Musings of a bon vivant in Hong Kong


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Healthy Eats at Maya Cafe

It is still early enough in the year for people to be stalwartly sticking with their usual New Year’s Resolution to be fitter, leaner and healthier. Come April, that resolve slowly dies, replaced by a longing for hot cross buns, chocolate Easter bunnies and basically anything slathered with butter. Yay for Easter hols! If you are the type to give up something for Lent- you have strong willpower my friend.

So, before your resolve begins to waver, let me tell you about Maya Cafe on Moon Street in Wan Chai, that is stocked with rather delicious looking and tasting vegetarian dishes. I was impressed by the substantial number of dishes which caters to all types of health-conscious beings. Vegetarian, gluten-free and raw dishes grace their menu and they even have organic wine.

Maya Cafe

Maya Cafe

Tina Barat and Mina Mahtani are the two creative friends who decided that in light of a lack of healthy options in HK, would open their own establishment offering what they themselves sought. Tina Barat, in quite a career change from jewellery designer to chef, has taken inspiration from her French-Moroccan background, to create a lovely Mediterranean menu. Tina has been mindful in producing dishes that are nutritious and healthy but without compromising on flavour and both cooked and raw foods are 100% organic. It’s clear when you chat to her (both her and Mina take the time to serve and speak to their customers), that Tina is extremely passionate about healthy living and she informed me that this lifestyle is ingrained in her as her mother herself only cooked such dishes when she was a child.

The cafe has Mediterranean elements in its decoration with Turkish lamps hanging peacefully from the ceiling, white walls and an outdoor terrace that I imagine will be lovely to sit on in the summer.Maya Cafe

When I visited, they were just promoting their special Chinese New Year menu and I got a chance to sample a couple of dishes from this menu as well as dishes from the a la carte. Their dishes will change seasonally, so I look forward to visiting again soon to see what’s new.

I was off to a good start with their CNY Amuse Bouche ‘Joy & Beauty’ which was a duo of Yellow and Red Bell Peppers on a crostini. The bread was nice and fresh and the bell peppers sweet. Following that, I had their Life & Peace Salad, made up of kale and avocado in a lime and hemp seed dressing. This was surprisingly yummy, despite its ‘greenness’ and the hemp seeds added texture and bulk.

Kale and Avocado Salad

Kale and Avocado Salad

Duo of Red and Yellow Pepper

Duo of Red and Yellow Pepper

I then sampled their Cream of Pumpkin and Red Pepper soup which was rich, wholesome and quite filling. During this time I noticed a group of four well-dressed young men had come in on their lunch break, and I was actually pleasantly surprised that these guys had chosen Maya instead of Pizza Express, or TED’s Lookout or even Oolaa. Just goes to show that men are increasingly becoming health conscious. I wonder when my group of male friends will start to willingly go into a vegetarian restaurant instead of having to be dragged there like petulant children!

Cream of Pumpkin and Red Pepper soup

Cream of Pumpkin and Red Pepper soup

I thoroughly enjoyed the next two dishes which can be found on the a la carte. Meatless Balls in a Rich Tomato Sauce is one of their customer favourites and I could definitely understand why. Made of mushrooms, oatmeal and Parmesan, the texture and the feeling of satisfaction is akin to eating real meatballs and I really enjoyed them on the bed of red and brown rice.

Meatless Balls in Tomato Sauce

Meatless Balls in Tomato Sauce

Up next was the Raw Vegan pasta which was fettuccine shaped courgette (Zucchini) with a creamy cashew-truffle sauce. I have to say I thought this was quite delicious and I allowed myself a moment of smugness that I had joined a well-being and goodness foodie club albeit temporarily. Obviously there is no substitute for the mouth-watering, decadent, full-fat, carb-loaded version of this pasta, but I could get used to eating courgette fettuccine as a guilt-free option.

Fettuccine shaped courgette with creamy cashew-truffle sauce

Fettuccine shaped courgette with creamy cashew-truffle sauce

For dessert, I chose the the Chia Cream with Berries. This was interesting to me as I didn’t realise that soaking chia seeds would bloat to that extent and these were soaked in coconut cream then blended with berries and raw brown sugar. A delicious little treat.

