The House of Ho. Ho ho, so so .
House of Ho. In Soho. Ho ho ho. Even the taxi driver laughed.
This is the brainchild of Bobby Chinn, restaurateur, who already has two restaurants in Vietnam. According to his website, Bobby’s restaurant mixes French technique, Californian sensibility, a pinch of Middle Eastern spices and a touch of South East Asia’s flavours. It says that The House of Ho will be “fun, informal, sexy and moderately priced, showcasing a resolutely Vietnamese menu and some dishes with a “Bobby” twist.”
I am not sure what passes for moderately priced in Vietnam but I suspect it would not be the £97.88 I spent on a meal for two, with a cocktail and glass of wine each. Maybe he hadn’t negotiated his lease premium when he wrote that.
It’s slap bang in the middle of Soho, which is the perfect location for what is a buzzy, lively atmospheric restaurant. It’s quite dark. It’s not oldie-friendly. The music is notably loud. The cocktail helped take my mind off it. Rose petal vodka, lychee juice and vanilla, it was far too easy to drink. I do quite like the whole rose petal thing and (please note for future reference) I absolutely adore rose and violet creams. Charbonnel and Walker*, if you really must. I am aware that to some, violet creams are the contents of your grandma’s handbag, made flesh and not in a good way. But I loved my Grandma and I loved this.
The menu is divided into three main sections: Light and Raw, Hot and Grilled and Ho’s dishes. The waiter recommended two from each section. If we were hungry. As if that has ever made any difference. I panicked a bit and ordered an additional course, an entirely unnecessary side dish of stir fried egg choyote. Sort of like eggy fried courgette, the waiter said and it was indeed just that. Very tasty, too.
So we started with the Pho Cuon Cold Rice Noodle Rolls. A thick rice wrapper, with fillet steak inside.
It was totally overpowered by the taste of charcoal. I asked the waiter to taste. He agreed it wasn’t as it should be. They brought another one. There was no difference. I’d guess it was charcoal oil. I just don’t like it. They kindly brought a substitute dish.
The Bobby’s Duck ‘a la Banana’ Blossom salad was more successful. The banana was simply a presentation leaf, not an ingredient. This was a fairly classic Vietnamese salad, and had that gorgeous sweet/sour/salty lime thing occurring on the plate. Also good was the Smoky Aubergine, with a Warm Spring Onion Vinaigrette with Spring Onion and Crispy Shallots. I really did like the Lemongrass Monkfish, with a Fish Caramel Sauce –deep fried fish pieces, in a deeply rich and intense caramel liquid. I would have liked the rice at the same time, to soak up that liquid. Sadly, it arrived towards the end of the meal.
Salmon Tartare with chopped Pistachio, Shiso, Jicama (a root vegetable) and Asian Vinaigrette, was served with a raw egg on the top and large prawn crackers and the extras to mix into the tartare itself. I liked this. It was fresh and simple. Also seemingly simple was the Vietnamese Seafood Bouillabaisse, with Tamarind and Pineapple. I wasn’t especially keen on this – the stock was thin and I couldn’t taste any tamarind. I could also have lived without the many pieces of taste-free starfruit (hello, 1985) and indeed the pineapple. I found this underwhelming.
One of the signature dishes is the Apple Smoked Pork Belly, Braised Cabbage and Egg. This was crispy and tasty and I wish they hadn’t taken it away before it was quite finished. I’m not sure whether they’ve been told to clear the tables very quickly but they really did. On three occasions, where some food was left on the plate, it was whisked away, but because I was (unbelievably) so engrossed in conversation I didn’t notice, until it was too late. Once would have been forgivable – but three times? It’s starting to look like a policy.
And warning: Bobby is floating around the restaurant, making conversation with customers. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not have to make conversation with the owner. Unless I choose to.
*other brands are available and accceptable