After my post on being a calamari glutton at Grappas, I had a lovely email from a reader demanding (very politely, of course) more posts like that. So hello Kai and may I present another of my regular Hong Kong haunts – Applegreen.
Applegreen’s cuisine is inspired by the café culture of California and its strapline ‘The house of salad’ is the main reason it took me so long to get there! My boyfriend is no particular friend of salad (or anything healthy and non fried potato based) and made disgusted faces every time I attempted to broach a visit to a place boasting salad as its signature dish. Instead, I waited it out until a group dinner with friends, which turned out to be great and where I spotted Cajun Fries (served in a trash can, no less) smiling brightly on the menu. Well, the boyfriend loves Cajun Fries almost as much as he hates salad – and consequently, we have found ourselves there nearly every fortnight ever since!
Salads may be Applegreen’s thing but there’s plenty more on their menu, including meat entrees, pastas and a range of highly-enticing appetisers and desserts. Plus, of course, those Cajun Fries. Overall, it’s a really nicely-balanced Western menu, fresh, reasonably-priced and with some pretty unique signature items.
It’s also absolutely enhanced by the environment, which is relaxed, spacious and sophisticated. Clean minimalism is the order of the day, with colourful modern art splashing the walls (including more than its fair share of apples), and it’s just a really pleasant place to eat. Service is brisk and probably amongst the best I’ve had in Hong Kong, beating out more expensive restaurants and their snooty white-gloved waiters hands down.
Upon being seated, you’re immediately asked whether you would like warm or cold water – yes, the free tap water that many establishments go out of their way to hide, make you feel bad for ordering or, in some cases, actually charge you for. You’re provided with sharing plates, are always given a coaster (s0mething my Dad was obsessed with and which I can never now not notice), can easily customise orders for dietary requirements (we ordered potato skins without bacon due to a vegetarian and they actually went to the trouble of putting the bacon in a separate dish for us meat-eaters to still enjoy), they’ll always make the effort to seat you at the best tables as opposed to the nearest/easiest and it’s one of the few places where they still come to ask how your food is (always excellent, obviously). All the waitresses are quick, friendly, efficient and do their job with a smile. I can’t praise them enough.
Since we’re there so often, I’m just going to tell you about some of our favourite (and not so favourite) dishes. Take a deep breath, as it’s quite a long list!
Appetisers-wise, I’m obsessed with Applegreen’s made-to-order guacamole ($88). Actually, I’m pretty obsessed with guacamole full stop but this stuff is epic. It is YUMMY. Bursting with flavour, intensely more-ish and as hearteningly home-made as you can get without putting in the elbow grease yourself. I just wish it came with more tortilla chips to load up as you’re presented with a delightfully huge portion, and that said chips were actual tortillas as opposed to some strange wonton-pastry chip hybrid.
The Portobello Fries ($72) are slices of earthy mushroom with any potential nutritional goodness cancelled out by being deep-fried and encrusted in golden, crunchy batter. Just like that anchovy aioli I often dream about, the star of this is the black truffle cream dip, which is ridiculously delicious and thick and indulgent and did I mention ridiculously delicious too? It’s another wholly addictive appetiser, thick gooey clouds of gorgeousness, if a little heavy unless you’re sharing.
One of Applegreen’s signature dishes are their Asian Nachos ($68), chicken on wonton crisps with a smorgasbord of other toppings. It sounds a good idea on paper but the presence of puke-inducing wasabi meant it was a less enjoyable one in person. If you love wasabi, go forth and order; if not, like me, you might find it tastes oddly of toothpaste and old shoes.
A recent addition to their menu is a selection of flatbreads, which are just fantastic. They’re essentially lighter, healthier pizzas and are a total taste revelation. I love the Garlic Shrimp one ($148), which is also topped with pesto sauce, basil and cheese. It has a lovely fresh invigoratingly herby taste to it and the flavours are so more-ish that you’ll find yourself continually reaching for ‘just one more’ slice. The flatbread itself is light and crispy and it’s a pretty huge slab, so is ideal for sharing.
