Homer Simpson once said, “you don’t win friends with salad.” Until not that long ago, I would have agreed with him. I used to think of salad as just boring rabbit food that could never be satisfying. Over recent years, however, Hong Kong chefs have taken salad to a new level and I now eat some kind of salad for lunch almost every day. Remember the time I wrote about the Mac Attack? And the Battle of the Balls? Well, the same people who organised those unhealthy yet amazing events have now brought us a new, much healthier campaign: Reinventing Salads – the search for the best salad in town!
Reinventing Salads is a month-long campaign starting from 29th June that involves seven Hong Kong chefs presenting their idea of the best salad for Hong Kong’s health conscious foodies to decide for themselves who makes the best salad in town. The seven participating chefs are Chef Sing Lau of The Restaurant by the Kinnet, Chef Vinny Lauria of Linguini Fini (et al), Chef Neil Tomes of Beef & Liberty, Chef Billy Otis of Lily and Bloom, Chef Ivy Chow of Fresca, Chef Peter Cuong Franklin of Viet Kitchen, and Chef Tez Pun of Common Room.
I attended a media event last week and tried all seven salads, each of which had their own unique flavours and complexities. We were each given a score sheet and had to rate each salad based on the following criteria: presentation, colour, flavour, freshness and overall impression. The winner was announced at the end of the evening.
In my humble opinion, here’s how the salads ranked, from least favourite to favourite:
7. Chef Tez Pun from Common Room’s Grilled Tiger Shrimp Salad
Poor Chef Tez had a very hard act to beat, as he followed everyone’s favourite salad (I’ll get to that soon). What he presented wasn’t exactly bad – the prawns were perfectly cooked and tasty enough – but it was just a bit standard. The presentation, I hate to say it, reminded me of something you’d get in a chain of diner-style restaurants, and the flavours followed suit.
6. Chef Sing Lau from The Restaurant by The Kinnet’s Green Goddess Salad
When we first tried this, we all loved it. The presentation looked kind of just thrown together, but the ingredients were beautifully fresh. The problem was that all the other salads were just that bit more creative and flavoursome. The components of this salad – kale, avocado, sweet corn, aubergine, boiled egg and chicken – were quite feeble on their own and needed the spicy avocado Greek yoghurt dressing to tie them all together. This was, however, just my opinion, and actually the overall vote put this salad in 2nd place.
5. Chef Billy Otis from Lily and Bloom’s Grilled Summer Peach Salad
This was definitely the most beautiful of the salads, but I couldn’t quite make my mind up about it. Chef Billy’s aim here was to show how vegetables that are usually served cooked could be prepared as a raw salad, like swiss chard and sorrel. Whilst some loved it, I just thought there was too much happening at the same time – the sweetness of the peach, with the salty macadamia nuts, the sour papaya and the overly sweet and creamy coconut puree made this more of a dessert in my mind than a salad…although it would be a rather strange dessert!
4. Chef Vinny Lauria from Linguini Fini’s Seared Scallop and Homemade Bacon Panzanella
Chef Vinny is one of my favourite Hong Kong chefs. His food is humble yet impressive, and that’s exactly what this salad was. The seared scallops were perfectly bouncy and the homemade bacon lardons were insanely good. The truffle vinaigrette was rich, yet not overpowering, although some argued it was.
3. Chef Ivy Chow of Fresca’s Tastes of the Rainbow
Fresca is one of my go-to lunch spots for delicious and healthy salads, so I knew this was going to be a winner. Chef Ivy prepared a selection of her bestsellers – the country delight, the quinoa medley, the Sichuan veggie “chicken” and the roast potatoes with string beans – all of which are made with vegetables she grows herself. She also added some assorted dates stuffed with nuts as “dessert”. The normal date stuffed with walnut was delicious, whilst the smoked Chinese date wasn’t to everyone’s taste. The general consensus also ranked this salad in third place.
2. Chef Neil Tomes of Beef & Liberty’s Haloumi & Persimmon Salad
When Chef Neil got up to introduce his salad and told us he’d researched all the nutrients required to make a complete meal, without any beef, such as percentage of amino acids, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and so on, we all thought he was joking. It turns out he had actually put a lot of thought into his salad and it took us all by surprise. The flavours, the textures, the colours were all spot on and I would order this again and again without hesitation.
1. Chef Peter Cuong Franklin of Viet Kitchen’s Vietnamese Steak Salad
I don’t think there was one person in the room who didn’t agree that this was the best salad of the night. The Vietnamese flavours were so bold and fresh, whilst the beef was incredibly tender, pairing beautifully with the crunchy textures of the peanuts and fried shallots. I will definitely be having this one again at some point during the Reinventing Salads campaign.
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From the 29th June to 31st July, these salads are all available at their respective restaurants, and they can also all be ordered on Deliveroo, where they’re running a buy 6 get 1 free offer. Each salad is priced at $120. The restaurant that sells the most salads during the campaign will be announced as the winner on 1st August. If you’re of the opinion that you can’t win friends with salad, try one of these seven salads and then decide.