Chia Cream with Berries

Chia Cream with Berries

If, like me, you are someone who doesn’t normally frequent vegetarian outlets, Maya Cafe definitely presents a lovely option if you want to eat out but cut back on the rich and calorific foods of normal establishments. It certainly doesn’t feel like you are force feeding yourself vegetables and I thought all the dishes I tried were well thought out and satisfying. If you are a vegetarian or need gluten-free dishes, then Maya Cafe may well be your new haven.

Chopstixfix rating: 3.5/5

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Maya Cafe, G/F, 5 Moon Street, Wan Chai. Tel: 2529 3319. Open Mon-Sun 0800-2200

This was by kind invitation- many thanks to Tina for having me!

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Kyoto Joe Revisited

When you’re not clawing your way up Lan Kwai Fong in your heels to grab drinks in the evenings or weekends or if you’re a man, getting lairy with the lads(!), I do recommend occasionally taking your appetite before drinks to a couple of other establishments around that tiny area that tend to get overshadowed by the likes of Brickhouse down the road.

One is Kyoto Joe. The last time I visited this place was back in 2011 and after two years of making my way round all the other restaurants in HK, I finally found myself back there again by the kind invitation of LKF Entertainments which also owns Tokio Joe, Whiskey Priest and Lux Bar and Tapas. Being back in Kyoto Joe reminded me of actually how lovely it is. Considering its location, it is surprisingly quiet and the food, more importantly is good. When I previously reviewed it, it was just after the tsunami in Japan and everyone was wary of sushi and I mentioned that Kyoto Joe sources most of its produce from other countries, which is still the case. I thoroughly enjoyed my meal then and I had another fantastic lunch again, but this time I sampled some new dishes.

Kyoto Joe
Kyoto Joe

The simplistic decor interwoven with Japanese art and the restaurant’s tranquil ambience are two elements that make dining at Kyoto Joe particularly pleasant. On weekdays, the seats are occupied by the work crowd and businessmen, but I imagine it being a great spot on the weekends to take a breather over a good meal. Their menu has something for everyone, with sushi, sashimi, tempura, hot dishes, robatayaki, rolls and cones, salads, rice and noodles and now a vegetarian menu, which I think is brilliant, as Japanese establishments so rarely have enough on their menus to cater to vegetarians.

Tea service was exemplary as before, you’ll never go thirsty here! My first dish was a special- the Tuna Egg White, a softly steamed egg white and tofu topped with shredded tuna with a touch of spicy sauce. The bite of the shredded tuna and the fluffy, light egg white was lovely and the spicy sauce really jazzed up the dish.

Tuna Egg White
Tuna Egg White

The Ebi Nori roll with grilled king prawn was excellent. Plump, fresh prawn and well dressed in their homemade seaweed sauce.

Ebi Nori roll
Ebi Nori roll

Their Sweet and Spicy Vegetables of slightly fried cauliflower, asparagus and  mushrooms were served with sesame and sweet and spicy sauce. The vegetables were fried perfectly but I would have preferred the sauce to be served on the side rather than already coated on them as some may find the sauce a bit too sweet and piquant for their liking.

Sweet and Spicy Vegetables
Sweet and Spicy Vegetables

Their next dish is a very new edition to their now quite expansive menu and my favourite of the meal. The Angel Salmon Tartar, chopped salmon with spicy mayonnaise served on seaweed rice crackers was lip-smackingly delicious. I love mayonnaise anyway, but the spicy mayo with salmon was just addictive. Seaweed crackers may make you think, ‘so what?’, but somehow Kyoto Joe’s made their crackers sexy especially in that combo. I will have to hog all 4 pieces to myself on my next lunch.

Angel Salmon Tartar
Angel Salmon Tartar

For mains I revisited their Karubi grilled beef ribs with teriyaki sauce, which was perfectly prepared, sizzling on their hot stones. After 2 years, I can definitely say that consistency is Kyoto Joe’s strongest point, a bit of rarity in HK!

