Gallery Vask: If Manila had 3 Michelin stars, this would be it

I never knew Filipino fine dining existed, until meeting Gallery Vask‘s degustacion menu

Having scanned through the other reviews, I thought to add my own two cents to the literature out there, since several of the others sound little better than press releases.

Premise

When I heard that the 39th among Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants was in Manila, and that this same restaurant is the Best in the Philippines – and I hadn’t yet tried it – I had to go. We had to go. And the occasion was perfect: Papa’s birthday.

Vask is divided into three parts: the fine dining Gallery, the open-air terrace/balcony for cocktails, and the tapas bar.

My sister and I took our dad earlier this month to celebrate his 61st (shh, don’t tell anyone). It was a whopping Php4,000 per person (the menu itself is Php3,500+pp) in the end, but I would 100% recommend it as a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing. After all, most chefs don’t have the vision and/or can’t afford to take their art to sublime levels the way Chef Chele Gonzales did here at Gallery Vask.

You’re not just paying for food, you’re investing in a one of a kind experience #thisisnotanad

How can you put a price on months of travelling through the Philippines, in the name of culinary research, and then condensing it all into a delicate 9++ or 14++ course degustacion menu the likes no one has ever seen or done (or tasted) before? No one has yet – to my knowledge – elevated “Filipino food”the way he has.

The years of expertise and experience it takes to come up with what he did… my mind was blown. And yes, it’s worth it. Just firmly stick to the regular water if you don’t want to add the still water and wine to your bulging bill.

Of the two courses, we decided to opt for the 9++ course “Lakbay” (journey) menu. The “Alamat” (Legend) is the whole menu experience but my dad is casually manorexic and my sister and I are not exactly the most voracious of eaters. Joyce had to fast all day to prepare her stomach for the unusually high amount of digesting needed to be done that evening.

When I say 9++ I mean there are extra complimentary starters and “enders” that push the number to more like 13… But hey, if you think you can handle over 14 different plates, no matter how small they are, by all means! It’s Php4,900++ per person for the full Alamat.

Setting

Before I launch into the food, let me take a step back and talk about the atmosphere.

Good: Since the kitchen doesn’t open until 6.30pm, you can start with drinks on the balcony, where we enjoyed the quieter side of BGC in an open air environment. The terrace is a destination in itself, if you don’t have a special enough occasion for Gallery.

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A dark and blurry shot, the only one I have

Bad: Maybe I don’t have great taste for contemporary art, but some of the sculptures and paintings inside were a bit disturbing. I can’t remember exactly what, but weird distended animals, and a dark Alice-in-Wonderland-like image on the wall, both of which I couldn’t help but stare at since they were in front of me the whole meal.

Good: The open kitchen layout. It was great to see them at work on your dishes, meticulously arranging exquisite plate after exquisite plate – particularly with the culinary tweezers. (Is that what you call them?)

Bad: There were hardly any guests, but the tables were arranged in horizontal rows. That detracted from the feeling of intimacy, which many 5-star hotel restaurants contrive by diagonally positioning tables, paying attention to the space between dining groups so you don’t feel like you’re in a food hall. I suspect Gallery Vask is up there among the most expensive restaurants in the Philippines, if not the most, so they should pay more attention to the dining experience to the very last detail. (Sorry, I used to review restaurants in Hong Kong for a living, so I can get annoyingly nitty gritty every now and then..)

Good: The whole concept of art and dining. It reminded me a bit of Bibo in Hong Kong. Gallery Vask might do well to borrow some design elements from Bibo, in fact..

The food

This won’t be as exhaustive as Rappler and some other blogs have treated it. I will simply strive to make comment on what stood out in my mind… and in our palates.

Not even the first dish

  • Wagyu chicharon (pork scratchings) with vinegar (we could not finish this)
  • Mini pandesal: It came with coconut and a mini-grater for the coconut salt rocks. My mini-sister enjoyed the mini-ness of the whole thing

Binondo

An amuse-bouche triumvirate consisting of the below images. I took one from Rappler because I forgot to take a photo of the empanadas (*guilty, lazy blogger).

The threesome is called binondo as it’s inspired by the street food culture of Manila’s Chinatown. I’m not familiar with the area, but you can tell me if they got it right (I’m sure they did).

Lutong Bahay

As the name says, this trio is inspired by Filipino home-cooking, with a focus on endemic vegetables. The black sticky rice arroz caldo was flavoured with jamón ibérico; sounds great but it was more broth than porridge. Joyce’s favourite was the crunchy sayote. It remained her favourite for the next five or so dishes..

