The first thing I notice about the all new House of Ho in Fitzrovia — the original House of Ho in Soho is now just called “Ho” — are the stairs. The all new House of Ho is set in an old townhouse, and if you’re not dining on the ground floor, there are a lot of stairs. And they’re creaky. The front of house staff have advised me to climb all the stairs to the top of the restaurant and wait for my party in the bar. My gym got rid of their last StairMaster a few months back, and as I climb the stairs, I start a strongly worded letter in my head, suggesting they bring it back.
Luckily, my party finds me before I make it to the top floor — we’re in the very lovely and serene private dining room on the 2nd floor — and a heart attack is averted — although I make a solemn vow to up my gym visits from .5 times a week to at least 1.5 times a week.
I’ve been invited to a social media night at the restaurant but of course I’ve forgotten my camera and my blog cards. What sort of blogger am I?? (Hint: An old one.) And there’s assigned seating at the dining table, which makes me wonder briefly about the conversations that must have occurred to put this all in place.
This is quickly forgotten when our servers plop a nice plate of bo la lot down in front of me. Bo La Lot is very, very special to me — I had never had them before visiting Cay Tre in Old Street back in 2005, and now I love love love them. (Don’t you love the effusiveness of my earlier writing style?) Like really love them. I hold myself to one piece at House of Ho, and it’s a great, high-quality version — the quality of the beef being deliciously higher than that at Cay Tre.
Bowls of duck and watermelon arrived early on during the meal and while I am not the hugest watermelon fan, this worked amazingly well, the light acidity of the watermelon combatting the richness — not that there’s anything wrong with that — of the duck. I could have had more of this.
Soft shell crab with chilis wins for most photogenic dish of the night. I wonder what do they do with all those chillis after each meal? As a huge fan of soft shell crab, I kept plucking and plucking at the bowl. It reminded me of Easter in America, where you would scrounge around in your Easter basket for the remaining jelly beans, knowing, hoping that there would still be something in there for you to enjoy. While the dish wasn’t listed on the menu at the time of our visit, it can be ordered by special request.
At the end of our meal, they leave us with these lovely little bowls of pebbles — chocolates really. A sweet ending to a very nice meal. Despite the stairs.
House of Ho is now commanded by Ian Pengelley, who used to be over at Gilgamesh in Camden many years ago. If you want another dip into my seemingly limitless archives, check out my visit to Gilgamesh many years ago over here. Good times. (By this point, it’s 2007 and I have discovered my writing voice and dropped the word “yummy” from my vocabulary.)
The Verdict: House of Ho strikes me as a great place to go if you need a private dining room and something different for everyone. I would return for more of the bo la lot and beef with watermelon.
I was invited to House of Ho for a dinner with other social media types. I did not pay for my meal. As always, my opinions are my own.
Hakkasan Hanway Place was seriously one of the first restaurants I ever went to in London as an adult. (My 1993 London visit while I was in university doesn’t count for anything. One day, I’ll tell you about the sleeping arrangements.) My first visit to Hakkasan was in 2001 when I was here from the States for six weeks for work and the “Design Guy” came over and took us all out to Hakkasan and paid too. He must have read about the restaurant in one of those design magazines because this was 2001 after all, before blogs and Yelp and all those other Internet-Web-App things. My, how times have changed.
All these years later though and Hakkasan itself has not changed all that much. It’s still the darkly sexy place it once was and I still get a little freaked out when I try to find the door to the loos. Ah! They’re behind that wall/door thing! I get it! Hakkasan has also expanded, thanks to our friends at the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, a very sovereign and very wealthy sovereign wealth fund. If I were Mr. Yau, I would roll around in all my money all the live long day. Maybe, just maybe, I’d buy a small island somewhere. A tropical one.
Only we really didn’t have to order much except for some cheung fun. Because Hakkasan Hanway Place is offering a new Sunday set brunch special. And it’s an amazingly good value, even though this is going to seem like a big number when I tell you the number…
It’s £58 quid. And it is so so worth it because…
For £58 quid, you get all this…per person!