Karubi
Karubi

Dessert was the Trio of crème brulee (green tea, sesame and coffee) which I also had before, and again, nom nom nom. Yummy. They just needed a minute more of caramelisation on top to give that satisfying crack with your spoon.

Trio of crème brulee
Trio of crème brulee

So there it is, my second visit in a nutshell. I think Kyoto Joe is often overlooked outside of work hours and I think it needs to come out of its shadow more and showcase its dishes, because the food is really very good. The service is excellent, prices reasonable, the manager very knowledgeable and personable and that Angel Salmon Tartar..mmm, I’ll fight you for them.

Chopstixfix rating: 4/5 (It keeps its 4 chopsticks!)

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Kyoto Joe, 2/F-3/F, 1 Lan Kwai Fong, Central, HK. Tel: 2804 6800

This lunch was by invitation. Interior photo courtesy of Lan Kwai Fong Entertainments.


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Would you like some Lovin’?

Friends will tell you that I’m a big time carnivore. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate my veggies, I love my greens but a good hunk of meat usually hits the spot.

But, one fine Sunday, my friend MZ decided that we should go down the healthy route and try Loving Hut, an international vegan/vegetarian restaurant.

I was sceptical. My idea of a vegan restaurant is one of those gross establishments on Tottenham Court Road in London which lure you with a £5 all you can eat buffet and then serve up thick gloopy heavily soya-sauced lumps of cold tofu parading as black bean beef/ chilli pork/ lemon chicken/ curry chicken / sweet and sour pork, (you get the idea), only they ALL taste the same i.e. gross and inedible.

So, it was with some trepidation that I walked into The Loving Hut (kudos to the name) in Wan Chai and perused the menu. If you do check this place out, you will notice that it’s not so much a restaurant as a workplace canteen, without the workplace. There is a helpful towering free-standing menu at the entrance with a massive list of mock meat dishes, with soya being the numero uno ingredient.

Although curious, I wasn’t all that enthused about the fake BBQ pork/ char siew, “New York cutlet” or “veg steak” but in the end we opted for the noodles with char siew “formosan style”, the soya tenderloin with preserved vegetables and cabbage and the deep fried veg scallops tossed in spicy rock salt to share. We shuffled along to the cashier, collected our ticket and found ourselves a seat. As I waited for the lady in the showercap behind the food counter to shout out our orders, I glanced around the spartan canteen and noticed a wall covered in pictures of all these Hollywood vegans and veggies: Richard Gere, Oprah Winfrey, Natalie Portman, Kate Winslet to name a few. Next to their faces there was a sign saying something along the lines of “These people are beautiful, smart and all vegetarians. Why aren’t you?” Hmmm what are they trying to insinuate…

I have to say the presentation was not too bad. The imitation char siew looked rather like the real deal and the soya tenderloin looked actually quite appetising. Perhaps I need to go with a vegetarian next time to get their expert opinion, but I thought that they did alright. They weren’t heavy-handed with soya sauce and other flavourings and the soy char siew and tenderloin were not soggy or bland. I’m not sure whether the freshness of our dishes that day was due to the fact that it was a Sunday and not that busy but I do wonder if the quality diminishes at peak times. I enjoyed the deep fried veg scallops- but then again I love anything deep fried covered in salt, so perhaps I was just enjoying the saltiness!

But my favourite thing about this place was in fact, my drink. I ordered the Buddha Hand Lemon Pomelo Special Drink (hot) and it was delicious!

Verdict? If you want to psychologically convince yourself that you’ve been healthy at least once in your working week, then trot along to this place. Otherwise, I think there are much better vegetarian places to go to. Or, just make yourself a salad at home. And I don’t mean the Caesar salad kind with 3 cheese dressings or whatever calorific dressings you like to drench your salads in.

Chopstixfix rating: 2/5

Loving Hut Vegan Cuisine, G/F, The Hennessy, 256 Hennessy Rd, Wan Chai. Tel: 2574 3248. Open daily 11am- 10pm.

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