Header photo: Mighty Bulgogi Burger with homemade pickles
It's a tough time to open a restaurant in Hong Kong, but then again, with well-being on our minds, it might just work for health-focused Orka. The new café on Wyndham Street aims for the “WoW” factor (Wellness on Wyndham) and promises flavour, energy and social responsibility for vegans and non-vegans alike.
“Our mission is to unite people in Hong Kong over food and beverages, despite individuals’ diet styles, by challenging existing culinary boundaries and creating dishes and beverages that offer equal choices for vegans, vegetarians and non-vegans, under the same roof.” – Orka
Orka's founder, Nobin John, welcomed us with tremendous energy, which is appropriate as the word orka in Swedish means “the energy or force to do something”. John is a board-certified functional medicine health coach. To be honest, we didn't really know what this is, so we looked into it. Functional medicine is a branch of wellness that concerns itself not with symptoms but with root causes, such as diet and lifestyle, but also considers genetics and one’s living environment.
Whilst researching, we were interested to read about John’s wellness journey. After struggling with his weight, food intolerances, allergies and chronic fatigue early in his adult life, he made big changes in his diet and lifestyle following the guidelines of functional medicine, gathering numerous qualifications, magazine features and health-focused business ventures along the way.
On the Orka team in the kitchen is Head Chef Ching Tso, who has worked under Shane Osborn and Gordon Ramsay. Chef Tso started his career in London in 2005 and returned to Hong Kong in 2014 to help to open Arcane with Chef Osborn. Nutritionist Aswini Rachel assisted in designing the Orka menu.
The first thing we noticed on perusing the menu was just how easy it would be to dine here with your vegan and non-vegan friends together*.
* two per table, of course
This is a typical selection on the Orka menu – where the same item may be ordered vegan (V) or non-vegan (NV), with at-par offerings for each. Gluten-friendly (GF) options are also clearly marked.
This flexible, all-inclusive approach has enticing vegan alternatives that make choosing a meat-free meal very easy. Orka recognises that within the food space, the environmental impact from shifting dietary habits of meat eaters towards plant-based eating is potentially huge, but it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
When we visited Orka, we were in the middle of a caffeine-free month, so we were rather looking forward to the Maca XP French Press ($75) made from organic black maca root, a unique caffeine-free offering that mimics a nutty coffee roast. The mouthfeel of this drink is not quite as substantial as a coffee, with an earthy and nutty flavour that becomes more favourable as it cools. Maca is supposed to have an impressive range of health benefits, and even if it won’t replace coffee for us, it tastes pretty good.
The Beet This Soup ($98) is our must-order recommendation. Made from beet, lime, coconut, pumpkin seeds and galangal, we ordered it vegan (without sour cream). The beet dominates the colour but not the palate. We loved the subtle citrus tang and occasional burst of crunch from the spiced pumpkin seeds. Salivating.
Recommended to us was the cashew yoghurt-marinated jackfruit, so we went with the vegan Hungry Jack’s sourdough sandwich ($98) to try it. Each element in the sandwich is delicious – especially the jackfruit. It’s chunky, tender and meaty, with a subtle tang from the yoghurt marinade. The homemade vegan mayonnaise complements the portobello mushroom and thin slices of grilled yam without overwhelming. However, the purple corn-infused sourdough, whilst tasty, is cut too thick for easy biting through the crust. We suggest treating this as an open-faced sandwich and eating it with cutlery or you will be wearing these delicious ingredients on your shirt.
The Mighty Bulgogi Burger ($128) comes fully loaded with Australian Wagyu, Cheddar, thinly sliced yam, perilla leaves, homemade pickles and (vegan) mayo on a purple corn-infused brioche bun. This thick Wagyu beef patty will satisfy the meat lover at your table, but due to its thickness, you should be mindful of how you prefer your meat cooked and order accordingly.
Perilla is a close relative of the shiso leaf, and in days gone by, the plant was used for medicinal purposes. The Orka team liberally use perilla leaves and seeds, believing they can benefit those with anxiety.
Butter Jack’s Chick ($188) is another house speciality – again serving up cashew-yoghurt marinated jackfruit, this time with tofu, under a healthy, oil-free version of butter chicken sauce. There’s a lot going on, with crispy, curly kale and snappy, umami fiddlehead fern on a bed of red, brown and white rice. This dish is deceptively rich, so it’s a great one to share.
All this clean eating will leave you completely stocked up with enough health credits to enjoy dessert. First up was the Chef’s signature pandan sticky toffee pudding ($108), which is “accidentally vegan”. Created without the need for butter or eggs, the pudding is a banana-pandan cake in a low-GI coconut-treacle sauce, with tiny pearls of coconut caviar and mango “yolk”.
Chef Tso has brought a little molecular gastronomy to this dish. The roe-like bubble on top of the pudding is a spherification of diluted mango purée, encapsulated by adding calcium to harden the outermost fluid into a skin. Fancy! It pops like an egg yolk too, so get your camera ready.
Full as we were, we couldn’t resist just the smallest taste of the yuzu and yoghurt mousse cake ($58). Who are we kidding? We polished it off, enjoying it even more than the pandan cake. This one would be perfect with a cup of tea or coffee.
Orka has made it very convenient (and enticing) to order healthy and socially responsible food. They have done a great job on the menu, with detailed descriptions of the ingredients in each dish and clear labelling for diet restrictions. The overall impression after leaving is one of positivity – you do not need to go 100% vegan or vegetarian in order to make a difference, and this follows through to general healthy eating too. Something is better than nothing!
We will drop in again soon for one of their speciality coffees or wellness teas (blended in-house) and another of their sweet bakes – they are healthy, after all.
Takeaway offer: 10% off for pickup; dining sets available all day for takeaway orders
36 Wyndham Street, Central, 3489 1217
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.
For more reviews like this, like Foodie on Facebook