Sunday, 12 June 2016

The Drawing Room - was replacing Vasco a good idea?

Vasco Fine dining was one of my very favourite restaurants in Hong Kong (see post here and here).

When I found out that it was closing, I was devastated. Why hadn't I gone and supported it more!  I still remember so fondly the olive oil sommelier and the incredibly inventive and tasty Spanish cuisine.  

Sigh, that's Hong Kong for you!

Then, I found out that the space that Vasco occupied at historic PMQ was to be taken over by by The Drawing Room, a restaurant that held the hearts of Hong Kongers so well before closing down a few years back.  Not to mention having held a Michelin Star for many years also.

My excitement grew, when I found that, Drawing Room Concepts, the team behind Vasco were driving the new iteration of the Drawing Room.  In fact, the chef that had provided the taste sensations that delighted me at Vasco, Chef Gabriele Milani, would continue to be the driving force in the kitchen.

My acceptance was complete.  Spanish would make way for Italian.  Bring on The Drawing Room.

Like many new (or reborn) restaurants in Hong Kong, it was difficult to make a booking for TDR, so much so that Saturday nights were booked out more than a month in advance, so I had to make do with a Friday night spot - after work.

There was a very familiar feeling as we made our way from pre drinks at Aberdeen Street Social (see post here), up through PMQ to the very top floor.  It was almost a case of deja vu as we were met at the level six reception and were escorted upstairs.  As we were given our seats, it would be easy to forget that Vasco had demised and a new restaurant had taken it's place. In fact, the only real difference that I could see was the change of name; everything else remained the same.

It would be so easy for me to reflect and comment about the differences between Vasco and The Drawing Room, so I will try to refrain!

As an homage to the restaurant's name, we noticed a set of colouring pencils and a note page, adorned with The Drawing Room, clearly intended for a fun start to the meal.  My colouring in days finished in primary school, but the girl, being a natural artist, was busy creating her trademark portraits on the paper - massive smile on her face.  If the concept was to relax diners before a meal, then it was mission accomplished for us.

I couldn't say the same for the couple that was seated next to us.  They were clearly unimpressed with the 'sub standard' seating they were given, and complained very noisily, even very rudely until they were moved to a more 'acceptable' seat.  I was impressed with how the wait staff dealt with these very rude customers.  I was just glad they moved, who would want to sit next to such diners!

Our seats were fine by the way!

There are two menu options at The Drawing Room, the classic menu and the seasonal menu. Each had highlights and dishes to avoid and it would have been ideal if we could have chosen across menus, mmm, I wonder if that was an option?  Anyway, we finally chose the five course tasting menu from the classic menu, which held slightly more allure than the seasonal menu.

Our amuse bouche arrived before long, consisting of diced green and red peppers topped with a light potato foam.  The harshness of the peppers had been cooked away, leaving a subtle sweetness that worked in harmony with the starchy potato foam.  The dish actually felt more Spanish than Italian, so the influences of Vasco could still be felt.

In fact, the echoes of Vasco would be felt thought the meal, with the first dish of langoustine tartare with amalfi lemon cream and cucumber mayonnaise being served on a Vasco plate.  It seemed as if The Drawing Room had not invested in replacing the crockery of its predecessor.  I found the langoustine tartare to be a little slimy, the texture sitting uncomfortably on my palate; although the flavours were lovely.  I liked the combination of the fresh langoustine and lemon cream, both really quite fresh, but the texture was just a little off putting for my tastes.

We were next confronted by a perfectly cooked scallop sitting in a deep bowl and surrounded by fresh green peas as our next dish.  A green pea soup was poured at the table and we were left with a sea of green and a perfectly caramelised scallop as the 'island' in the middle.  It was indeed a beautiful dish, both visually and to eat.  The freshness of the pea soup was appreciated and when combined with the sweet scallop, was a delight.  My only minor quibble was that it could have done with a little more seasoning, to really help the pea soup 'pop'

We'd shared the same options for the first two course, but deviated for the remainder of the meal. It was also where our opinions of the meal became divided too.

