Hopping off a short 25-minute ferry ride from Central Pier, Discovery Bay beckons with its panoramic ocean views and serene demeanor from chaotic city life. Directly along the beach promenade, Hemingway’s arguably has the best seats in the house. With the terrace adjoining gentle lapping waves on a breezy afternoon, two men sit underneath a bright blue umbrella soaking up the midday sun, drinks in hand. Inside, a group of women are happily chatting away before one breaks away to ask the waitress if she could turn up the music – it really couldn’t get much better than this… but it does.
At the beginning of the year, Hemingway’s revived its entire menu to become a meat-free restaurant. A tall order for a F&B spot whose original roots lie in Caribbean flair, which segued to the comforts of pizzas and burger bar food before revealing its true vegan self. Reflecting a new spread that aligns with the ethos of the man who runs the establishment, we meet Gary Stokes returning from a weeklong detox retreat in Canada. A charismatic eco-activist with a fondness for marine life having been raised in the Mediterranean, Stokes became involved with marine wildlife conservation organization, Sea Shepherd, back in 2010 and promptly became a vegetarian. After a series of incredible adventures (chasing Japanese whalers in Antartica and catching a fleet red-handed targeting sharks without meaning to), the restauranteur turned vegan in 2016 and began reconsidering his role at Hemingway’s. “It started to bug me that I was involved with the meat industry, in owning a restaurant, and as my role grew in Sea Shepherd and I became the Global Director of Asia, that really hit me hard,” explains Stokes.
At this moment, a heaping plate of nachos arrive at our table from a tall, frail older waiter with tanned arms and a warm smile, who ironically goes by the name of Fat Al. Loaded with jalapeños, olives, tomatoes, guacamole, melted Daiya cheese, vegan sour cream and a generous serving of chips, my eyes are wide with excitement before Stokes breaks our conversation to give Allan a big bear hug. The affection between the two is obvious, and Stokes pauses to tell me a loving anecdote of Allan’s time at Hemingway’s since the beginning before resuming his story.
After taking a backseat from the restaurant’s day-to-day operations, Stokes was set on leaving when a shareholder confided that he was looking to sell his shares to one of city’s major restaurant groups. “When he told me that, I was just thinking of people like Allan and Samir, who have been here all this time,” says Stokes who has called Hong Kong home since 1990. “They would just come steamrolling in, fire everybody, gut the place and turn this into another cookie cutter restaurant.” Going back home to his wife, Stokes suggested buying out Hemingway’s and turning it into a vegan restaurant. “You’ve got to follow what your heart says. If it’s done right, it can work,” he says as he glances at the nachos plate. I’ve inhaled the entire plate.
Serving childhood favorites, party snacks and all-around comfort food thanks to the kitchen skills of Hemingway’s talented staff, their newly vegan classic dishes (signature mile high nachos, homemade chili, and loaded potato skins, which all happen to be gluten-free as well!) can be enjoyed by everyone. All sauces, creams, salsas and curries are prepared daily in-house under the watchful eye of longtime vegan chef Meeta Nanda. Popular favorites amongst locals include the Shepherd’s Pie, the BBQ Pulled Jackfruit Sandwich, and the Meatballs Marinara. They even serve the Hong Kong vegan holy grail: vegan pizza! A rotating specials board posted adjacent the bar touts new dishes Meeta and co-head chef Mohan Batas are continuously testing out.
Hearty, warmer dishes will go into hibernation as the weather begins to heat up. Be on the lookout for new summer salads and a limited selection of raw vegan dishes that will grace the menu in the near future. Patrons who spend over HKD 120 in a single transaction are able to receive a free ferry ride from Discovery Bay back to Central. This offer is only applicable on the same day (For terms and conditions, click here.) After conquering the food, they are slowly transitioning the bar into a fully vegan booze selection, and on weekend they feature live music, so it’s a great place to hang. Hemingway’s also offers another hard-to-find F&B feature: a pet-friendly patio! We can’t think of a better spot to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon away from the hectic crowds of Hong Kong. See you in DB!
All images courtesy of Hemingway’s.