With dishes that could each warrant their own food tableau so beautiful are they, adorned with accoutrements like gold leaf, sliced truffle and edible flowers, the Vasco vegetarian menu is an exercise in gastronomic posturing and far from your average Meat Free Monday restaurant set, as the front of house humbly referred to it. Throw in chic luxe digs and faultless service (the head server is basically the olive oil equivalent of a sommelier if there is such a thing, and he gave us the most impressive walk-though a tasting of some of Spain’s best cold pressed olive juice- the one with green banana undertones stole our culinary heart!), and you have a recipe for a perfectly indulgent lunch. Did we mention the butter plate? Along with house-baked sourdough, you get an assortiment of multi-colored crayola like butter sticks in flavors like beetroot, porcini mushroom, spinach, tomato, and the classic: salted. Tomato butter is a revelation by the way, definitely one to try at home.
Vasco’s full vegetarian set menu is a decadent affair, and one that can’t be rushed, with amuse amuse bouche before the amuse bouche, six courses and a petit fours round (the banana chocolate macaroon and the sugared blueberry jelly squares particularly stand out). In our humble opinion, this is vegetarian fine dining at its absolute best. Anyone who thinks haute cuisine requires meat will rue the day. Below, the meal’s highlights.
Creamy burrata with tomato essence and raw minestrone
It is our personal belief that burrata should have it own cheese category rather than be lumped with mozzarella, an oft disappointingly tasteless cheese whose name is abused in its many modern forms. Not so with burrata, texture heaven for any turophile (that’s cheese lover to you): unctuous creaminess and chewy stringiness that just melts in your mouth. We loved the acidity of the tomato essence, juicy and delicate, along with the tiny cubes of red pepper, radish, beetroot and cucumber- called minestrone in the printed menu, but which reminded us of a crunchy gazpacho. We also loved that the herb of choice was chives, such a refreshing change from the usual basil-tomato-mozzarella trifecta.
Farmhouse egg yolk with potatoes cream, mushrooms and piment d’Espelette
The moreish yolkiness of a Japanese farm egg, as yellow as a summer daffodil and as creamy as freshly churned butter, mixed with spicy spud mash dotted with earthy fungi specks and topped with black truffle crisps is lovely, warming comfort food at its most gourmet. If only breakfast could be this delicious every morning…
Saffron Acquerello risotto with liquorice
In the eyes of a chef, there’s rice and then there’s acquerello. Voted by many of the world’s finest cooks to be the best rice in the world, Acquerello is decidedly different than the usual choice for risotto, trusty arborio. The former’s grains are plump yet long, a contrast to the compressed quality of the latter. The result is a soupier dish, which we loved, not especially due to the delectable saffron sauce- we kept asking the server if there had been a mistake, so convinced were we that the risotto had a seafood broth base. Just goes to show that plants are overlooked in their capacity for umami. The liquorice swirl and gold leaf were possibly unnecessary additions though welcome all the same.
Cocotte of seasonal legumes with confit tomatoes & tamarind jam
Lightly poached kale leaves, artichoke hearts and beetroot in a truffle-flecked broth and decorated with dollops of sweet and tangy tamarind was really quite fabulous- such an underused fruit throughout the gourmet world, we predict an age of tamarind will be soon be upon us, especially as it is quite the ideal crunchy veg accompaniment. A confit potato graced the plate too, though it felt almost like an afterthought and we could have done without.
White chocolate and anise panacotta with celery granite
The pairing of white chocolate with anise is pure taste magic: both are equally matched in richness and refinement, restrained decadence, if you will. Most panacottas in this town are a gluey, over-gelatined mess but at Vasco, the dish’s custardy grandeur is on full display, no doubt thanks to a generous ratio of those Japanese eggs. We were worried that the apple sorbet with celery granite may have been a tad de trop but their crisp tartness cuts the creaminess of the pudding perfectly. One of our favorite desserts of recent memory- it’s worth going back just for this.
In short- make a date with Michelin-starred Chef Paolo Casagrande and his team the next time you want to pull out all the stops- you won’t regret it.
Vasco Spanish Fine Dining, 7/F Hollywood, PMQ, 35 Aberdeen Street, Central. For reservations, please call +852 2156 0888 or email firstname.lastname@example.org and make sure to mention you are looking for the vegetarian menu.