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Editor's Note: On April 13, 2016, Drawing Room Concepts announced that Vasco will be closing on April 30, 2016. The space will retain head chef Gabriele Milani and the restaurant will reopen as The Drawing Room in mid-May.
Just like Isono, its sister establishment downstairs, Vasco’s aesthetics have been crafted into stylish precision by Joyce Wang. In line with the more refined cooking to be found here, the look is also slightly more luxurious, with less industrial design details and more lavish finishings. We get a slightly 2046 train carriage vibe from the lengthy room, which is at once classic and futuristic, punctuated by plush, high-backed wide velvet sofas in shades of olive, and textures of glass and marble. The centrepiece private room, which seats up to eight, is a glamorous capsule of a space that overlooks the busy kerfuffle of Isono downstairs. Because of the mezzanine-style layout, the din from the downstairs restaurant does tend to float upwards quite easily; for a casual daytime lunch, this isn’t much of a problem, but in the evenings the noise may become distracting if you’re looking for a peaceful and/or romantic meal.
High level Basque cooking done with inventiveness and an artistic flair will be chef Paolo Casagrande’s legacy for years to come and, while the Italian-born chef will be shuttling between Vasco and Lasarte, his team holds down the fort in between with aplomb. Casagrande’s menu is full of fascinating flavour combinations, all anchored with an Iberian touch, be it through the use of ingredients such as paprika, guanciale, or piquillo peppers. While we peruse the menu, nibbles arrive in the form of fat olives stuffed with peach puree and topped with spherified olive oil caviar, grissini with bresaola, curried pistachios, and foie gras “sandwiches”. Bread service too, is impressive: the warm, fresh loaf of burnished brown sourdough arrives with five types of butter, the mushroom version a firm favourite at the table. There’s also coils of crisp brioche, the flaky layers accomplished with pure Iberico pork fat rather than butter – the kind of offering that is made to be Instagrammed (hashtag: notgutteroil). Onto the dishes proper, we’ve sampled from both the tasting menu and the lunch menu, and find the cooking accomplished and flavours distinct and purposeful. Red Palamos prawns with sea urchin on a “seabed of crustacean mayonnaise” is a blast of marine flavour, and a marked improvement on the overcooked red prawn dish we were served at Isono previously. A yellowtail tartare with San Marzano tomatoes and avocado mousse is art on a plate, its chunky texture an improvement on the trout tartare with orange curd and cucumber, which is too finely minced for our liking. A paella with squid and octopus encapsulates all that is good about the sea, its essence distilled in each fat grain of rice – it’s served, in a rather twee manner, in a glass pan, so we miss the socarrat that would usually be found at the base of a traditional paella pan. Roast French pigeon is another dish that stuns, cleverly paired with an apple cream and liver toast, plus a pork and tomato stew studded through with pieces of pigs’ ears. For desserts, an appropriation of panna cotta flavoured with fennel and white chocolate is a refreshing take on a classic; we like the grassiness of the green apple sorbet and shreds of slightly sweetened celery, which takes away the pudding’s inherent heaviness.
Staff are well versed on the intricacies of the wine list, which is strong on old world wines with some boutique gems. Oenophiles should definitely opt for the curated wine pairings to accompany the tasting menu, though the sommelier can happily recommend wines by the glass to suit your food selections. Price points are democratic, with choices starting from under HK$100, heading up to HK$240 a glass. Our recommended Flowers Vineyard chardonnay was unexpectedly light, with a bonfire smokiness that cut through a creamy dish of asparagus royal rather well.
Service, from the bookings line through to the front of house, was of a high standard all throughout. Staff are relaxed and friendly, and are able to make recommendations and explain dishes in sufficient detail.
Expect to pay over HK$2,200 for two, if opting for the cheapest tasting menu (at HK$880 per person for five courses) and two glasses of wine. Lunch is of remarkable value, with two courses at HK$329 and three at HK$369 – it also comes with all the bells and whistles, from amuse bouche to petits fours.