Choice of cocktail
Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV Champagne, France 12% half bottle
Choice of after dinner cocktail
Crispy duck salad with pomelo, pine nut and shallot
Chinese chive dumpling
Duck and yam bean dumpling
Royal king crab and truffle roll
Baked venison puff
Smoked duck and pumpkin puff
Golden radish crab meat pastry
XO seafood and water chestnut lettuce wrap
Stir-fry black pepper rib eye beef with merlot
Ginger and spring onion fried rice
Selection of dessert
If that’s not amazing, I don’t know what is. For £58 quid!! I mean, like I said, I know that’s a big number, but talk about getting your money’s worth!! Sure, there are some misses on the menu — I didn’t die over the lettuce wraps — but there are more hits than misses and that counts for something. Check out the full menu online and then drop into Hakkasan on a Sunday afternoon and then roll yourself home! Vegetarian menu available.
The Verdict: Nothing not to like!
I was a guest of Fiona’s and Hakkasan. I did not pay for my meal but I did tip on the full amount.
The other week, A Girl Has to Eat and I dined at The Duck & Rice together and decided that rather than both write reviews, she would let me borrow hers! Here is the text of her review…I’ve added some of my other thoughts at the very end…
The Duck and Rice is the latest outlet by design supremo and superstar restaurateur Alan Yau who is best known for the Michelin starred Chinese restaurants Hakkasan and Yauatcha,and the high street dining chains Wagamamas and Busaba Eathai. With The Duck and Rice, Yau pays “homage to the ‘holy’ [sic] British drinking establishment” by converting what was once the rather shabby Endurance Pub into a modern day boozer on the ground floor and a funky Chinese restaurant on the first. (KN note: I don’t understand why the restaurant uses [sic] in that sentence on their website.)
It’s an interesting new approach to Chinese eating, and it certainly adds a new twist to the concept of east meets west. I went to The Duck and Rice with Krista from Passportdelicious.com and we both agreed that we loved the ambience of the restaurant. It was very COOL with a dynamic energy that made it a great dining venue. Krista was happy for me to order and so I did my best to order as much food as I could with the £50 that received for writing about the UNCOVER app.
We started with some sesame prawn toast (£6.50) which had been recommended in many reviews. These proved to be really enjoyable and had been expertly prepared with a generous spread of tasty and well-seasoned minced prawn topping. The sesame seeds worked well to complement the flavour of the prawns, and the toast was crispy and admirably did not taste oily.
Venison puffs (£4.80) are a take on another dim sum classic, the char sui (BBQ pork) puff, and here they were delicious, packing in lots of great flavour. The sauce in the filling had the right level of consistency and sweetness and was very authentic tasting. However the pastry was ever so slightly underdone and not quite flaky enough. A few more minutes of cooking time and these could have been perfect.
Jasmine smoked pork ribs (£14) were sublimely tender with a great flavour. But the ribs needed more sauce, and the sauce needed more spicing. Nevertheless, we really enjoyed the ribs. We both agreed it was better to have good quality ribs that were well cooked with not enough sauce, rather than badly cooked ribs with too much sauce.
A dish of wasabi prawns (£10.50) contained some good quality battered prawns that were sweet and meaty. But we didn’t enjoy the wasabi mayonnaise that came with the prawns as it was too rich and a little sickly. Serving the mayonnaise as a dipping sauce would probably have worked better. This would have also meant that the batter on the prawns would have stayed crunchier for longer.
Our final dish was the No23 (a reference to how in some Chinese restaurants you order by the number). The No23 was a chicken chow mein (£9.50) which we both found a little disappointing as it tasted flat. The dish lacked for that fragrant (香), almost slightly caramelised effect that you normally get with really well cooked Chinese wok noodles, and this usually comes from having the right level of wok heat.
We both enjoyed The Duck and Rice, especially for its great ambience and funky vibe. As for the food, notwithstanding some weak spots in the cooking, this was fairly tasty with the occasional glimpses of authenticity. The service was pleasant and friendly, and far better than what you would get in a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. Price wise, we were rather impressed with ourselves for managing to order as much food as we did for about £50. That said we found the 13% service charge (rather than the standard 12.5%) to be quite cheeky.
