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!).
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.
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
Check their website for lunch, tea, and dinner hours
Cost: minimum charge of $85 HKD/person for lunch
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