For the pasta course, the girl chose the Italian red prawn linguine with fresh tomato and chilli, which at first glance looked very appetising.  Unfortunately, the prawn was seriously over cooked, with a texture that was more akin to rubber.  Worse, it seemed as if the prawn head had not been cleaned thoroughly and when SC pulled apart the prawn to taste, a grey goop came out of the head to contaminate the pasta.  It was incredibly over powering and seriously put a dent in the girl's enjoyment of the pasta, in fact, she left most of it as it was quite unpalatable.

I fared much better with my spaghetti mancini with Hokkaido sea urchin and bottarga.  With instructions to mix in the uni with the pasta, I started to devour my al dente pasta.  However, it was only serviceable and there was no real wow factor with the dish.  The sauce was fairly benign, with no really dominant flavour and once the uni was consumed, it was a little boring.  I probably wouldn't order pasta from the Drawing Room again.

We were back on track with superb food with my main course of roasted black angus tenderloin with ox tongue, potato puree, baby roasted onion and a mustard sauce.  Cooked a perfect medium rare, the presentation of the dish was 'top drawer' and very appetising to look at.  Better, the beef was seasoned to perfection and was as tender as you could hope for.  The potato puree was also beautiful, with a creamy texture and buttery taste, it was right up there with Joel Robuchon's iconic potato puree.  I loved the dish and savoured every bit of the beef, right to the last bite.  

However, as good as the beef was cooked, the ox tongue was over cooked, and I missed that spongy texture that perfectly cooked tongue provides.

The girl was still reeling from her pasta experience, which most certainly impacted her enjoyment of the char-grilled pigeon served with sautéed organic broccoli and spinach.  The pigeon was cooked a perfect medium rare, and the parts that I tasted were quite nice, with a strong gamey flavour.  However, the girl found that it was perhaps a little under cooked at it's thickest and, still feeling queasy from her pasta, left a lot of it for me to finish off.  So, I was feeling quite full.

Not full enough though to pass up on the dessert of strawberries with orange, basil and mascarpone ice-cream!  Wanting something light and refreshing to end the five course tasting menu, my choice was perfect, with macerated strawberries working perfectly with the sweet cream, a subtle hint of basil finishing off the flavour profile.  It was very classic and for me, a great way to finish off the meal.

I'm sure that the girl would have forgone dessert it it wasn't a five course tasting menu, but in a way, she had by choosing the cheese course.  As per the Michelin starred restaurants of Europe, a cheese cart was wheeled across for SC to make her selection of three cheeses.  There wasn't a huge selection, but SC was able to select three benign cheeses, avoiding any controversial choices of any strong flavours, like the gorgonzola.  The cheese platter went some way to erasing the memory of the prawn tragedy, but not fully.  It was the part of the meal that SC remembers over all other dishes, no matter how good they were.

So, our meal finished and there was the big white elephant in the room.  We decided not to comment about the prawn, other than SC declaring that she didn't really enjoy the dish when most of it was taken away by our waiter.  Not honing in on that comment was probably the only flaw in the service, that was otherwise impeccable, especially the way our noisy and complaining 'neighbours' was handled.  It would have been interesting to see how the rest of their meal went!

Everything that I'd heard about the previous iteration of The Drawing Room was that it was one of Hong Kong's finest restaurants.  I'm not really sure why such a loved restaurant would close, nor why it would choose to open again in such a risky spot at the top floor of PMQ.  I found the food to be slightly above average, but when I compare to my feelings after my Vasco visit, I wonder if it was the right move.

The Drawing Room had only been reopened for a short time, so perhaps it's unfair to be too critical of the prawn issue.  However, when you are replacing a much loved venue and wanting to drive to a Michelin star, you cannot afford a dud dish; it becomes the dish most remembered.

SC and I walked away from The Drawing Room with very different opinions and memories;  I wonder if the change from Vasco to The Drawing Room with leave Hong Kong diners equally divided?

This petite four was right out of the Vasco menu
As was this set of petite four (including the glass container)
A little vibrancy from the pencils
Phew, I was glad our neighbours were moved!
A very pretty table decoration

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