself is a bit small – only two big tables with shared seating and some stools along a counter – but the food is great AND you can get coffee in soup bowls (that’s right, soup bowls). Our must-order dish is the baked camembert, served with homemade toast.

This dish may change your life

We first ordered this because I saw a couple next to us spreading the obscenely creamy butter on their toast. After we ate it, a mom-and-daughter pair asked what we had, then promptly ordered one for themselves. It’s not hard to love. The cheese fairly oozes out when you poke the top, like a gooey, savory creme brulee. There are bits of truffle on top, just to make your day that much better.

Another of our favorite dishes is the french toast, which comes in a formidable stack. I also recommend the chorizo and beans on toast. The chorizo is so plump and salty, just the way Spanish sausage should be. Lastly, we usually get the homemade granola with fruit and yogurt. Every time we go with J, she happily digs to the bottom of the bowl and exclaims, “Oooh, watermelon!”

Granola heaven

As a bonus, this place always has bakery items on sale. We grabbed a loaf of multi-grain on the way out the door and it was promptly consumed on the same day.

I do wish this place had more seats, as I feel a little guilty lingering over my coffee/tea/Vero hot chocolate and newspaper/ipod/engaging conversation as others wait by the door. However, if you come early enough (around 10), you’ll have the place nearly to yourself.

Classified Mozzarella Bar
31 Wing Fung Street
2528 3454
Cost: ~ $120/person

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