Food rating: 3.5/5
Service rating: 3.5/5
(Hi…it’s Krista again…)
So A Girl Has to Eat and I were pretty much in agreement on all of the dishes, although it’s fair to say that I probably would have rated this on an overall basis more like a 3 than a 3.5. When you start thinking that your local Chinese take-away does a better job than Duck & Rice, well, that tells you something.
Also, we had a small snafu when we first arrived that A Girl Has to Eat doesn’t mention, and I really want to talk about it. We arrived at the restaurant just in time for our booking, and I forget if I said this or if AGHTE said this but one of us said, “Oh, and do you have a note about our voucher with Uncover? There should be a note in our reservation about our £50 voucher?” We were very polite in asking this and remained polite throughout. The female host though was kinda rude. She told us that there was no note and she would know about it. At which point I said something like, “I have the email confirmation from the PR. I can show it to you…” and she really didn’t even want to see it, and repeated that if indeed there was a voucher, she would know about it. At that point, I think I said, “Maybe there’s a manager you check with? I really do have an email from the PR and I’d be happy to show it to you…” Can you guess what she said next? You guessed it…she reminded us that she would know about the voucher. She didn’t even give us a chance! Then, all of a sudden, a nice young man appeared out of nowhere and said “Do you mean the Uncover voucher? Yes, they called earlier. It’s all sorted. Follow me.” He apologized to us but I just go so mad at the woman at the front. I hate when people insist that they are right to the point of not even giving someone a chance. And well, once she realized she was wrong, I expected more from her.
That’s £16 alone for just the hand wash. Not available for sale at R&M.
Raw Sicilian prawns with some Instagram
Super delicious fritto misto.
Wine on tap!
For someone that is normally bang on time, I’ve been late to the Rex & Mariano party. Actually, I’ve been late to a lot of parties since I returned to London last summer. All work and no play makes Krista a very, very dull gal. So I am making up for lost time! Lots of lost time. I’ve missed Mr. Noodles and Su-Lin! It’s been too long. But there we were, just like it were yesterday (or, errr five years ago) helping ourselves to all the delicious things at Rex & Mariano with greedy abandon.
Because Rex & Mariano is delicious. Very delicious. Especially if you are like me and want to eat nothing but seafood until the day you die. (I will die slowly…of mercury poisoning.) And Rex & Mariano is not too pricey either! iPad ordering keeps their labor costs low. So that’s neat.
We ate a lot of things at Rex & Mariano and there were only two disappointments: the mushy salmon carpaccio and the courgette fries. So don’t get those, but get everything else! Especially the fritto misto. And the Sicilian prawns. All the Sicilian prawns.
Strangely, for a Saturday lunch time, the place was eerily empty. In fact, every time I’ve walked by Rex & Mariano, it’s been eerily empty. That’s more Sicilian prawns for me then!
Other lessons learned:
Pace your ordering. We ordered all our mains at the same time and, well, they all arrived at the same time. (Surprise!!) We could have used some spacing in between, given that we were sharing everything.
Wash your hands! You can wash your hands all over Rex & Mariano! It’s actually GENIUS. And they have Ren products in the loo if you really want to walk all the way back to the loo to wash your hands with very expensive stuff that smells really nice.
Wines on tap! Lots of wines on tap! Another genius idea! I want to hang out at the bar at Rex & Mariano just so I can drink from all the wine taps! That being said, I am a firm believer now in the £3.50 125 ml house wine. (That’s a £21 bottle. Just take a £10.50 bottle and put a 50% markup on it and then sell it by 125 ml pourings and you’ll get to £3.50.) I am going to forget the exact numbers on R&M’s menu, but the wines by the glass started more in the vicinity of £5 quid a glass.
I’ve been spelling focaccia wrong for most of my life.
I really should start cataloging the hand wash used in restaurant loos along with the cheapest wine by the glass. It’s fun!
The Verdict: GO. Eat all the Sicilian prawns and wash your hands multiple times.
Oh look, Urbanspoon is now Zomato so here’s the new Zomato spoonback…let’s hope these puppies load faster than the Urbanspoon ones…
When people would ask me what I missed most about London, I would tell them honestly, “Waitrose. And Bob Bob Ricard.” American supermarkets were fluorescent nightmares, and American restaurants were full of cheap chairs and limited sparkling wine choices. I ran away from the Jewel’s and Dominick’s of the world, and started doing most of my shopping at the very tiny Green Grocer, which had everything I needed, really. (But still, no Waitrose.) And I found myself spending more and more time in the velvet and brass lobby bars of the grand hotels — The Four Seasons, my preferred choice — chasing that sense of escape and other-worldliness I had found in London at the all plush and all lovely Bob Bob Ricard.
