We may have stumbled into Arcane on a dreary day, but no amount of rain clattering against the windowpanes could dampen our moods as we eagerly anticipated the most refined plant-based menu in our dining experience thus far. Yes, everyone, Chef Shane Osborn and his team have launched a five-course vegan menu, and it is something worthy of celebration within the green community. Priced at $750 per person, fans of Arcane’s vegetarian fare will be happy to see some overlaps with its past meat-free menus.
When asked what prompted this move, Chef Osborn said, “More and more, we get requests from people asking for vegan dishes, so we just thought it made sense to have vegan options and do a five-course menu. It’s something I’ve been thinking of for awhile. We used to do meat-free Mondays last year, and on the à la carte... there’s always four or five vegetarian options.
“The food’s not as intricate; we’re not trying to be high-end fine dining. We don’t use tweezers; we’re not into that style of dressing a plate. We like to make it look presentable, but it’s all about the quality of the produce and good flavours.”
With Chef Osborn’s commendable track record – his commitment to clean, healthy eating and his concern for diners’ dietary needs and food intolerances won him a Foodie Forks Food Hero award last year – we were not at all surprised to hear of this new green focus. High expectations naturally followed, especially when regaled with the news that the menu is ever-changing: “The menu’s very fluid... They’re not things that we plan months ahead. Our food’s more spontaneous; it’s market led, whatever we can get from Japan or Europe at the time, so the menu changes constantly. We’ve only been doing this menu for two weeks, and it’s already changed. Three or four dishes have changed and evolved; that’s just how we operate.” Music to our ears, and that just means we will free up our calendars for repeat visits.
Before we dive into the main attraction, a well-deserved shout-out goes to Stefano Bartolomei, Arcane’s restaurant manager and wine director, and his team on the floor for their impeccable service from start to finish. The attention to detail is painstaking, from the polished choice of intense, mildly peppery olive oil – an Umbrian speciality – served for starters with rustic bread to the welcome glass of refreshing bubbly that paired extraordinarily well with our first course of Japanese fruit tomato and imam bayildi. An aubergine dish notable for its olive-oil-heavy preparation process, the well-spiced imam bayildi purée offered a punch of flavours amongst the delicate baby artichoke and courgette, allowing for balance with the sweet tomato.
Chef Osborn may be of the opinion that his menu strays from the fussy, tweezer-accompanied plating of fine dining, but the crapaudine beetroot suggests otherwise. Beautifully plated, with equally sophisticated flavours to match, this was easily our favourite course of the day. From the aged balsamic vinegar, a boutique Italian brand exclusive to Arcane, and the horseradish cream made with a base of soy milk, to the morsels of sweet compressed watermelon and possibly the most beetroot-tasting beetroot we’ve ever tried, there was thoughtfulness in every element, in every bite. A zesty straw-coloured white wine with an aroma of peach – an Umbrian Trebbiano Spoletino from the vineyards of Le Cimate – was recommended by Stefano, proving to be the fruity match needed to offset the savoury richness of the dish. Mark us, there are masters at work here, those who spell captivating flavours and textures from simple ingredients.
Mushrooms are the star of this new vegan adventure; available throughout the year, with plenty varieties on hand, they form the backbone of Arcane’s vegan menu. Our first rendezvous with the versatile fungi saw us admiring the daikoku shimeji salad, a warm affair of shimeji mushrooms, celeriac, charred cabbage, Australian truffle and homemade cashew butter. The surprisingly subtle truffle infused the warm salad with an earthy depth, accentuated further by the nuttiness of the celeriac and the light, just-on-the-edge-of-creamy cashew butter. The cabbage, as unassuming as it looked, was incredibly flavourful.
The rigatoni, with handmade pasta supplied by Hong Kong–based artisanal pasta producer Attagirl, was a true stunner. While Arcane makes its egg pasta in-house, this dairy-free variant is delivered to the restaurant three times a week and is promised to feature heavily on the vegan menu, in a bid to support the local, up-and-coming independent company. Fried slices of garlic made for a crispy crown, and the semolina pasta morsels of beige and green – made with seaweed powder – were cooked to perfection. Sautéed girolle mushrooms gave the dish a meaty distinction, while the broccolini and pine nuts pulled double duty to provide both firm texture and smokiness.
Dessicated coconut and aquafaba, that old vegan standby of chickpea water, made an appearance as the dessert course rolled around, in the form of homemade toasted meringue atop a garden of soft nectavignes – a curious French blood peach and nectarine hybrid and a favourite of Chef Osborn’s, which are only in season for one month from July to August – swimming in strawberry consommé and dotted with dollops of Chantilly made of coconut cream and apricot kernels and flecks of that precious, precious olive oil, smoked especially for a deeper aroma. This was a sugary, indulgent treat that wholly belied its dairy-free nature.
A unique menu full of gorgeous flavours. Chef Osborn and his team manage to prove time and again why Arcane deserves a place in the limelight, nailing plant-based cuisine as true poetry on the plate. The lauded chef may consider his new menu to be quite casual, but we have yet to encounter a similar option amongst the Michelin-starred crowd. There’s never been a better time to be a discerning vegan diner here in Hong Kong.
3/F, 18 On Lan Street, Central, 2728 0178, click here to book online
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.
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