“So, what’s your favourite restaurant?” It’s a dreaded question that comes with being called a London foodie. It’s also the hardest question I find to answer, along with “what is your favourite place to travel?” It almost feels akin to asking a parent who their favourite child is – but the difference is that I don’t even have a secret answer in my heart. It truly depends on the situation, formality, cuisine, area of London, budget, view, meal type (brunch, lunch, afternoon tea, bressert…) I could go on (and have done in blog format for a few years now – skip to paragraph 6 for the food).
Unfortunately, it doesn’t help that I’m also chronically indecisive. Usually when arranging to meet with friends we start with location, strike out any unfortunate flavours and then we suggest a few researched options and I let them pick. Sometimes one of the nicest aspects of blogging – both reading other recommendations and being invited to try out new menus – is trying cuisines that you’ve never tested and not having to decide on which part of the globe you’ll be perusing with your knife & fork…
Disclaimer: We were invited guests of the House of Ho but my (very many) opinions
only ever my own, and I would never recommend anywhere that I
wouldn’t happily revisit.
Whilst on the (off)topic, what is it about Southeast Asian culture and food that has us so enthralled? Even back in Victorian times when global commercialisation and shipping first became a thing, fashion delighted in the obscure culinary flavours of Asian persuasion. It is the fresh, fascinating flavours? Is it the delicate, intriguing layers of piquancy? Is it the unusual marriage of textures so different from European palettes? Or is it simply that 5,000 years of flavour development renders dishes just right?
From the pre-research I did (aka ask around a couple of my friends) Vietnamese seems to be a cuisine, no, almost a cult that causes devotees to close their eyes in delight even when the word is mentioned. When you mention Vietnam to travel addicts they wax lyrical about generally unspoiled towns, fresh fragrant street food, incredibly friendly locals and the euphoria of sweet Vietnamese coffee. Maybe that’s what it is – I am rather addicted to a proper bowl of Pho – the fresh, sharp medley of flavours just hits the spot sometimes.
Crispy squid with chilli & sea salt
Invited by House of Ho to try out one of their family-style menus in the newly relaunched Fitzrovia branch (apologies for the unintentional international tangent) a bevy of bloggers gathered around the communal table, chopsticks and cameras ready for pouncing. Without a word of hyperbole (that comes after the wine gets opened), we couldn’t as a group keep our hungry hands out of the Vietnamese cracker selection. I always think of them as Pandora’s box; once you start you can’t stop even though you know a full meal is soon to follow and you’ll probably regret it…
The crispy duck & watermelon salad was probably one of my favourite dishes of the night. You can’t really go wrong with duck (or shouldn’t I should really say) but as a benchmark dish, you know the evening is only going to get better from a good start. The tiniest problem was the size of watermelon chunks were ever so slightly too large to eat gracefully. But you know, first world problems…
We also inhaled the moreish crispy squid with chilli & sea salt,
fought politely over the sea bass dumplings and found ourselves raising chopsticks at dawn over the Bo La Lot (filet beef wrapped in leaf, served with a delicious sauce). Ushered into the room on a glorious
bed of hot chillis, we of course oooohed over the
beautifully presented spicy soft shell crab.
Excuse the slightly shoddy photo – I blame the palate cleansing sake and need to get all ‘blogger elbows’ more…
For our main course we all enjoyed chef Ian
Pengelley’s signature ‘shaking beef’ (if the empty plates were anything
to judge by) but I really loved the Lemongrass chicken. A subtle, fragrant take
on sweet and sour (one of my favourite naughty takeaways) the crispy
bite of light batter married beautifully with the tang of Lemongrass very softly scenting the free range chicken.
‘Shaking beef’ – Aberdeen Angus seared in an aromatic soy/oystersauce glaze with the pan shaken as the meat cooks.
We also enjoyed the unwrapping of Chilean sea bass cooked beautifully in a Vietnamese fermented plum sauce (I closed my eyes in enjoyment at one point as the flavour hit) and a side of the crisp Kai Lan (Vietnamese broccoli) as a perfect accompaniment. Whilst we we rested in between courses I learned that the menus at House of Ho are inspired by Ian’s travels in Vietnam, his training in Hong Kong, China, Singapore and executive chef roles at restaurants such as Gilgamesh.
For dessert (the most important course for any sweet tooth) we tried the cheekily named ‘happy endings’, a spin on the classic chocolate fondant – a green tea pudding with gooey centre served with a fruit sorbet and fresh passion fruit.
My favourite sweet, but only by a slim margin, was Ian’s special banana crumble. Definitely for the very sweet of tooth, I don’t tend to like cooked banana but the texture combination with a caramel sauce and the finest crumble was delicious (and enough to make my dentist shake in his shoes & possibly afford him to book another holiday to Dubai. #worthit)
The chocolate pebbles definitely kept us amused inbetween dessert & the sad point where we had to says goodbyes to my lovely fellow blog dinner party khách (guests) before collecting our coats.
Of the two branches, we visited the plusher Fitzrovia restaurant (there is a sister, funkier branch in Soho). Situated in a 4 floor townhouse (with a bar at the very top) there are several luxurious private rooms and two floors of more informal dining. House of Ho is definitely my new favourite Vietnamese restaurant in a lovely Fitzrovian Townhouse…