23 Dec 2016
With Hong Kong’s organic farms becoming more established and the city’s diners increasingly on the lookout for safe, clean food, more and more restaurants are adopting a farm-to-table dining concept by sourcing ingredients locally.
Based on the idea that food tastes best and is the most nutritious when freshly harvested, farm-to-table dining is also considered a good way to support the local economy. Those embracing the social movement in Hong Kong include vegetarian restaurants such as Grassroots Pantry and Mana!.
But the trend isn’t limited to meat-free dining options. Among those adopting the trend are gastropub Stone Nullah Tavern and Chinese eatery Sohofama, which operates an urban mini-farm in the restaurant’s garden.
Among the early pioneers of the farm-to-table movement in Hong Kong is restaurant group and fruit and vegetable box subscription service operator Homegrown Foods. The company was set up after the owners discovered the “superior quality of local produce as compared to imported ingredients,” according to General Manager Joshua Chu.
Homegrown Foods’ produce first arrived on the table at its Italian restaurant Posto Pubblico in 2009. “At that time, there was a group of Hong Kongers, local and expats alike, who appreciated what we were achieving and serving. Now that population has grown, we are able to offer a larger variety of dishes due to farm expansion,” says Mr Chu, explaining how the company mostly works with Zen Organic Farm and Thomas Fung’s Farm in the New Territories. “They grow a whole range of products from fruits, vegetables, salad products and herbs. What grows best in Hong Kong are melons in the summer, and strawberries and heirloom tomatoes in the winter,” he adds.
Homegrown Foods also works closely with Wah Kee farm to source local pork. “When we opened our restaurant Linguini Fini, we constructed the menu to use parts of the pig that were less popular, but equally if not more delicious. We now sell a lot of those products on the Homegrown website and carry that philosophy through to Stone Nullah Tavern and Posto Pubblico,” says Mr Chu.
Linguini Fini’s signature dish, Pappardelle “nose to tail” Bolo, is made using meat from locally reared pigs. “Our vegetable section at Posto Pubblico changes with the season, but a really popular local veggie special is Roasted Pumpkin Sott’ Olio, while the signature at Stone Nullah Tavern is the Smoked Cauliflower with Curry Vinaigrette and Crispy Quinoa,” he says.
Some of the biggest challenges in using locally grown produce in dishes are availability and volume. “At times, we can only get one kilo of an ingredient, which may only be enough for about four dishes,” Mr Chu notes.
Nevertheless, he says the farm-to-table scene in Hong Kong has expanded considerably since they set up the business. “The appreciation for the quality of the produce has spread through the restaurant industry from both chefs and consumers. I think it will continue to grow as the market for sustainable dining gets bigger, and chefs and restaurateurs alike will see this as good business.”
Farm to Glass
The farm-to-table trend has also reached the luxury market. For example, among the clients of Homegrown Foods are F&B outlets at the Landmark shopping mall and the Shangri-La Hotel.
JW Marriott Hong Kong’s Flint Grill & Bar, meanwhile, has introduced a farm-to-glass cocktail concept that showcases drinks mixed with locally sourced herbs, including fresh ginger and Chinese coriander at its Flint Grill & Bar. Following the success of unusual pairings such as tequila and beetroot (One Way to Paloma) and floral gin and green asparagus (Louisiana Creole), the bar will plant seasonal herbs including basil, thyme and rosemary to use in its drinks, says mixologist Bryson Riviera.
Over in the Grill, new chef Pieter Fitz-Dreyer also hopes to make use of the plot on the hotel’s seventh floor, where the Fish Bar & Pool Lounge are located, to grow micro herbs for use in the Grill’s menu. “I’m planning to grow nasturtiums as they’re easy to grow and the leaves add a nice peppery taste to salads. I’m also going to plant some coriander as the cress germinates really quickly,” says Chef Fitz-Dreyer, who plans to visit local farms in Yuen Long to see if he can work with them in the future.
One of the city’s premier vegetarian restaurants, Grassroots Pantry, uses local ingredients wherever possible and focuses on seasonal produce, which currently includes pumpkin, potatoes, purple cauliflower, brussels sprouts, French beans, string beans, leafy greens, heirloom carrots and tomatoes. Some of its signature dishes using local produce include kelp noodles with spiralised vegetables, curly kale salad and smoked carrot blini.
Owner Peggy Chan works with local farm Zen Organic to source figs, green beans, strawberries and edible flowers, as well as herbs and salad mixes. In addition to freshness, she says there are many advantages to eating locally grown produce. “There’s a lower carbon footprint, less packaging and it lasts longer. It’s also more nutritious because of the shorter lead time from farm to table.” Ms Chan adds that farm-to-table dining educates the local community on the importance of agriculture to Hong Kong’s economy.
While Ms Chan’s menus are meat-free, more than 80 per cent of her customers are not vegetarian or vegan. “The age range of our customers also vary widely, and we have no real target market as we aim to inspire everyone to consume less meat and dairy,” she says.
Since opening the restaurant, Ms Chan says it has become much easier to source locally grown produce. “More restaurants want to jump on board the farm-to-table model, which means increased production and increased awareness.”
While the restaurateur admits that using organic farms has presented issues in terms of consistency and logistics, she expects the farm-to-table movement to expand in Hong Kong and for F&B start-ups to focus on developing new models to make the dining concept more accessible.
“Grassroots activists and private businesses alike will be leading the change to minimise food waste, shrink the food system, lessen carbon footprint and consumption.”