Saturday, 28 February 2015

Vasco Spanish Fine Dining - Incredible and Memorable

I'm normally pretty pedantic about the order in which I write my blogs, with each post in the order in which I ate the meal.  Normally.  Sometimes, I have a meal that's so magnificent, that I simply can't wait until I get through the backlog and I just have to write about.

Vasco, Spanish fine dining, was one of the most exquisite dining experiences I've had in a long time! Big call, I know, but there it is.

Located in the heritage listed and superbly renovated Police Married Quarters (PMQ) site on the corner of Aberdeen Street and Hollywood Road, Vasco is one of a handful of restaurants that calls the site home.  If you've not been to the PMQ before, it's probably worth your time, with restaurants, art studios and just an all round cool spot to hang out (especially once a month for the night markets).

We'd first spotted Vasco while visiting the aforementioned night markets and somehow knew that it was going to be a special event.  So, on a Tuesday night, after a huge day at work, we'd arranged to treat ourselves to the  mind and kitchen of Chef Paolo Casagrande formerly of two-Michelin-starred Lasarte Restaurant in Barcelona.  Located on the 8th floor, we took the large service elevator, then final few steps upstairs to the top floor of the PMQ and plush looking entrance to Vasco.

We were warmly greeted and shown to our (almost) private dining room, which had space for two tables only.  A quick peek through the restaurant seemed to show a series of small (almost) private dining rooms, which helped provide a feeling of being the only (and most important) people in the restaurant - our own private Spanish dining room.  While this was a fabulous approach, the vibe that you find in a really happening restaurant was somewhat missing.

Our fantastic waiter spent some time running through the menu, which included two tasting menus; the chef's tasting and Vasco tasting, as well as a more traditional a la cart option.  We were informed that the chef's tasting menu was comprised of the signature dishes from the restaurant, which made our decision quite an easy one.  After confirming our selection, our Spanish culinary journey began.

Interestingly enough, the meal started with an olive oil sommelier rolling in a trolley of beautiful looking olive oil options to pair with our loaf of warm crusty bread.  After hearing of the flavours and textures of the oils, we both opted for the buttery valderrama olive oil.  Not content with impressing us with a selection of olive oils, the crusty bread also came with a range of butter flavours, which not only looked colourful, they ensured eating the bread was a tasting journey in it's own right.

Setting the scene on the tasting menu to come, we were then assaulted with a procession of amuse bouche that kicked off with a share plate of bites that included an olive stuffed with campari and caviar; air dried wagyu rosti, roasted pistachio nuts and a stunning foie gras sandwich.  I would have been satisfied with that selection but the small bites kept coming with a beautiful little bowl of smoked sardine with a foam and then a stunning bell pepper and potato sauce with a big fat mussel sitting proudly in the middle.....  All delicious.

The tasting meal then kicked off with a wonderfully presented dish of raw, diced Hokkaido scallops with cockles and a thin film of beetroot, accompanied by a jalapeno and sangria foam.  Providing an extra dimension was a frozen yoghurt that helped cool the slight heat from the jalapeno.  Though it was competing with some strong flavours, the subtle taste of the scallop was not lost though, it really shone through and remained prominent.

No sooner had our plates been cleared, our team of waiters then whisked back into the room with our next course, the oyster.  The lightly smoked Brittany (French) oyster, resting in a bed of lightly mashed and creamy potato, curry puffed toast and a pearl made through a technique known as spherification was a delight on the palate.  I've rarely seen oysters the size presented by Vasco and the light smoking in no way diminished the sweet flavour, nor the freshness that comes from beautifully prepared oysters.

The frenetic pace continued with what turned out to be the dish of the night, and quite possibly, a new contender for favorite ever dish!  Food simply does not get any better than the roasted foie gras that was bathed in a lemongrass infused duck consomme.  The richness from the foie gras was so intense and so beautiful in the mouth, that it almost brought tears to my eyes.  Extra flavours and textures of radish and horseradish didn't distract from that silky smooth foie gras and sadly, before I knew it, the dish was gone.  But not the memory, which will live on in this blog...

