Earth Day 2021: The Best Vegetarian And Vegan Tasting Menus In Asia
Tasting menus often exclude vegetarians and vegans––and even those with other dietary requirements. And while these diners can easily opt for a dedicated vegetarian or vegan establishment, sometimes it’s nice to be able to turn up at a fancy restaurant and opt for a readily available, tried and tested vegetarian or vegan set menu, or to be catered for by chefs familiar with and ready to heed such requests. We scoured Asia’s finest restaurants to find our favourite tasting menus dedicated to the vegetarian and/or vegan diner.
Many of Hong Kong’s fine dining restaurants offer at least a vegetarian if not a vegan tasting menu on request. Amber’s Vegetarian Amber Experience and Full Vegetarian Amber Experience shine as standouts. Since culinary director Richard Ekkebus’ overhaul of Amber, where he shifted focus to lighter flavours and ingredients that are kinder to the planet, his vegetarian tasting menus––which can be tweaked for vegans––feature delights that incorporate carefully sourced fruits and vegetables and a host of intriguing ingredients.
Arcane is another excellent option. Firm favourites among the restaurant’s many fans include the sautéed potato gnocchi with shiitake ragout, spinach, pine nuts and black truffle, and the Japanese fruit tomato with burrata, black olive, salsa verde and focaccia crips, both of which come from the vegetarian à la carte but also feature on chef Shane Osborn’s five-course vegetarian tasting menu (a vegan version is also available) along with his classic yuzu and lemon posset––a dessert not to be missed.
For those in search of Asian flavours, traditional Cantonese restaurant Rùn at The St. Regis Hong Kong caters to vegetarians with a six-course vegetarian lunch and a seven-course dinner set, both of which change with the seasons and more often than not are also vegan given dairy’s infrequent appearance in Cantonese cuisine. Chef Hung Chi-Kwong’s refined flavours shine as much in his meat-free dishes as they do in his regular menus. Vegetarians keen to turn up the heat should seek out Indian fine dining hotspot Chaat at Rosewood Hong Kong where, with advance notice, chef Manav Tuli brings together plant-based highlights from his à la carte, including dal panchmel and palak paneer, in a punchy, spice-forward experience.
In Macau, fine dining lovers looking for a plant-based approach will adore Yí’s Vegetarian Tasting Menu. The regional Chinese restaurant, located in Morpheus at City of Dreams, only offers ten-course seasonal degustation menus, and although changing frequently, the culinary delights included on recent vegetarian versions include gluten puff tartelette with seaweed caviar, bird’s nest with white fungus and bamboo pith, and roasted eggplant with yellow bean paste.
Singapore has a reasonable range of vegan and vegetarian restaurants, but when it comes to fine dining, head to Alma by Juan Amador where chef Haikal Johari brings Asian influences, particularly from Japan, to his modern-European dishes. With a three-, four- or five-course vegetarian menu available at lunchtime, Johari also offers vegetarian options for his 5 Act Découverte menu, as well as his 7 Act Adventure menu. The latter focuses on a cornucopia of enticing Japanese vegetal delights, from Tochigo strawberries and Tokyo turnips to Kyushi bamboo shoots and maitake mushroom, each rendered in sumptuous preparations. Meanwhile, at Jaan by Kirk Westaway, there’s a vegetarian version of the chef’s #ReinventingBritish Menu, with delights such as hen's egg with mushroom, green asparagus and braised lettuce, and saffron pasta with romanesco.
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While Malaysia’s fine dining scene is relatively small, there are a handful of restaurants that cater to the plant-forward crowd. At Restaurant au Jardin, one of Tatler Dining Malaysia’s Top 20 Restaurants 2021, minimising the carbon footprint is the name of the game. Located in Georgetown, Penang, chef Su Kim Hock works with local farmers and suppliers to source more sustainably and, as such, offers a ‘Green’ Degustation Menu during dinner, as well as a 5 Plats Vegetarian set at lunch time. Changing with the seasons, diners might enjoy fresh buratta with cilantro and spinach purée, masala, capsicum jerky and cilantro oil, or tarte de petit pois with smoked cream, nori tarte, sherry vinegar gel, crispy leeks and skinned petit pois.
