Coconut’s Critic’s Table reviews are written based on unannounced visits by our writers and paid for by Coconuts Hong Kong.
COCONUTS CRITIC’S TABLE – There’s not a lot of options on La Vache!’s menu. That’s because they don’t even have a menu. The paper slip at the table setting explains the whole concept. It’s inspired by Paris’ Relais de Venise L’Entrecote chain and they serve only one thing – steak frites. The meal comes with a couple of pieces of baguette and some butter to start, then a leafy walnut salad, followed by a ten ounce USDA Rib-eye with all the fries (or frites, for those who can ‘parlez vous francais’) you can eat. The cost is only HK$258. Holy cow, indeed!
A recent arrival on Peel Street, La Vache! is the rare affordable dining option in upscale SoHo. It’s a part of the fast expanding Black Sheep Restaurants Group, which has opened Boqueria, Chom Chom and Motorino in quick secession.
The first thing you need to know about the place is it’s another in the worrying trend of new restaurants that don’t take reservations. In La Vache!’s case, they will only take bookings for parties of five people or more. Luckily, it can hold 70 so turnover is quite fast.
Outside the eatery, the distinctive neon entrance looks a little like an old Art Deco theatre. Turn the corner and it’s a cavernous grotto trippin’ on retro Parisian bistro chic. All that’s missing from the maroon-coloured leather banquettes, red checkered table cloth and the colourful sketch art of the City of Light is a mime wearing a beret.
Arriving at a relatively early hour – 6:30pm on a weekday – the hostess still asked us to return the table by 8pm. The other option was to sit at the bar where presumably we could linger a bit longer. We chose the bar. Nobody enjoys rushing through dinner if you don’t have to.
The server, after explaining the concept to us, had only two questions. “What would you like to drink?” and “How do you like your steak?” The house red is a Bordeaux eponymously called La Vache (HK$78). Okay, we’ll give it a shot. It’s serviceable, easy to drink but – not to be too picky – the glass could be slightly more generous.
Before my medium rare steak arrives, the green salad comes. It’s quite basic, consisting mostly of butter lettuce, with thin shavings of radish and crunchy walnut bits and a hint of mustard dressing.
The main course comes after we slowly finish the salad and it is already pre-sliced. The server puts a couple of strips on a hot plate for each guest and leaves the rest on a metal tray with a tealight underneath to keep warm. The frites are thin julienne cut, crunchy, not too salted and comforting. Also served is a home-made béarnaise sauce, the traditional French accompaniment for steak.
Like everything about La Vache!, there’s little fuss or extravagance. It’s steak as a basic staple. If you’re familiar with beef cuts, you know the Rib-eye will have some fat, perhaps a little tendon and maybe some gristle on the edge. That’s why it’s a flavourful cut. Connoisseurs will also know there are much better grades of meat than USDA. Taste wise, it can’t compare to Wagyu or any organic farmed Porterhouse. But the steak is still generally good, reasonably priced and, from a sourcing perspective, certainly reliable. I suspect La Vache! assumes most guest will dose the meat in the béarnaise’s mix of vinegar and mayo anyway. Since I am being nit picky, a little more char on the crust would be nice too.
For the gluttonous, the servers will keep refilling your plate with more fries if you desire. A quick word of advice for mostly guys: unless you’re still in college, unlimited fries doesn’t mean you have to keep eating chips until you get your money’s worth of potatoes. That just makes you look like a cheap boar.
We opt out of more fries and decide to check out the dessert cart. Considering how little space there is, it’s amazing they find room to wheel around such a tall trolley. Dessert is not included in the standard dinner so all the sweets are extra. Among the decadent looking selection of classic French pastries include Millefeuille, Chocolate Mousse Cake, Tart Tatin, Croquembouche and Caramel Eclair.
However, we go with the Paris Brest (HK$98), with its lovely layers of choux pastry, praline cream and caramelized hazelnut. Another reason to not eat so many fries is so you can appreciate more of La Vache!’s authentic patisserie treats. Where the rest of the meal has the perfunctory pragmatism of value for money food, the desserts – even the ones we didn’t have room to try – are clearly created with a lot of heart.
Since opening in late 2013, La Vache! has only opened for dinner but now they’ve begun lunch service too – presumably only offering steak and fries as well.
G/F, 48 Peel Street.
Tel: +852 2880 0248