Saturday, April 23, 2016

VEA Restaurant and Lounge (Hong Kong, CHINA) ★★★★★

Ever since Chef Vicky left Liberty Private Works late last year, I have been following every one of his moves closely on Instagram. From picking out his new digs, renovating the space to fielding and training his new team, every step of the way. So although I haven't been to VEA Restaurant and Lounge just yet, I seem to know the place pretty well already.

It's no secret that Chef Vicky has never failed to dazzle us with his creative fare all these years so to no one's surprise, his newest venture, VEA took off immediately following its soft opening. The place is absolutely packed every single night and it's been one of the toughest place to get a table in the city.

Like previously with Liberty Private Works, we gathered ourselves around the horseshoe-shaped bar table and got ourselves ready to be peppered with their wonderful creations one after another.

Firstly, we started the prix fixe dinner off with some grissini branches made with black olives and black pepper. That was accompanied by leaves made with pesto, pine nuts and egg white. Very interesting and unusual start to this meal.

Are these really crispy deboned chicken feet with coconut gel atop?

Then a pair of nibbles arrived at the same time, first we have quail eggs pickled in Chinese ginger. This is a nice tribune to the boiled egg (along with pork trotters) in Chinese ginger and sweetened vinegar (薑醋蛋) often cooked for Chinese women after giving birth.

Very nice and runny yolk. I almost tried breaking the other two eggs in the basket but thankfully they stopped me just in the nick of time and told me it's for decoration purposes only. 

Lastly, some "cigars" with parmesan cheese foam in the middle to finish things off a nice set of amuse bouche.

Following an interesting array of amuse bouche, we were finally warmed up and ready to go. I was really excited about my first starter having seen the absolutely gorgeous presentation.

Judging from the colorful display, I knew for sure there are a lot of ingredients in there and yes indeed it's a very busy dish with tuna, Hokkaido sea urchin and espelette leading the way.

Here we have a bed of delicious tuna tartare with piment d'espelette emulsion that was topped with fresh sea urchin from Hokkaido, fermented radish, edible flowers, cucumber and scallion. The transparent layer on top was a burnt cucumber jelly that put a lovely finishing touch on the dish.

This is an extremely well designed dish with the perfect mix of contrasting temperatures, textures and flavors. I like the sweetness of sea urchin meshing well with the spicy espelette and pickled radish for a sophisticated and exciting dish. And as always, Chef Vicky is so great with finest details of each dish as he really impressed me by serving this on an ice cold plate to bring out the best of the tuna and sea urchin.

Anyone who has dined in Liberty Private Works before should be familiar with the frozen longan as this would always be provided alongside the first starter to deliver a sweet and refreshing touch.

While I was still a bit overwhelmed by my first starter, Chef Vicky came over himself and brought along with him our second dish, which also happened to be my favorite dish of the night.

Meet my Japanese mackerel, aged three days and slightly poached. It was beautifully served with edible flowers, pickled daikon and radish.

The key here is obviously the broth which was prepared using star fruit juice among other flavorful ingredients giving it a very sweet taste and tangy texture. That was simply breathtaking.

Next we have Japanese sea cucumber stuffed with scallop mousse and served with a variety of seaweed, again from Japan, Iberico ham, asparagus and Okinawan sea grapes. It was an interesting dish but being the old-fashioned guy that I am, I have always thought that sea cucumber is better suited for Chinese cooking.

They brought back one of the all-time favorites from Liberty Private Works in this egg ravioli with black truffles, ricotta cheese and spinach. The whole thing was topped with a taiyouran egg yolk and caviar and showered with a rich parmesan foam.

This is without question one of my personal favorites from LPW and it was so nice of them to turn back the clock and serve it up to its diehard fans. 

They left me scratching my head by pairing the ravioli with a small piece of deep-fried truffle flavored Chinese cruller. I know it's perfect for dipping into the parmesan foam but I thought the flavors didn't really match.

Very raw do we see Chef Vicky does a classic French dish so I was a bit surprised to have this dish as my first meat course. Bresse guinea fowl roulade was stuffed with foie gras and then served with compressed apples, pickled cabbage and truffle purée (the black dots). It was super juicy and very tender. Very nice.

Less successful was the 48-hour braised pork belly which was served with in-season Japanese firefly squid, French asparagus, morel mushrooms and pickled mustard seeds. They did well to balance the richness of the pork belly with the acidity from reduction of the pork bones, apple juice and apple vinegar but serving it with fermented vegetable purée managed to raise some eyebrows among the few of us (though I like the inspiration from the Chinese braised pork belly with preserved vegetables 梅菜扣肉).

My first dessert was a strawberry themed one with a lot of ingredients forming a circle in the middle of the plate. This included macerated strawberries, candied beetroot, rose-shaped beetroot and a scoop of strawberry flavored sorbet and it didn't take long before they started shoving strawberry and rose snow in the middle of the circle.

As a beetroot freak, I just love the refreshing finish from the beetroot to go with the different variations of strawberry although quite honestly, it looked a lot better than it tasted.

I have been getting a steady diet of miso desserts this week (Belon and Cobo House by 2am dessert) so why not another one tonight?

Honeycomb meringue and miso ice-cream.....interesting mix of flavors.

We finished dinner off the same way we did at the start of the meal with a napkin and test tube of water. The only difference is the fact this is actually marshmallow and lychee cocktail. That was refreshing~

Like our amuse bouche, petite fours were very comprehensive.

Orange Earl Grey madeleines were very nice.

Finally some salted kumquat macaron and chocolate caramel truffle before the amazing dinner draws to a close.

In my opinion, Chef Vicky's Liberty Private Works has been one of the greatest snub on the Michelin Guide since the guide arrived in Hong Kong back in 2008. Now with the change of scenery, would he finally capture that elusive star in the upcoming guide? I am eager to find out at the end of this year...... 

Food Rating: 8/10
Price: $$$$
Address: 29-30/F, The Wellington, 198 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong
Closest Metro Station: Sheung Wan
Tel: +852 2711-8639

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