So when Leonid (one of the Bobs of Bob Bob Ricard) invited me over last weekend for BBR’s “Hey look now we’re open for lunch on weekends” grand affair, there was no hesitation. Yes, Leonid, YES. I will be there. And it was just as beautiful as I remembered. One day, when I make the millions I deserve, I will paper my home with Bob Bob Ricard’s wallpaper and install “Press for Champagne” buttons in the most unexpected of places. I will smother myself in caviar, eat everything off of blinis and stamp all my toast with the BBR logo.
Bob Bob Ricard is an escape, a journey to a place you do not want to come back from. Where the sommelier Jeremiah, who you haven’t seen or spoken to in over four years, remembers you and the photography course you were taking in 2009, and you have to wonder if there’s a file on you somewhere, a photograph, a list. (“Prefers tap water, known to break glasses…”)
At the end of my meal at Bob Bob Ricard — caviar, sea bass, filet mignon — when the dining room was quiet again and the staff were gearing up for dinner service, I wanted to hug every single employee. I wanted to cry. I couldn’t stop saying thank you — thank you! — because if there was anything that confirmed to me that I was back in London, it was being back at Bob Bob Ricard. So thank you, Leonid. Thank you!
OK, now off to Waitrose…
I had lunch at Bob Bob Ricard with four — and then five — friends, as a guest of Leonid’s. He was — and is — extraordinarily gracious. And while I am no Tom Parker Bowles, I hope you read this and make yourself a reservation at Bob Bob Ricard’s soon. Tell them I sent you.
Dude, I was on a Hotwire roll in London. Who doesn’t love a discount? Particularly if the discount gets you a centrally-located luxury hotel like The Langham. Although upon check-in, as you can tell from the video, I wasn’t too enthused about my room — the furniture was ancient but not in a good way and the bathroom was badly in need of an upgrade — by the time I checked out, I was converted. There’s something to be said about staying somewhere with a high level of service.
Here’s what I liked and what I didn’t…
Location. I love Soho so being just a short walk away up Regent Street was perfect for me.
My bed was a marshmallow cloud. Seriously, the linens, the pillows, the mattress…the Holy Trinity of beds. Absolutely lovely.
The staff. Lovely, everywhere, helpful, funny, sweet, everything.
The bar. The bar at The Langham is absolutely gorgeous. I would gladly meet anyone here for a drink or five. Maybe even a mandarin panda drink. It gets way too buzzy and popular in the evenings, but in the afternoon, it is an oasis of calm with lovely and attentive service.
Bath products. Many and plentiful and restocked over and over again. I am past the days of collecting hotel bath products, but if you are still in those days, you will love it here.
Free wifi. Plentiful and everywhere and always connected. Well done, Langham.
Free canapes in the bar! Apparently at 6-something every evening, The Langham celebrates the year of its founding and sends out free canapes to everyone in the bar. NICE.
The room was a little dated. The service and the amenities made up for this, but I would generally prefer something a bit more updated.
The clientele. OK, this is picky of me but there are some very wealthy people who stay here and they act it, in that new money way. (Is that terrible of me to say that? To talk about new money vs. old?) Not once but twice while waiting for the concierge, I was cut in line by men who totally knew they had cut in front of me and they didn’t give a shoot.
Now all this being said, I did not get a chance to try out the fitness center or the spa. I was out and about for most of my stay. But while I was in my room, I was rolling around in my marshmallow cloud and feeling quite smug that I hadn’t paid $600+ a night for my stay.
The Verdict…And Hotwire Logistics
If you visit London and you like fine things, you should stay here. It’s tremendously lovely. I was lucky and got it via Hotwire. I booked this five-star mystery hotel for $275. 83 a night. At the time of booking, a comparable stay booked directly with the hotel would have been $6334.33, so I saved 56.16%. And I slept in a marshmallow cloud. Fantastic.