I suppose I have to feature at least one salad, and my rabbit food of choice is the Wild Mushroom ($58, $98). Their salads come in two sizes and include a slice of their utterly scrumptious banana walnut bread (which you can buy to take-away too and which I have been known to save until ‘dessert’!). I love the flavours of this salad – slippery woody nutty mushrooms combined with crispy greens and intense tang-tastic sun-dried tomatoes. I just wish they went a little easier on the oily dressing and were a bit more generous with their sun-dried tomatoes, which are just such amazing flavour enchancers that I’d like more of them with everything to be honest!
I’ve also tried their Shrimp Tostada ($70, $118), which is an intriguing Mexican-inspired salad, featuring black beans, corn, guacamole, sour cream and tortilla alongside the normal salad regulars. Major props for the presence of guacamole aside, this is, in truth, a little odd – two separate dishes that don’t sit entirely right with each other. The tortilla is marooned on one side of your plate, with dollops of sour cream and guacamole sitting on top like scoops of ice-cream that have forlornly fallen off a child’s cone somewhere. The rest is mixed together on the other side and is a bit stingy with the shrimp, which are cut into pieces and don’t number more than four morsels in total. It’s an “interesting” mix of flavours but probably not one I’d come rushing back for. Well, unless I just wanted to devour a load more of their guacamole, of course!
My boyfriend is obsessed with the Garlic, Chilli & Basil Spaghetti ($82) – even more amazing given that he generally turns his nose up at any pasta that isn’t in a red sauce. The sauce here is more of a dressing than anything else, olive oil mixed with the above ingredients and drizzled on, with cheese flaked on top. But despite the sauce being nearly invisible, some sort of food alchemy has gone on with this; it’s a highly flavourful, perfectly-seasoned dish that bursts onto the palette and exits with a cheeky little chilli kick to your behind. Very simple and very tasty.
I tried their Carbonara ($92) one day when I was in the mood for wallowing in puddles of creamy indulgence – and it definitely delivered on that! It ticked all the right boxes for a comfort bowl of carbonara – super-creamy and rich, ridiculously yummy, salty but somehow sweet and also way too heavy to finish in one go. Their Pesto ($82) is also rather yummy with a dynamic fresh taste but also quite heavy too. [All their pastas come with garlic bread and there’s also a list of ingredients you can add in too.]
Finally, desserts. Unfortunately, I haven’t sampled nearly as many of these as I’d like, because I’m nearly always WAY too full! I’d also add that their desserts are very generously proportioned – no piddling fancy Masterchef-sized efforts here – and you either need to find a willing partner to share or make the active effort to leave enough room earlier. I’ve so far managed a Brownie (gorgeous plus brownie points – haha! – for amazing inclusion of candied nuts, $58), Churros (cinnamon-y, finger-lickingly scrumptious churros, not enough chocolate sauce that was too anyway, $56) and the Applegreen Signature Sampler ($72), which was a light fun way to end the meal. The star of the plate was the apple crumble, the perfect mix of crunch, sticky syrup and molten fruit (the sampler has since been re-jigged not to include this) whilst the Applegreen Crisp, a bizarre little concoction seemingly filled with lemon cheesecake mix, was too unexpected for my tastebuds around to get their guacamole-addled brains around.
And oh yes, the Cajun Fries ($28). The whole reason I was allowed back to visit in the first place. They’re amongst my boyfriend’s favourite chips in Hong Kong. That’s about all there is to say really!
As long as Applegreen can keep delivering a high-quality menu at reasonable prices and with great service, we will keep coming back for more. Applegreen are a great unique and happily home-grown addition to Hong Kong’s dining scene who thoroughly deserve their success – with or without the Cajun Fries! (Just don’t tell my boyfriend I said that!)
All Applegreen locations in Hong Kong:
- 2/F, Plaza 2000, 2-4 Russell Street, Causeway Bay, 2368 1263
- 4/F, Carnarvon Plaza, 20 Carnarvon Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, 2312 2488
- 713-715, 7/F, Grand Century Place, Mong Kok, 2628 3711