Paul and Caryl from Vegan Food Quest are enjoying their third year of full time travel as they continue to find, eat and write about the best vegan food in the world
Dining in a Michelin-starred restaurant was firmly on our bucket list, so when we arrived in Hong Kong, after nearly two years of vegan travel in south east Asia, we went in search of places where we might be able to fulfil our foodie-driven dream.
With little effort we found five different restaurants that offered an existing vegan menu (or who were happy to adjust dishes to make them vegan) so we did what any sane, foodie would do and made reservations at them all.
The Michelin Guide was set up over a hundred years ago and since then has been helping people choose restaurants with their system of one, two or three stars that identify places as ‘very good’ in their category, ‘worth a detour’ for their excellent food or ‘worth a special journey’ for their exceptional cuisine.
At the beginning of the week we thought about our expectations, hopes and fears: eating in some of the world’s finest restaurants was an important event for us. We expected the food to be good, we hoped it would be exceptional, but in the back of our minds we feared we might miss out as vegans eating in these high-end restaurants where chefs were used to cooking with animal ingredients.
Would they understand that like many vegans, we wanted delicious food, to be impressed with creativity and spoilt with dishes steeped in history and tradition? Would we be as amazed as we hoped or would we finish the week only having tasted disappointment?
The week was full of amazing dining experiences, however the food wasn’t the elaborate, artistic creations we had imagined were needed to earn Michelin stars: instead the focus was firmly on service, ingredients, traditional preparation methods and flavour of the food.
We ate dinner in the world’s highest hotel, the Ritz Carlton Hong Kong, where their two Michelin-starred restaurant ‘Tin Lung Heen’ is located on the 102nd floor.
The views of Hong Kong were mesmerising and the sparkling lights of the city took our breath away. We were served dishes like dim sum covered in gold leaf and braised bean curd sheet with yellow carrot in a nutty, salty and rich fermented soy bean paste. These were traditional Hong Kong dishes which used ingredients that are uncommon in Europe; the food was wonderfully new to us and simply delicious. We were introduced to vegan versions of Hong Kong classics like the deliciously addictive X.O. sauce at ‘Lung King Heen’ in the Four Seasons Hong Kong.
This is the only restaurant in Hong Kong that has been awarded three Michelin stars and was also the first Chinese restaurant in the world to receive this recognition. Perhaps it goes some way to explain why the sauce was just so good? Made by combining spicy chillies, soy, garlic, dried tofu and lemongrass with oil, our vegan version of a famous Hong Kong sauce was outstanding.
But this wasn’t the highlight of our meal. That moment happened when we were served a dish that was so mouth-wateringly good we’d fly to Hong Kong just to eat it again. Layers of moist bean curd sheet were scrunched up, coated in a light sesame batter and deep fried. The result was crispy on the outside, but delicate tender and juicy on the inside. Doused in a thick, zesty lemon sauce that was both sweet and sour, it came together in succulent, crispy perfection.
There were several moments like this where a particular dish would steal our hearts with the first mouthful. We only need to think about the mushroom dish we enjoyed at ‘Shang Palace’ in the Kowloon Shangri-La and it leaves us baffled to think that people say vegan food is boring. A butter soft piece of mushroom which melted away when eaten, with delicate earthy flavours and a delicious rich soy marinade was served on a crispy rice cake and was nothing short of exquisite-a truly wonderful thing to eat.
Part of our Michelin-starred vegan week included drinking a lot of Chinese tea, selecting which variety we’d sip throughout our meal from finely crafted menus. Luckily for tea drinking novices such as ourselves, some of the restaurants had ‘tea sommeliers’ who were happy to make recommendations.
At ‘Yan Toh Heen’, the beautiful waterside restaurant at the InterContinental Hong Kong, their award-winning tea sommelier recommended ‘Phoenix Osmanthus’, a semi-fermented Oolong Tea, said to aid digestion. He poured the pale liquor, which had a sweet aroma and a clean, pure taste, creating a ritual that never seemed to end throughout our meal as our cups were kept permanently topped up.
It was refreshing to see some restaurants embracing locally and ethically sourced produce. Using local suppliers adds to the positive environmental impact of veganism and so we were happy to see these options at the Island Shangri-La’s two Michelin starred ‘Summer Palace’. Their ‘Rooted in Nature’ initiative gave us dishes filled with sweet, fresh asparagus, aubergine cut into soft fillets that melted when eaten and giant cashews mingled amongst the vegetables, all coated with a glossy sauce that had a pleasing chilli pepper heat.
By the end of the week we felt well versed in fine Cantonese cuisine. We’d learnt about culture in Hong Kong, we’d dipped our toes into the ocean of knowledge needed to be an expert tea drinker and had been introduced to more varieties of mushrooms, types of sauces and versions of tofu than we could count. We’d been treated like royalty, amazed by the food we were served and had to pinch ourselves to check we weren’t dreaming several times-all without harming a single animal.
Perhaps the world is changing and veganism is becoming more widely accepted? If it means getting to eat food like this, we certainly hope so.
Follow their adventure at veganfoodquest.com