Over in the capital of Kuala Lumpur, visitors to fellow Top 20 Restaurant Nadodi, which offers “nomadic cuisine” that is a playful take on South Indian food, caters to the large proportion of Hindu Indian vegetarians––as well as vegetarians more broadly. The Vegetarian Nadodi Experience is a nine-course journey through the south of the sub-continent via delights like battered peanut okra bajji with yuzu kosho chutney, and kosho-glazed Highland asparagus with stuffed morel and green emulsion.
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Fine dining restaurants in the Philippines are pretty accommodating of plant-based diners, though advanced notice upon reservation is preferred. At Toyo Eatery, a Filipino restaurant that delivers the flavours, traditions and techniques of the nation, an eight-course plant-based vegan menu can be prepared that will have diners delighting in the refined flavours of chef Jordy Navarra. At modern Filipino restaurant Gallery by Chele, chef Chele Gonzalez prefers at least one day’s notice to cater to vegans for his tasting menu, but has vegetarian tasting menus for both his five and nine-course sets at the ready, where dishes might include a mushroom ceviche with pickled radish and cashew cream in lime, or bamboo and ginataang squash. At Metronome, where “refined casual” French cuisine is on the menu, both vegetarian and vegan options are readily available for any and all walk-in plant-based diners.
Related: Where To Eat: Manila's Hidden Gems For Vegans And Vegetarians
Thailand’s fine dining restaurants offer a range of cuisines at the upper end of the dining scale and are fairly friendly towards vegetarian and vegan diners. Indian chef DK’s Haoma offers a 10-course plant-based tasting menu with dishes such as dal matter ki kachori with spinach spheres, green mung lentil and kachori cracker, and Hyderabadi gucchi biryani with morel biryani rice, mirch ka salan and burani raita. Each dish features home-grown organic, local Thai ingredients prepared alongside flavours influenced by his Indian heritage. Continuing the Indian theme, Garima Arora’s famed restaurant Gaa also offers a vegetarian menu and can accommodate vegan guests with prior notice. For Thai flavours, R-Haan has a vegetarian menu and, with notice, can customise it to be fully vegan.
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At PRU, Western-style dishes incorporate ingredients grown in the restaurant's garden. There’s a 5-course vegetarian menu where exotically named dishes such as Flaura and Fauna of Mai Khao featuring berry tomatoes and jicama katsuobushi, and The Forgotten Vegetables with sun choke and spring onion are bound to delight, while Mia offers both a five course vegan and a five-course vegetarian tasting menu with highlights such as textures of artichokes with nasturtium and seaweed dressing, and barley risotto with spring peas, asparagus and 36-month old parmesan. At modern French restaurant Chef’s Table, diners can expect to find dishes like beetroot texture risotto with blackcurrant and juniper berry sauce, potato gnocchi with black truffle tapenade, leek and celery, and eggplant ravioli with ratatouille on the dedicated vegetarian tasting menu.
Related: How Well Do Fine Dining Restaurants In Thailand Cater to Plant-Based Diners
In Vietnam's buzzing Ho Chi Minh City, Anan Saigon, which was recently in the spotlight as a result of being the only Vietnamese restaurant to feature on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants 2021, offers both an attractive tasting menu and a vegetarian version of it. Chef Peter Cuong Franklin includes such hits as banh xeo tacos with pickled shitake, mixed mushroom, tofu vermicelli and peanut sauce, crispy silken tofu with togarashi chilli, lemongrass and sesame soy sauce, and a truffle mushroom Da Lat pizza with black truffle, cultivated mushrooms, quail eggs, mozzarella and herbs, among other appealing dishes.
