Friday, January 6, 2012

A Week in Hong Kong: Vegetarian feast @ Veggie Palace (貴德宮)

(See closest Auckland equivalents)

There are many great meals to be had in Hong Kong, but one unexpectedly amazing dinner, or rather banquet, which we had was when a local took us to try out a Buddhist vegetarian place.  Veggie Palace (貴德宮) is actually a private kitchen in a random apartment block in Wan Chai.  You have to book ahead, and ring a doorbell to be let in, before taking the steps or the lift to the upper ground floor.

The entrance to Veggie Palace just looks like any apartment block.  Usually Security would be minding it too.
You are then confronted with a "Members Only" sign, which had us all asking "Member of what?"  Whatever it is, we were not challenged about it (perhaps it means only that you need to have made a booking?), and we found ourselves seated at a tastefully decorated dining area with high ceilings, separated from other tables by bamboo dividers.

A warm welcome behind a scary looking door.
Serene dining room decorated with paintings, calligraphy, lanterns and plants, soft music in the background.
You'd better have come hungry, because there is just the set meal here, which comes with a whopping 10 courses, plus nibbles and dessert, for only 200-and-something HKD, about 40 New Zealand Dollars.  If only someone had warned us to pace ourselves before we started eating!

Everything is vegetarian (you can also ask for a vegan meal), which is hugely liberating for the vegetarians out there.  What is more astounding than the variety of dishes is that they are so delicious, while not having been prepared with onion, garlic, or any of the "fetid vegetables", in adherence to su (素) vegetarianism.

Here's a rundown of what we had to eat, beginning with lavender tea and coated peanuts while we waited for our dinner.

Coated peanuts, tea and hot water
First course was a cold appetiser platter with Japanese influences.  There were century egg and tomato wedges, mock ham and luncheon meat slices, sushi rolls filled with egg and imitation crab sticks, served with wasabi and pickled ginger, and a seaweed and sesame salad topped with fen pi (wide mung bean noodles).

First course: cold appetiser
Next up we had a delicate dumpling soup, which we were surprised to learn had a pumpkin base.  I couldn't really detect much pumpkin flavour in the savoury broth.

Second course: dumpling soup
For a crunchy texture, we then had deep fried morsels of wontons and eggplant slices.

Third course: wontons and deep fried eggplant slices served on cabbage and carrot slices
This was followed by a sweet and sour pork dish, which came with multiple types of mock meat, from bites that still closely resembled wheat gluten, to something that looked like bacon, complete with a translucent fatty layer.  I don't normally go for mock meat dishes, which are often served at Asian vegetarian places to cater for part time vegetarians, but I have to say they were very well done here. One of the party even preferred this dish to real sweet and sour pork.

Fourth course: sweet and sour pork dish with mock meat
The next dish was a Western-inspired bake, which led us to debate whether they were eggs or potatoes.  They turned out to be filled eggs.

Fifth course: stuffed eggs topped with choose, served on a square of nori
Then came another dish with filling, this time eggplant slices stuffed with a fake fish paste.

Sixth course: fried stuffed eggplant
As if out of compassion for our bulging stomachs, we were then served a delicious soup made with strips of Coco de Mer (similar taste to coconut), fake meat, sweetcorn cobs and carrot chunks, again with a pumpkin base that didn't really make one think of pumpkin, a beautiful blend of sweet and savoury flavours.

Seventh course: sea coconut soup with pumpkin, sweetcorn and carrots
We breathed a sigh of relief when we were told that the next course would be the last.  It was a filling curry dish, to ensure even those with large appetites would be satisfied.  While no one really felt like eating anymore, we felt obliged to taste everything.  The beef balls were unbelievably realistic, and we all agreed that we would not be able to tell them apart from the real thing.  How can they do this without actually using meat?  The fish balls also tasted just right, though the texture was perhaps a little too soft.  I enjoyed the runny curry with fried potatoes and cauliflower, though I could only have a tiny bit of the rice, lightly fragranced with what might be barley, black rice and Job's tears.

Eight course: curry with beef ball and fish ball analogues, tofu, tomatoes, potato and cauliflower, served with rice and toasted baguette slices
It turns out there was actually more to come, with stuffed fuzzy melon next on the menu.  I love Chinese melons, both in and out of soup, so I forced this down, ignoring the pain that was growing in my full stomach.

Ninth course: fuzzy melon stuffed with fake pork, garnished with snow pea sprouts
Then another dish appeared!  This time it was emperor vegetable (皇帝菜), which had a pungent flavour like tongho (茼蒿), but apparently looks different.

Tenth course: emperor vegetable, with shiitake mushrooms
Finally, we were onto dessert.  The jellies with osmanthus flowers and goji berries (桂花糕) were beautifully presented, though very subtle in flavour.

First dessert course: osmanthus jelly
The real final course was a walnut paste dessert (核桃餬).  As I have a weakness for all things nutty, I had to somehow fit this in too.

Second dessert course: sweet walnut soup
As you may have guessed, there was simply far too much food, so it was difficult to enjoy all of it, even though everything was well cooked.  I would have loved to have had all this over several meals.  The staff were very good about not taking dishes away until they were eaten, and offered to pack the leftovers into boxes for us (we had heaps of the curry left in particular), so I did manage to have that for another couple of breakfasts.

I was excited to be able to taste vegetables that I have not had before, like the sea coconut and the emperor vegetable, though I was also impressed by how close the meat substitutes were to the real thing, particularly the beef balls.  I would dearly love to know how they produced that meaty flavour without actually using some form of meat.  The use of a pumpkin base for several dishes was also a novelty, because it just seemed to provide a neutral savouriness without tasting of pumpkin.  This meal was a feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds, not to mention great value for money, and I would happily return to Veggie Palace, fully prepared next time for the number of dishes which would be served.

Closest Auckland Equivalents

* Loving Hut (formerly known as the Golden Age Vegan Restaurant)
61 Victoria Street West, Auckland Central
(09) 303 2531

You won't get a banquet-style set menu at this eatery, located diagonally opposite the Sky Tower, but you can get your mock meat in a wide variety of delicious Asian vegetarian delights, from Chinese roast duck to Malaysian laksas and curry puffs. [Added 29 November 2013: Unfortunately, this eatery has now closed.]

* Water Drop Vege Cafe at Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Temple (佛光山滴水坊)
16 Stancombe Road, Flat Bush, Manukau
(09) 274 4880

The sleekly decorated Water Drop Vege Cafe is inside the impressive Buddhist temple out by East Tamaki, and proceeds go towards the maintenance of the temple.  With plenty of parking and open to the public, you will have to walk through a mini souvenir shop before getting to the food, which includes Asian favourites as well as such dishes as "vegie patty with chips and salad".  Also a good spot for a cake and a coffee.

Restaurant Details

Veggie Palace (貴德宮)
UG3, Block B, Kwong Sang Hong Building, 6 Heard Street, Wan Chai, Hong Kong (香港灣仔克街6號廣生行大廈B座閣樓3室)
+852 2838 6506

Opening hours:
Mondays to Sundays 12 - 3pm, 6 - 10pm 

You would never guess that there was Buddhist vegetarian dining in here


  1. We visited Veggie Palace last year. It was a spectacular meal even for non-vegetarians. Going by your photos, it looks like they've changed quite a few of their dishes. Might be time for a second visit!

  2. Oooh, your meal looked good too. I can't believe they garnished one of yours with gold foil. Lots of dishes I recognise there, but good to see they change their menu bit by bit too.


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