La Vache! Review date: February 1, 2014
The Black Sheep Restaurant group have an uncanny habit of opening venues which quickly become the most sought-after tables in town. Carbone, Ho Lee Fook and ChômChôm are all on my list of places that I’d go back to a heartbeat and recommend without hesitation. Stick another one on that list: La Vache! in Soho, in the building formerly occupied by Hong Kong’s only African bar, the underrated Makumba.
It’s all about the little things which, when taken together, add up to a great evening. The bread is great – and warm – the butter soft. The house wine is reasonably priced and an easy quaffer. The decor is tongue-in-cheek French without being cheesy, so the Métro at CDG-Etoile, the Opera Garnier and Les Invalides feature on the walls, while the menu/tablecloth is the backdrop for more familiar sketched Parisian scenes.
After three years living in Paris I learnt a lot about the city, understood the numerous meanings of ‘La Vache’ and spent a fair bit of time eating steak-frites. The formula here is tried and tested: a set menu at HK$258 per person brings walnut and frisée salad with vinaigrette, the trimmed entrecote steak, sauce and unlimited fries.
The salad is dressed just right, with occasional hits of Dijon amidst the red wine vinegar and olive oil.
The steak delivers just the right combination of glorious fat and perfectly bleu (rare, but choose how you like it done) meat from the rib area of the carcass.
The fries – oh those fries – just keep coming. Even at the end of dinner when we’ve paid the check, our waiter asks if we want any more.
The sauce is a secret recipe but redolent of a Béarnaise, with notes of tarragon (or similar) amidst the egg yolks, clarified butter and white wine vinegar. It’s good stuff and matches the steak, but on this point the winner for me is still the ‘original’ sauce at Le Relais D’Entrecote which is more complex and even richer through the use of chicken livers.
Even the vegetarian, a rare sight in a steakhouse, is well looked after with a generous plate of cheeses, bread, walnuts and dried apricots.
The dessert trolley doesn’t so much wobble as groan its way towards us, weighed down with a ridiculously enticing array of French classics, like everything else, all made in house. Baba rhum, crème caramel, clafoutis, éclairs, tarte tatin:
In the interests of research we hit up two further options, a towering Paris-Brest and beautiful lemon meringue tart, both utterly sensational versions:
The great custard or cream debate, one which has divided families and doubtless caused wars, is easily resolved at La Vache! as they give you both.
Overall though it’s the atmosphere, again, which sets it streets apart from the competition. I mentioned this in reviewing Carbone and Ho Lee Fook. It’s in no small part the service and decor, the fact that the staff are clearly having fun despite the no-reservations policy for parties of less than four, something which can make diners impatient. But it’s the music which is critical. The evening started with some Sinatra, Piaf and crooners, moving up through Dylan to Aretha, James Brown, before George Michael told us we gotta have Faith, Thom Yorke admitted he’s a weirdo and Nas rounded off our evening with The Message. That sort of setlist shouldn’t work, but like everything else at La Vache!, it does. A brilliant evening for $1000. Doesn’t come much better.
La Vache!, 48 Peel Street, Hong Kong
Tel:+852 2880 0248 http://lavache.com.hk/
Walk-ins only for parties of less than four. Expect a 30-45 minute wait at weekends. It’s worth it.