It's lunch time in central and a new plant-based cafe 'Fresca' is already buzzing and churning out customers at a fairly decent rate. Quaintly designed and somewhere between whole foods health fad and classy minimalist chic, this cafe / takeaway's white exterior breaks convention on the grimy Hong Kong Hollywood road.
First impressions are the people are enthusiastic and passionate about serving wholesome, nutritious grub. And this is little wonder considering the brains, founder, and mother of the shop, Ivy, is ex-HR, turned gardener and social entrepreneur. Her own struggles with various health problems pushed her to find ways in which to eat your way back to health. Recruiting as many people as possible in the process has been one of the repercussions of this.
The interesting setup is that work begins at 8am with all staff members researching, preparing and contributing a dish or a few for the day's offerings. The pros and cons of this means that there is a daily changing menu, rich diversity of culture and influences from more spicy and rich mixes of chickpea sautées and Thai-influenced chilli beans to a sweeter and fresher beetroot salad mix, etc. The downside is there is no one chef per se and flavours can sometimes be left wanting more.
Sourced from local markets, the menu centres on a selection of large ($78) or small ($58) salad portions with of a base of lettuce and/or mixed grains, followed by a choice of 3 toppings.
We tried a mixture of Korean BBQ paste tofu, potato with pesto and parmesan, Sriracha chickpeas and an apple beetroot combo. The great thing about these salads is the freshness and simplicity; you can taste and appreciate the produce. Although, maybe it's too much to expect for a salad, because there is definitely still room to keep developing the toppings with greater flavour and ingenuity.
The two smoothies on offer were fruit-based with cashew nut milk - passion fruit, and kale and avocado. Both were refreshing and relatively sweet yet tangy, however both could also afford greater experimentation to create a richer taste combination and texture.
The homemade bread is definitely worth raving about, with interesting flavour options of bamboo charcoal, tumeric and green tea. Made by Ivy herself, the slices are toasted and served with homemade lemon basil honey butter. And, to be honest, I'm not sure if toast ever tasted better! Fresca also offers homemade soups, paninis and a daily hot pot for eat-in or takeaway.
Fresca is decked out for the health conscious - shelves filled with organic, raw and vegetarian cookbooks, and products that can be found in any Whole Foods store. Furnishing is sleek and simple but the place is made homely with local art on the walls and clay sculptures made by a joint venture project between Ivy and mentally ill welfare groups. The great thing is that the shop institutes a '6-step programme' of freshness which begins at the local market. Produce is then washed first in PH 2.5 acidic water, then soaked in PH 11.5 alkaline water before being spun-dry, dressed in homegrown herbs and "served with love". Although not certified organic, food remains full of the nutrients with half the price tag.
In my opinion, Fresca definitely delivers in terms of freshness and accessibility for those hungry souls roaming around for a decent and healthy feed on a lunch break. There is room for growth, but this place with its people power, passion and dedication to conscientious eating, I believe is surely on its way.