In order to balance all the delicious yet very unhealthy food I consume on all my restaurant tasting adventures, I have become quite addicted to eating ‘clean’ whenever I can. So when I heard that greasy American restaurant Awakening Café had rebranded as The Awakening and was serving Paleo food, I was very interested to try it.
Eating healthily does not mean going completely vegetarian, and neither does it have to mean eating boring food. This is exactly what Chef Mike Boyle (formerly at Bistecca, before which he was at AVA) is trying to prove with his menu at The Awakening.
Chef Mike started out working at a fast-food restaurant at age 13, absolutely hating the way the stench of grease followed him everywhere he went. He then qualified as a personal trainer when he was 18, but quickly tired of this and got back into cooking. With The Awakening, Chef Mike has clearly found his balance – cooking food that’s complementary to working out; come to The Awakening at any mealtime and you’ll no doubt see the trainers from the nearby Crossfit box come in for their Paleo fix.
Yet the menu at The Awakening isn’t strictly Paleo; it actually claims to be ‘Paleo Plus,’ since certain grains and legumes are added in moderation. Everything on the menu is entirely gluten-free and sugar-free, but it is far from taste-free. The ingredients are high quality, processed as little as possible and cooked just right. Since all the vegetables and fish are bought across the road in the Sai Ying Pun market, it also means everything is super fresh and affordable.
Chef Mike’s carrot salad was apparently just a recipe he threw together in the brave assumption that the ingredients would work together. Unlike most of my experiments in the kitchen, however, he got it just right the first time he made it and it’s been a hit ever since. This lovely, fragrant salad combines shredded carrot and purple cabbage with raisins and sunflower seeds, tossed in a spiced lemony dressing with cumin and turmeric. If it’s not too much of an oxymoron, then I think this dish makes the perfect wintry salad.
The quinoa salad is apparently a crowd favourite and I can understand why. The quinoa and rocket, mixed with chunks of avocado, mango, cucumber and cherry tomatoes give this salad a delightful melange of textures, all brought together with a subtle white wine vinaigrette.
There aren’t many restaurants in Hong Kong where you can order a South African ostrich steak. Apparently this meat is very good for you, since it’s high in protein, low in calories and very low in cholesterol. Texture-wise, it’s a little stringier than beef, but it had a tasty charred flavour that people apparently keep going back for. The best thing is, at $138 for an 8oz steak, it’s also a lot cheaper than a regular steak!
If you’re trying to eat healthily, you’d probably assume that burgers are completely forbidden. Not so at The Awakening. Here, the sirloin burger is made with very lean grass-fed beef that is ground in-house and sandwiched between a gluten-free bun from Choice Healthy Foods. I would have added some tasty lean bacon to give it a little something extra, but the meat itself was delicious, as was the bun. I probably would also have asked for sweet potato wedges in place of the ordinary potato ones, and apparently that is an option.
All the desserts at The Awakening are 100% gluten-free and sugar-free. This may trigger alarm bells, as many people think you can’t have a decent dessert without sugar, yet the two I tried were still deliciously satisfying. The chocolate cake was lovely and moist, without that dry and unusual texture that is sometimes apparent in gluten-free baking. It was, however, very, very coconuty, which may not be to everyone’s taste.
The apple and cranberry crumble was warm and comforting, perfect for this chilly weather. The top was made with crumbled nuts and almond flour, which still gave it that all-important crunch.
Prices at The Awakening are very reasonable: salads are under $100, whilst heartier dishes are mostly under $200. It’s a friendly, neighbourhood place with food that’s not only tasty, but seriously good for you too, so you can walk away after a decent meal without feeling the least bit guilty!
G/F, 6 Ying Wa Terrace
63 Centre Street
Sai Ying Pun
Tel: +852 2858 0005
Closed on Mondays