Tucked inside the old-school Wing On Plaza in East Tsim Sha Tsui, Woodlands Indian Vegetarian Restaurant offers a respite from the bustle of Kowloon and is a popular gathering place for the surrounding Indian business community, tourists and hungry vegans alike. Serving traditional Southern Indian cuisine including mainstays like dosas (crispy paper-thin South Indian pancakes, usually stuffed with spiced potatoes and served with watery dahl and fresh coconut chutneys), savoury vadas (like mini Indian doughnuts and the owner’s favourite), and utthappams (basically South Indian pizza made from fermented mung bean batter), the longstanding establishment has made a name for itself as one of the Hong Kong’s most treasured Indian restaurants.
What most people may not realize is that while there were other Indian cuisine establishments, and one couldn’t find vegetarian food at select Chinese eateries around town, when Woodlands opened its doors back in 1981, it was the first dedicated Indian vegetarian in the territory. Having undergone a recent facelift, it’s back with a fresh look and a new owner, so we decided to pay them a visit and satisfy our Masala Dosa obsession.
After decades of service, the space had become tired and the restaurant was struggling to stay relevant. An ownership changed hands late last year to longtime Hong Kong resident and Woodlands devotee Arun PE has ushered in a new era. In the hopes of recapturing the spirit of the original Woodlands’ glory days and with an eye to re-integrate with the plant-based movement that’s been sweeping Hong Kong, Arun has been hard at work on the restaurant’s relaunch.
On a busy weekday just after the lunchtime rush, we sit down with Arun to chat about all things Woodlands and taste our way through the extensive menu. With a firm handshake and a charismatic smile, the Chennai-born entrepreneur is animated and enthusiastic, walking us through all the updates, including the kitschy new Mughal-inspired decor. It’s clear he is both proud of the restaurant’s heritage and excited for what’s to come.
Bringing back the original kitchen team has helped to re-attract prior patrons who felt the food quality had been lacking of late. A veggie-exclusive menu with substantial portions, Woodlands’ casual service style and authentic Indian cuisine will no doubt prove popular with both Indians and non-Indians alike. “Everything’s made fresh on the premises, every sauce, every batter!” exclaims Arun, keen to ensure we understand that Indian chefs can make well over 100 recipes from scratch every day.
A lifelong vegetarian, Arun’s vision for Woodlands bridges traditional desi flavours with contemporary flair. As with many Indian vegetarian restaurants in the city, the predominantly South Indian food menu also features some North Indian classics- think palak paneer (Indian curd cheese in a rich spinach gravy) and papdi chaat (the beloved potato & chickpea street snack), as well as some unique Indian-Chinese hybrids like Gobi Manchurian (deep-fried cauliflower in a sweet & sour sticky sauce). The new menu includes Buddhist and Jain specialities that are free from onions, garlic and root vegetables. Arun has also debuted a separate vegan menu in order to ensure their 100% plant-based clientele is well looked after. As befits an Indian vegetarian establishment, no alcohol is served on the premises. But Arun has cleverly sourced a line of alcohol-free wines from Spain for thirsty punters looking to partake in some guilt-free vino.
Another avenue Arun is looking to modernise is Woodlands’s commitment to the environment. Though he has been trying to introduce more eco-friendly initiatives like paper straws and filtered water, he has encountered obstacles. His loyal clients are habitual and a bit conventional – they stubbornly love plastic straws and bottled Bonaqua. Further, there are logistical issues: the plastic-free eco-packaging on the market is not designed for messy Indian curries and sauces…Still, Arun perseveres. His outlook is one of mildly amused patience. He is more than willing to go slow and wait for people to come around.
So grab your friends (the menu is huge, and best enjoyed with a group) make your own over to Woodlands, the Indian vegetarian restaurant that forever changed Hong Kong’s desi dining scene and indulge in delicious Indian vegetarian comfort fare- post makeover, we’re happy to report the food is excellent. And make sure to get an order of the fried idli while you’re at it- it’s finger-licking food.
UG1, 62 Mody Road, Wing On Plaza, Tsim Sha Tsui East, +852 2369 3718, email@example.com.