Danang's Restaurant Nén, which celebrates Vietnamese cuisine while highlighting local produce, also offers a vegetarian tasting menu. Chef Summer Le's carefully curated collection of vegetable-forward dishes includes courses like cassava ice cream with tomato glass and mustard green powder, seasonal peas stew in 'tuong ban' sauce, and, to diners' delight, a flavourful vegan pho.
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At Taiwan’s top-ranking restaurant, Le Palais, which holds three Michelin stars, diners enjoy some of the finest Cantonese cuisine and it’s refreshing to see that vegetarians are also catered to with a dedicated set menu that encompasses such delights as pine mushroom soup with bamboo piths and Chinese yam, and braised white gourd stuffed with edible bird’s nest. One caveat––the menu is only available for two guests or more.
Richie Lin’s renowned fine-casual restaurant Mume, which showcases Taiwan’s outstanding fresh produce through modern western and Nordic techniques, can also cater a vegetarian menu (it contains eggs and dairy) with three days notice prior to dining, though is unable to cater to vegans. And sticking to the western theme, Molino de Urdániz, a restaurant originally established in Spain, offers contemporary European cuisine with Japanese undertones and at both lunch and dinner guests can enjoy an eight-course vegetarian menu that takes diners through a diverse collection of vegetable-based dishes.
South Korea has a strong tradition of temple food, which originated with Korean Buddhist monks centuries ago and takes a ‘less is more’ approach using vegan ingredients. While there are restaurants dedicated to this cuisine, for those diners who want to indulge at restaurants that aren’t focused on such simple fare, why not try Jungsik, where chef Yim Jung-sik presents contemporary Korean cuisine. A dedicated vegetarian tasting menu offers delectable dishes such as burdock gimbap, and neungi broth ravioli, each one beautifully presented.
Outside of Okinawa, where vegetables regularly take centre stage, Japan isn’t the easiest place for vegetarians and vegans to indulge, particularly if you consider fine dining restaurants where sushi and other seafood items, as well as Wagyu beef, often feature. Pierre Gagnaire Tokyo caters to both vegetarians and vegans, as long as advance notice is provided, but for those seeking more local fare, at Ise Sueyoshi, chef Yuuki Tanaka will adapt his traditional kaiseki dinner to cater to both vegans and vegetarians. He recently also launched a special vegan prix fixe menu, which is available on the last Sunday of every month.
India is a good place to visit as a vegetarian, particularly if you have a penchant for plant-based fine dining. Given the relatively large proportion of vegetarians in India, many of the country’s finest restaurants have tasting menus dedicated to those who follow this diet. Among the most interesting, Avartana in Chennai has seven-, nine-, 11- and 13-course options where the tasting portion-sized dishes see vegetables rendered creatively using molecular gastronomy, while at Masque in Mumbai, chef Prateek Sadhu prepares both a vegetarian and a non-vegetarian ten-course tasting menu, the former featuring delights like sweet potato paniyaram, and morel and gutti aloo. At Indian Accent in New Dehli, a vegetarian chef’s tasting menu features considered plant-based dishes such as steamed soy keema gujiya with pickle and wild rice, Kashmiri morel musallum with chenna and saffron, and roomali paneer with sweet pepper, roast tomato and makhni.
The vast expanse of China no doubt offers vegetarians and vegans a variety of options when it comes to dining out, but there is one key destination for plant-based diners with a penchant for the finer things in life––and that is a seat at Shanghai’s Fu He Hui. The restaurant is an exception compared to the other dining establishments on this list, as it is dedicated solely to vegetarian cuisine. But it’s a place that draws diners whether they follow a strict vegetable-based diet, tend to a more flexitarian approach, or are full-on carnivores. Dedicated to discovering the wonders of exotic fungi, intriguing dishes incorporate a wide range of mushrooms, aquatic plants and seaweeds, as well as more familiar vegetables such as gourd and taro. The restaurant’s design is inspired by Zen Buddhism with a simple, calming ambience and the choice of its simple, classic or seasonal set menu can be accompanied by a tea pairing. A meal at Fu He Hui is an experience for diners to remember, whatever the diet they favour.
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