We have never been greeted so warmly at a restaurant than we were when dining at Vasco’s. A beachside eatery that forms part of the Hilton hotel, sitting on a prime spot of real estate along Abu Dhabi’s corniche.
Our pre-conceptions of the Hilton were that it was an old hotel (one of the first in the capital) and that despite having a loyal client base, wasn’t the type of place that you would automatically think to visit. Yet life at the hotel is currently undergoing a major transformation, with the re-vamping of the numerous food and beverage outlets.
Named after the explorer Vasco Da Gama (the first European to reach India by sea), Vasco’s menu is inspired by his exploration route and offers a varied selection of international cuisine, taking in the highlights of European, Indian and Asian-inspired cookery. Although at times this feels like an uneven approach, it’s perfectly in keeping with the ‘East Meets West’ concept.
Attached to the Hiltonia beach club, Vasco’s prides itself on it’s picturesque beachside setting. The design is narrow and the architecture forms a wave pattern that follows the curvature of the shoreline. Decor is nautical and relies heavily on life buoys, portholes and a live lobster tank to complement the ocean locale.
Visiting on a Friday, Vasco’s seemed to be suffering from the brunch related isolation with very few diners, which transpired to be great for us as we had the full attention of manger Lana and our waiter, Sateesh. These two employees exemplify ones expectation of great service, going above and beyond the call of duty. Noticing one of us was under the weather, we were presented with a teapot full of hot honey and lemon and upon leaving the brave manager ventured out into the oppressive midday heat, to hail part of our party a taxi, before walking the rest of us down to the beach
Sitting up against bright windows overlooking the sea, we couldn’t resist but order some seafood to begin our meal. Arabian Gulf shrimps ‘piri piri’ style were exactly what we needed. Plump and fleshy shrimp, marinated in a spicy piri piri sauce that’s forms a staple of both Portuguese and African cuisine and deviates from the words ‘pepper pepper’ in the Swahili language. The spice is offset by a fresh salad of raw vegetables in a sesame dressing, making for a perfect light bite for those just in from the beach.
Much like Vasco himself, our journey began in Portugal, before taking us on a global tour of varied cuisines. The ‘dum ki daal’ was easily the best thing we ate during our lunch at Vasco’s, surprising us because it’s not what we would usually order (thank you Sateesh for the recommendation). Hearty and packed full of flavours, the black lentil stew was a combination of earthy and sweet and when accompanied by a piece of buttery naan bread – felt like a warm hug to the heart. Leaving us in little doubt as to why this is labelled as one of the restaurants signature dishes.
Sticking with the signature items we opted for the ‘BBQ short ribs’ as one of our main courses. The meat didn’t disappoint and having been slow-cooked for 24 hours, effortlessly slid off the hunk of bone and melted in the mouth. Served with hand cut fries (quite possibly the chunkiest we have seen in Abu Dhabi) and a delectable truffle aioli, it was the braised savoy cabbage that was the only weak element of the plate, due to it’s under-seasoned nature and bland taste.
The ‘Portuguese spiced cod fillet’ unfortunately suffered a similar fate. The fish was succulent and beautifully seasoned, to a point that it didn’t requiree the additional cilantro cream sauce. The roasted vegetables and mashed potatoes however, were a different story and much like their counterparts from the short rib dish, distinctly lacked flavour.
Each plate of food exiting the kitchen as Vasco’s has been masterfully constructed and even the children’s meals were immaculately presented. The chicken breast with mashed potato (pictured above) shows diners how much care and attention is given to the plate in bringing a fine dining concept to even the smallest of guests.
Desserts are where Vasco’s ultimately succeeds. The unique flavour combinations of the ‘mango and rosemary cheesecake’ exemplify the East meets West concept. Utilising the flavour of sweet Indian mango, offset against rosemary from a European country garden. Served with candied ginger and lemongrass ice cream, the cheesecake provides an overwhelming assault on the senses that’s likely to divide diners but we relished each and every mouthful.
The ‘trilogy of creme brûlée’ continued the high standard of desserts. Offering three tantalising albeit slightly obscure flavours. The matcha was the clear winner due to its earthy undertones and miniature matcha meringue, with matcha being a flavour that we personally really appreciate. The mandarin was full of the refreshing tangy zest that these citrus based desserts require and only the chestnut failed to deliver. More so because of the subtle nature of the flavour, which didn’t leave an impression like the other creme brûlées.
If you’re only to order one thing at Vasco’s, ensure it’s the chocolate soufflé. Oven-baked for 15 minutes, soufflé is notoriously difficult to perfect but the team at Vasco’s do an admirable job. The soft and decadent soufflé comes with a light vanilla ice cream, forest fruit compote and served upon a bed of chocolate crumb. The presentation is again on point, with the addition of miniature chocolate trees adding to the foresty vibe initiated via fruit compote.
Summarising our doing experience at Vasco’s we were suitably impressed with the service, presentation and desserts. In need of some work is the atmosphere, which was slightly lacking considering the ocean vistas. The attention to detail when it comes to the side dishes also requires action. Dining at Vasco’s was a pleasant experience that surpassed our initial rather low expectations and allowed us to see why regular customers are so loyal. Claiming the award for ‘favourite al fresco dining’ at the Fact Abu Dhabi 2016 ceremony, we say stick with the signature dishes and you can’t go wrong. Days later we’re still thinking of that dhal.
Location: Hilton Hotel, Al Khubeirah, Abu Dhabi
Social: Instagram / Twitter / Facebook
Hours: 12pm – 3:30pm / 7pm – 11pm
Phone: 02 692 4328
We were invited to dine at Vasco’s. All views are our own and all photographs are © Out & About UAE, unless otherwise stated.