Taking veggies to gastronomic heights
THE demand for healthier eating and greener food has grown by leaps and bounds in the last few years, with more requests for it by the day, say restaurateurs who are proponents of the trend.
"It's been a sea change since I started with the idea of 'conscious dining' six years ago. Today, I'm constantly getting requests from people who want to open restaurants selling vegetarian fare or healthier food," says Rosalind Lim, owner of Onaka at Rochester Park and Alexandra Retail Centre.
It is definitely a viable business option, notes Lee Han Yong of Secret Recipe. The Malaysian restaurant chain launched its chain of meatless restaurants, Beyond Veggie, a year and a half ago, and is seeing a high acceptance rate for it.
Fong Chi Chung, president of Putien Holdings, is not a vegetarian himself, but recognised healthy food and lifestyle as a trend going forward.
"Normally, we eat too much meat and seafood in our daily diets, which is a heavy burden on our bodies. I feel it's time for people to realise they can eat healthier to lessen the body's burden," he says.
Putien has just brought Taiwan company Wowprime's chain of Sufood restaurants to Singapore and sees the potential for eight to 10 outlets in Singapore in the next five years if demand is strong.
Chefs fronting the green revolution have had their workload doubled in the last few years.
Onaka opened a second centre at Alexandra Retail Centre in December 2012, and where Ms Lim used to see an 80 per cent expatriate and 80 per cent female crowd, she now caters to a good mix of local diners.
The growing acceptance also means that chefs can now be more experimental and adventurous with the ingredients. At Onaka, a top-seller is their watermelon sashimi, which features tuna-looking slices of compressed watermelon topped with agar-agar pearls flavoured with wasabi. And quinoa is everywhere.
"Even normal salad places offer you quinoa these days. Five years ago, it would never have happened. People now are definitely more clued in to healthier eating," says Bjorn Shen, chef-owner of Artichoke.
Chef Shen had even toyed with the idea of turning Artichoke fully vegetarian years ago.
Artichoke has a strong emphasis on its vegetable dishes, and it just takes more "cognitive ability", Shen says, to elevate vegetables and find ways to cook them interestingly, compared with cooking a piece of meat.
"So we pride ourselves on our vegetable dishes."
18 Greenwood Avenue Hillcrest Park Tel: 6763-1323
THE meatless restaurant is championing South-east Asian flavours in its rather extensive menu, with the idea of translating local dishes into meatless plates, with a healthier slant.
"We have quite a wide range of wok-fried dishes and a version of sambal and rojak which do not use shrimp paste. We make our own tofu and use mushrooms extensively, and we use natural ingredients as much as possible," explains Lee Han Fong, one of the directors of Secret Recipe International.
"We're trying to cater to foodies in general, even if they're vegetarians," he explains.
A lunch tasting shows the dishes to be flavourful rather than bland, with generous portions of green vegetables. The vegetable roll features purple cabbage and carrot strips, topped with pumpkin floss (which tasted incredibly like pork floss) and alfalfa sprouts. It is packed in a pita-like wrap, with a moderate dash of sesame dressing.
Mushroom satay turns out to be battered lion's mane mushrooms on skewers, with peanut sauce on the side. The mushrooms are meaty, like the monkey head variety. They are deep-fried, Mr Lee explains, because it is not easy to grill this mushroom as just a bit of over-cooking will make it bitter.
The "nam yue" style beehoon will appeal more to those who like fermented beancurd, and is packed with vegetables and even achar (pickled vegetables) on the side. The red yeast mee sua soup is also filled to the brim with vegetables, with a too-mild red yeast flavour.
#02-19 Raffles City
11.30am to 3.30pm and 5.30pm
to 10pm daily
Diners at Sufood can expect a value-for-money meal, where five-course set lunches are reasonably priced at $18++ and eight-course set dinners are priced at $25++.
Options include a selection of various salads, soups, main courses, drinks and desserts. For main courses, you could try their signature dish called the Star Pizza - a star-shaped pizza with oyster mushrooms, cream cheese and mustard sauce topped with a generous heap of seaweed.
Alternatively, you could go for the Baked Potato Al Funghi - king oyster mushrooms with half a baked potato topped with cheese, or a simple Porcini Pasta - porcini mushrooms and angel hair pasta in spicy sauce.