The organic slow-food movement has taken the world by storm. Although Hong Kong has been pretty slow to jump on the bandwagon, little steps are being taken to catch up with the rest of the world and fulfill the growing demand for healthy vegan food. First we had the ever-popular Life Cafe, which then opened up a deli on Ship Street; now we have MANA! Fast Slow Food, set up by Bobsy (the founder of Life Cafe and the Bookworm Cafe on Lamma) and Christian, a chef who previously worked with the likes of Alain Ducasse in France.
MANA!’s motto is ‘Eat like it matters’ and they specialise in organic, vegan and raw food, with many gluten-free options. Personally, there’s only so much airy-fairy health food I can handle, but when it tastes sooo good, and when I know that every bite I take is filling me with guilt-free goodness, I do get a little bit excited!
I have been to MANA! a number of times and think I can safely say that I have tried, if not everything, then at least most things on the menu. In all honesty, there isn’t a single thing I have tried that I really didn’t like; there are things I would not order again (like the Earth Juice, but only because I prefer my beetroot on a plate as opposed to in a glass), but generally I actually have to refrain from going back there most days for fear that the staff might think I’m a little bit obsessed! Christian very kindly set up a tasting for myself and MANA! virgin Rach to sample some of their signature dishes – and he dished up a veritable vegetarian feast!
Starting with the soups, MANA! offers two kinds: a soup of the day that varies, and a dhal. Whilst their potato and zucchini soup is delicious, light and comforting, I’d recommend going for the dhal, which is beautifully spiced and that little bit more exciting.
The salad selection is also delicious, offering choices such as beetroot and mandarin, grilled vegetables, potato salad (Rach’s fave of the evening) and quinoa. Because I eat there fairly often, I would quite like them to offer different options every now and then, but then again, as the old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
The flatbreads are what MANA! is all about, though. The bread is freshly baked in MANA!’s handmade brick oven, smothered in ‘zaatar’ (a combination of sesame seeds, thyme, sumac and sea salt), filled with all sorts of goodies and then wrapped, ready to go. Try the Autumn Flat filled with grilled haloumi, grilled veggies and rocket. I like to ask them to add a dollop of baba ganoush for good measure. (Special mention from Rach for their handmade baba ganoush and hummus – “totally addictive and you’ll want to slather it on everything!”) If I may make one complaint about the flats, however, it’s that the price seems a little high for what it is. Effectively, the flats are like glorified sandwiches, and I would find it difficult to part with $80 for a sandwich.
The haloumi and tofu burger sadly isn’t as delicious as I had imagined, though still very tasty, but then again I was probably imagining something unattainably perfect! The ‘healthy’ fries, however, are dangerously moreish. I think they must call them ‘healthy’ to make you feel slightly less bad about gorging on them.
You should definitely save space for dessert, especially as they are healthy desserts! The raw vegan coconut ice cream is pretty special, whilst the raw hazelnut torte is divine – gooey, soft and intensely chocolate-y, with a crunch of yummy nut at the bottom. The raw chocolate truffles have a slightly grainy texture and are super-rich and intense so go easy on them! We also had a Babylon Shake with our dinner, which is made from banana, figs, cocoa nibs and tahini, and was scrumptious and filling enough to practically be a dessert in itself.
It’s not just MANA!’s food that is green; the whole space is built to respect and give back to the environment, with free water, energy-saving lights, water-saving toilets, reclaimed furniture and paper straws (note: make sure you drink your juice before the straw becomes soggy!). It’s probably not the place to linger over your meal – it gets packed at lunchtimes (your best chance of getting a seat at the communal open-air table upstairs is if it rains!) – but it has a great cosy homely feel to it.
Considering how un-eco-friendly the majority of Hong Kong is – think of how much energy the light show every evening must waste! – I think Bobsy and Christian’s concept is very refreshing. With the amount of MANA! chatter in the city (our That Girl Lauren named it as one of her fave restos too!), it certainly seems to have caught on and Christian revealed to us that there are already plans for some more outlets, possibly even bringing the MANA! movement to Kowloon side! I wonder how long it will take for the rest of the city to follow suit…
Mana! Fast Slow Food G/F, 92 Wellington St, Central
2851 1611 www.mana.hk
Check out more from Ale on her fab blog, The Dim Sum Diaries!