House of Ho: Not so Ho-t (May 2016)

Located on the site of the former and much-loved Bam-Bou comes House of Ho. The website claims diners will experience the “sights, flavours and aromas” of Vietnam. This strikes me as a somewhat bold assertion. Furthermore, even a quick glance at the menu would also seem to suggest that chef-director (a pretentious title if ever there were one) Ian Pengelley hasn’t fully been able to abandon the pan-Asian remit he had formerly at Gilgamesh. Although I have never been to Vietnam, I doubt there are few places in Ho Chi Minh City, let alone the outer regions of the country serving up spiced yellowtail sashimi with jalapenos or crispy squid with chilli & sea salt. Bottom-line, if you are actually trying to do something different, then do it properly, rather than just trying to come up with an on-trend menu that will appeal to as broad a swathe of Londoners as possible. Gripes to one side, the food itself was pretty good. My comrade and I enjoyed a beautifully presented and competently executed soft-shell crab to begin. It arrived on a massive plate of dried chillies and was accompanied by two piquant and ostensibly Vietnamese sauces that offset each other well. We followed this with arguably the best dish of the meal, an innovative pairing of crispy duck and watermelon in a salad. The cashews worked as a perfect foil in terms of texture and there was a subtle element of spice throughout. Mains (which we shared) were more pedestrian: a small portion of ‘shaking’ (read: flash-fried) beef was most notable for being small, while the lemongrass chicken was slightly too sticky and hence cloying. On the negative side – oh yes, there is more about which to gripe – service and price in particular stand out. With regard to the former, we had to endure and agonisingly painful wait before anyone would take our order and staff in general seemed fairly oblivious to customers’ needs. More egregiously, pricing was high, very high. £35 for a plate of eight pieces of shaking beef? Seriously? Overall, the bill for two at lunch, with one beer each, a bottle of water and two espressos plus service topped £110. We were there for an hour – so not a cheap experience. Would I come back? Well only if in the area, after pan-Asian food, and ideally with someone else paying….