The most amazingly flavoured dish was followed by the most beautifully presented.  Looking and tasting of the sea, the red Palamos prawn with sea urchin was displayed on a blue glass plate that reminded the diner of an ocean.  Sitting atop a crustacean mayonnaise that contained 'sand' and several other flowers and garnishes, the prawn was lightly cooked and stunningly simple.  The saltiness of the sea urchin added some extra punch and the crustacean mayonnaise brought the whole lot together.  It would have been hard for any dish to follow the roasted foie gras, but this one did admirably well.

Seafood continued with the first of the major dishes, which was again immaculately presented.  The expertly cooked Sea Bass fillet was delicious, but when combined with the percebes marinere sauce, it became clear that the chef was showing off.  Texture came from the rice crackers with liquorice essence, diced mushrooms and peas which also helped balance out the richness of the sauce.

It was time for some meat, which on the night came from a char grilled French pigeon accompanied by a pork and mushroom cannelloni.  The incredibly tender pigeon was beautifully cooked and retained the full gamey flavour that comes only from the best of produce cooked to perfection.  There was a cream that had the essence of vanilla, which worked surprisingly well with the pigeon and the (very sticky) cannelloni.  Bringing the main together was an intensely rich jus, which to be honest was used a little sparingly (yup, I would have loved a little more).

With some tasting menus, there is a risk of eating too much!  But the Vasco menu, while pushed out at a frenetic pace, was comprised of plates the perfect size for the pace and allowed us to kick on with dessert without a break.  Yep, greedy!

The first dessert was a cereal soup with white hazelnut sponge, yoghurt ice cream, beetroot sauce and a little curd.  Presented in a long skinny bowl that looked like a leaf, the dessert had an incredible flavour of a breakfast cereal.  The combination of textures and flavours had the potential to confuse the palate (breakfast for dessert?), but interestingly, it was the beetroot sauce that made the difference!

Our last dessert was designed for 'adults'...  Textured chocolate with coffee ice cream and whiskey granita immaculately presented on the plate were all flavours that worked well with refined palates.  I've never been a fan of whiskey, but the punchy taste (without the alcohol burn) was perfect for the chocolate and coffee.  It was a real 'wow' moment to finish what had been an incredible culinary journey.

Of course, we weren't finished, there were some petit four to finish the meal, a beautiful lemon curd that looked like little mandarins on a plate came out first.  Then, along with the bill, came an interesting glass receptacle that had lots of little holes with treats that included a rainbow macaroon...  

We were astounded by our Vasco meal, it was easily the best we'd had in Hong Kong and probably one of the best tasting menus we've ever eaten.  There were no weak moments throughout the meal and there were some memorable highlights (yep, the roasted foie gras).  Only open a short while, Vasco doesn't (yet) have any Michelin Stars, but with an incredible team of chefs in the kitchen, pumping out world beating food, it surely must only be a matter of time.

Of course, a meal as an event is about more than just food (and what food!), it's about the ambiance and the service as well.  Our service on the night was first rate, incredibly friendly and knowledgeable staff were on hand whenever we needed them and each of our meals were explained perfectly.

Vasco is a restaurant that you would be proud to know is in your city, and best of all, it's just a fifteen minute walk from our apartment.  In fact, it's so good, we want to go back with friends..  The experience and the food are so good, we just want everyone else to experience it too!

Different flavours of butter included mushroom, beetroot and tomato - my favourite was the salted normal butter :)
The crusty bread was a journey on its own with the buttery olive oil and the different flavours of butter
The smoked sardine was incredibly complex in flavour yet, so simple!
These little iberico ham pastries were light, fluffy and full of punchy ham flavour
And finally a series of sweet treats to send us on our way

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