Succeeding Khana Khazana… the Worst Restaurant of the Month award for May 2016 goes to Vanimal. And here’s the explanation why…
Vanimal is a relative newcomer to the HK food and beverage (F&B) scene having opened in KTown in the latter part of 2015. They have in one of their promo statements from 10 days ago:-
“you can experience what a new breed of vegetarian food really means”
Going by what they sell there seems a snappier way to suggest what a new breed of vegetarian food means to them – non vegetarian. They also classify themselves on Facebook as a, “Health Food Restaurant”. Not healthy for any animals that have gone into products they sell. It’s also interesting that they were reviewed by HK Magazine with a tag line of, “Vanimal is Not Just For Vegetarians”. There’s some profound phrasing for you in that tag line. And Vanimal talk on Facebook about their, “creations for the joy of our vegetarian, flexitarian, carnivorous and refined gourmand tastebuds friends.” Carnivorous? Enough on their ironic PR, here’s the details behind this award.
They were first approached by HK veg on 27 January this year in asking them if all the food and beverages they retail are verified as vegetarian. A couple of examples were included to get an idea of how serious they are about their vegetarianism (the usual suspects of cheese and alcoholic beverages). A couple of chaser messages were sent. Then (always interested in visiting an F&B place purporting to be all vego), they were visited on 13 February this year. It proved to be a very enlightening visit.
On walking in there’s a menu stand front and centre to greet incoming prospective diners. On looking at the menu there was indeed cheese listed. There’s also a booze menu. One of the staff was engaged to find out some more detail.
HK Veg: “Hello there.”
Staff member: “Hello.”
HK Veg: “It’s interesting looking at your menu. I see you have brie cheese on sale. Could you confirm please if the brie has been verified as vegetarian?”
Staff member: “It’s vegetarian but it’s not vegan.”
HK Veg: “So just to be sure we’re talking about the same thing. It’s obviously not milk that risks cheese being non vegetarian. Thus I’m not asking if the cheese is vegan. Has the cheese been verified that it’s not been made with animal rennet?”
Staff member: No comment, just a confused look on his face.
HK Veg: “To make cheese go hard in the cheese making process, a setting agent gets added. Traditionally and still widely used the setting agent is something named rennet. Rennet is extracted from slaughtered cow stomachs”.
Staff member: “I’ve never heard of this and I’m French and I’m an F&B specialist”.
You can be offered complete assurance that the above remark was made with a straight face.
From this point the packaging on the cheese was collectively examined. There was no label on there saying anything such as, “Suitable for vegetarians”, nor, “Made with vegetable rennet” etc.
Staff member (looking uncomfortable and making it clear the questions were unwelcome) – “I’ve only just arrived and I’ve a lot to do.”
(“I’ve never heard of this and I’m French and I’m an F&B specialist”)
Thus he was politely backed away from and given some space. Next on the menu was what is so often a supreme minefield for vegetarians; the booze list. The previous person from before was thus politely approached once more.
HK Veg: “Excuse me again. If I can just quickly ask please; has the wine been verified as vegetarian?”
See previous dialogue above and remark re confused look on the staff member’s face.
HK Veg: “Just to clarify, to remove the yeast from alcoholic drinks during manufacture an additive called a fining agent typically gets used. The most commonly used fining agents are extracts from fish, pigs, cows, crustaceans. Has the wine been verified as specialist vegetarian wine or is just regular wine?”
Staff member: “It’s regular wine.”
By now there was very low confidence in Vanimal’s vegetarian knowledge. Their French F&B specialist was obviously disinterested in owning the two mentioned concerns. There seemed little point asking them if they used vegetarian ice cream.
Then as if by magic… Three days later a reply was received to the messages previously sent electronically. The person replying replied identified himself as Paul. Most of the reply was PR spin. To filter out the outputs of value from Paul’s reply:-
* The cheese hadn’t been verified as vegetarian (as was already strongly suspected from the dialogue three days earlier at the restaurant). It turns out from looking at their Facebook page they see their brie dish as a bit of a signature
(Mushroom with brie. But is Vanimal’s brie vegetarian?)
* The booze hadn’t been verified as vegetarian (again as had already been ascertained)
Paul was asked if he was the legendary French F&B specialist spoken with in person three days earlier. Paul advised in his second reply that the French guy is named Guillaume. Paul’s reply also contained a comment alleging Vanimal will follow up to verify that the cheese and the drinks are vegetarian.
A pretty detailed reply was then sent to Paul with for example:-
* web links explaining the vegetarian pitfalls of cheese, rennet and booze
* www.barnivore.com as a recommended quick starting place for verifying animal friendliness (or otherwise) of booze
* a link to the website of the brand of brie Guillaume had brought out for examination
Indeed a quick look on that President cheese website, at least one of the brie products listed is transparently made with rennet:-
“for Brie de Meaux, the curdling is completed in 30 minutes, thanks to the use of rennet”
Details were offered to Paul on brands of vegetarian wine, brands of vegetarian cheese, possible suppliers in HK etc etc etc. All info provided free of charge of course.
After no response from Paul to the message described immediately above a chaser email was sent to him. Then another. Then another. Then another. Indeed 5 messages have been sent to Paul asking for an update on his statements that he will follow up on sorting out the non vegetarian elements of his stock. It was also explained to Paul that if the above concerns were not competently addressed then there would be no choice but to go public with this info.
And so Vanimal is the winner of the HK veg Worst Restaurant of the Month for May 2016.