Would you believe vegetables and tofu masquerading as meat could taste better than the real thing? This strictly vegetarian restaurant could convince you
This week's subject isn't written only for the occasion. Regardless that the Vegetarian Festival is kicking off today, Loving Hut, a 14-month-old meat-free restaurant, should become a favourite destination for keen vegetarians as well as unconverted meat eaters.
Loving Hut is an international chain vegetarian restaurant founded by a Taiwanese philanthropic entrepreneur. With support from the United Nations, one of the restaurant's missions is to help save the planet - meaning to combat global warming, water shortages, air pollution, animal extinction, land degradation and deforestation - simply through what we eat.
Studies show that to produce one kilogramme of beef requires 50,000 litres of water, while it only takes 2,500 litres to produce the same amount of rice. Methane emissions from livestock is also a substantial contributor to climate change, and clearing forests for animal-based industries has led to land degradation and the extinction of many species.
Therefore, with more than 100 outlets in 20 countries including Australia, France, Germany, Japan, Korea, Panama, the UK and the US , Loving Hut offers an accessible starting point for those interested in a transition to a plant-based diet.
However, this is by no means a "tree-hugging" article. And to my palate-orientated readers: keep reading on.
There are many factors that made me fall in love with the Bangkok branch of the restaurant. First and foremost is the fact that its food was truly delicious, let alone that its menu offered as many as 150 gourmet dishes that came with very reasonable price tags.
Each Loving Hut restaurant offers different cuisines depending on its franchisee, and can be Asian, Mediterranean or American style. At the Charoen Nakhon Road joint, it's a mix of Thai and Chinese, with a slight touch of Western fare.
The extensive menu, in which you can find incongruous words like 'duck', 'pork', 'fish' and 'seafood', listed appetisers, salad, soups, curry and tom yum, nam phrik (chilli dip), rice and noodles, stir-fried and steamed items, as well as 'steak' and pasta, all made strictly without any animal products and by-products.
Burmese tea leaves salad (120 baht) is the number 1 must-order dish. The great portion of salad featured hydroponic, leafy vegetables sprinkled with roasted peanuts, tomatoes, shallots, brittle imitation pork floss, bird's eye chilli and sour, sweet, salty and spicy homemade tea leaf dressing - a brilliant combination of light and crispy character and refreshing flavours.
Seven Seas Delight, aka Japanese 'eel' with sesame (90 baht), which is available at every outlet worldwide, also sold best here. The glazed, oily imitation fish, made with compressed layers of tofu skin, yielded a tasty sweet and salty taste that nicely enhanced the soft and smooth texture.
A meat-fanatic dining companion was pleasantly amazed by the restaurant's interpretation of Peking duck (85 baht), which wonderfully mimicked the famous poultry dish. The 'duck' came rolled with vegetable sticks in steamed rice flour sheets and was served with vegetarian hoi sin sauce.
Another addictive dish was spicy larb salad with mushroom crisps and herbs (90 baht) that perfectly captured the flavour profile of larb, which comprises spiciness, tanginess, saltiness, crispiness and fragrance.
Buk kut teh, or Chinese-style herbal soup with 'pork spare ribs' (90 baht), was another dish that kept us talking for weeks afterwards. The truly delectable soup featured minced 'pork' and meat-free versions of spare ribs (I could tell from the taste that they were actually mushroom stems), intestines, kidney and braised pork chunks that looked like the original.
Or if you'd like to sample the pork in a crunchy version, order stir-fried Chinese kale with crispy pork (100 baht) and you'll be pleased.
My most favourite dish of the day was steamed fish with ginger and spring onions in soy sauce (100 baht). Due to its magnificent sauce and the fact that it didn't have the tiny bones or the fishy taste even when the dish turned cold, I'd say that it was better than the real thing and urge you to try it.
The restaurant also offered an impressive selection of drinks and desserts. Lychee smoothie (65 baht) offered a luscious blend of the delicately sweet fruit with tangy lime juice.
Chocolate buffs will be delighted with the super soft and smooth homemade brownie (65 baht), made without any dairy product.
During the Vegetarian Festival, food will be specially prepared in the strict je style, without leeks, chives, garlics or onions.
To get to the restaurant, take a skytrain and get off at Saphan Taksin station, from where you can catch a free shuttle boat to the Marriott Bangkok hotel and walk to the plaza.
Full review at: http://www.bangkokpost.com/leisure/cuisine/200322/imitation-deserves-flattery