Tiradito

Tiradito is a Peruvian dish of raw fish, cut in the shape of sashimi, and of aspect similar to crudo, and carpaccio, in a spicy sauce

Historically Japanese-infused Peruvian food was the food trend taking over major cosmopolitan cities circa 2013. Obviously, Gallery Vask has not come out unscathed from that. Thankfully, many good and fresh things result..

Chef Chele’s Filipino version is Kinilaw Yellow Fin Tuna with Pickle Arosep (as in lato, the seaweed my dad would force feed me in my youth).

Did you know Kinilaw is Visaya while Kilawin is Tagalog? I always say kinilaw without realizing I’m  mixing up my dialects…

My dad was delighted when the server placed the raw ingredient tabon-tabon on the table, a fruit from his childhood in Cagayan de Oro. The tabon-tabon was used to cure the raw fish, but how did they find such a particular ingredient from Mindanao?! We found out that one of the chefs was from Iligan, which can also explain how the lato was pickled using suka pinakurat, a local vinegar produced by my dad’s friend.

This dish was an easy favourite for my dad, who identified with each and every element they used – all ingredients he grew up with. And this is why I say Gallery Vask is so special – memory association adds a dimension to the dining experience, something you don’t get with every meal. You become conscious of what you’re consuming as well, heightening the appreciation and recall. Sorry for the mini-philosophy paper this is becoming, and I’m only on plate #3 (!!!!).

Habagat

Showmanship using the dry ice technique, something of a palate cleanser comprised of ramram, lemon basil, Thai basil, upo seeds, and fermented coconut.

Algae

Tinola royale – local gambones – arosep

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Chef Chele’s version of ‘tinola’ in the texture of egg custard/pudding. Instead of chicken, you have cross sections of tiger prawn and my favourite seaweed – lato (arosep)

Pansit Pansitan

Abalone – nilagpang – mustard – mushroom

pansit20pansitan
An aromatic consomme of medicinal herbs

Buro

Fermented rice – mustasa – Maya Maya

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The main fish dish, essentialy ulam and rice, but of course with such concentrated and well-balanced flavour. I wish all my lunches were like this.. ha! I was already so full by this plate, which was incredibly good as expected (fish oh so tender, skin oh so crisp), but the best was yet to come

Sour Ribs

A good argument against being vegetarian. I have been making an honest-to-goodness effort to cut down on red meat, but this cannot be denied. The tiny cube of Wagyu literally melted on my tongue, cooked to imitate bistek with ‘soyomansi’, onions, garlic casein, and talinum.

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Pingol Bato

Everything refreshing in one neat package: Dalandan, Fermented Ginger Ale, Yogurt, Pili Nuts. Is it a dessert or a palate cleanser? It can get confusing.

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When I found out that other people had a dessert made of literally all my favourite things (Ube, Kamote, Mango Meringue, Cashew Wine Ice Cream), I felt let down. Why didn’t we have this in our menu?! But then Cassava made up for it, being as delicious a spinoff on cassava cake as can be:

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Not too sweet, fully textured deconstructed cassava cake
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Dessert #3 of 4: Corn lovers rejoice for Pintos (binaki), made of corn tamales, corn mousse, grilled corn, and BURNT MILK ICE CREAM. More of everything I like in one dessert. How did they know I love corn?!

My sister and my dad went wild when they saw this. This is another Cebuano / Visayan regional delicacy. I felt kind of left out because I had no association 😦

But wait, there’s more?!!

One last goodie for the road… or fourteen. Childhood game sungka stuffed with treats instead of shells. I can’t remember all (the same way we couldn’t eat them all), but I remember: pastillas de leche, yema, Baguio-style peanut brittle, candied pili nuts, sugared/salted tamarind (sampaloc) candy, hilaw na mangga (green mango) dipped in chocolate, pinipig something… the list goes on.

There was a table of six beside us full of French people, and I’m sure they enjoyed the meal, but there’s no way you can enjoy it as much as if you were Filipino having grown up with many of the concepts served on your table. This restaurant is best experienced as a Filipino, so I urge you to save P1,000 every month for four months and treat yourself or your loved one to Gallery Vask.

I never thought my dad was a fine-dining person (he probably still isn’t) but this was something so personal and close to his heart that it made his birthday incredibly special.

So big thank you to the Gallery Vask team for this journey.

Yeni

Do you know any other fine dining restaurants in Manila? Can you recommend any to me? What are the best/worst? Have you tried Gallery Vask before? How was your experience? I would love to have your recommendations of great places to eat similar to Gallery Vask, that would be amazing!

Opening hours: 6.30pm-12mn; A: 5th Floor, Clipp Center 11th Avenue corner 39th Street Bonifacio Global City 1634 Taguig; W: http://www.galleryvask.com

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