I have always been a foodie.
I have learnt to appreciate great food a lot more in the last few years than I did when I was younger but it’s always played a really important part in my life. I grew up watching food shows on TLC and the Discovery Channel by famous chefs and foodies like Anthony Bourdain, Gordan Ramsay and of course Nigella Lawson. One of my favourites however was a show called World Cafe Asia by Bobby Chinn. It was absolutely brilliant and showed me a completely new side of culinary delights – street food. Bobby Chinn taught me that great food doesn’t always have to come from Michelin starred restaurants. It was everywhere right from the smallest street stalls in Vietnam to the slightly dodgy looking hawker centres in Hong Kong and it’s something that still resonates strongly with me.
So when I found out that he was opening The House of Ho, his newest venture and his first one outside of Asia right here in London; I was really excited to go try it out. If you haven’t heard of House of Ho, it’s a Vietnamese ‘banquet style’ restaurant on Old Compton Street that serves up Vietnamese with a modern ‘Bobby twist’.
Inspired by traditional Vietnamese dishes, the menu is full of sharing plates that are bound to get you excited. If the menu doesn’t get you excited, I am sure the prices will. The costliest dish I found on the menu was £12 with most dishes averaging around the £6 mark. This is absolutely great considering what you get and great value even for Soho.
The subtle play on the ‘House of Ho’ reference like the dessert menu being called ‘Happy Endings’ did make me smile and I really like the low-light dark interiors. With a bar at the front and nooks and crannies crammed with seating; it’s a great little restaurant that does justice to the Vietnamese food being dished up here. Like most other restaurants in the area, don’t be fooled by the shop front – it’s actually a pretty massive place.
Highlights for me included the Pho Cuon Noodle Rolls filled with Confit of Duck with Perilla Leaves and Sliced Grapes along with the Apple Smoked Pork Belly served with Braised Cabbage and Poached Egg. The confit of duck was packed with some great flavour and the perilla leaves gave this dish some minty freshness. Wasn’t too sure about the sliced grapes initially but it did work and made this dish interesting for me. While the duck confit rolls were fresh and light, the apple smoked pork belly was the complete opposite – rich, dark and perfect for a cold winter day. The apple smoked pork belly melted in your mouth and the rich plum sauce was great with a side of rice. I must admit, the sauce is a bit like marmite – I absolutely loved it while my friend Aanchal who I went to House of Ho with, hated it.
I was expecting more from the Grilled Oyster Sauce Marinated Squid. It wasn’t a ‘bad’ dish per say, it just wasn’t great; that’s all! I still enjoyed it a lot more than the wok tossed Young Jack Fruit with Spicy Mint and Rice Crackers which I really did not like. It is a pretty brave dish to be fair but it just didn’t work for me – the jack fruit and spicy mint combination didn’t complement each other and the rice crackers just confused me.
Overall the food was pretty good with a few misses. Some dishes here were so good, it reminded me why I am such a big fan of Bobby Chinn and some of the other dishes made me question his thinking but that’s what makes a ‘tapas’ style restaurant great – you can try a bit of everything and pick your favourites. The menu does reflect his rather eclectic background – Half Chinese, half Egyptian and brought up between England, Egypt and San Francisco, Bobby Chinn is not your typical Vietnamese chef after all.
If you are looking for a sophisticated Vietnamese fine dining experience, The House of Ho probably isn’t it. It is designed to be a fun, sexy and affordable dining experience serving up modern Vietnamese inspired menu with a ‘Bobby twist’. Judging on that count, it definitely delivers. It was also great to see Mr. Chinn walking around talking to diners – his passion for the House of Ho really does shine through and that does make a real difference.
Aanchal and I had a great time – the service was great, we got a table without having to wait outside in the cold and the place had a real buzz about it. Definitely going back to experiment with that menu again.