House of Ho, Soho, London
Vietnamese food never fails to set my taste buds alight – aromatic lemongrass, tangy fish sauce and sharp slivers of red chillies liberally doused with fresh coriander, that most divisive of all herbs, Thai basil and mint. I first experienced the explosive taste sensation in my university days, experiencing the night life of Shoreditch one bowl of Bún at a time.
More recently, I watched with a heart full of joy as my Vietnamese nanny smashed coriander, lemongrass and garlic into the tiniest smithereens in a pestle and mortar. Extracting every tiny bit of flavour in them before stir frying the paste with chicken. Taking me half way to taste heaven.
Bobby Chinn’s London debut held every bit of this promise. Born in New Zealand to a Chinese father and Egyptian mother, Bobby went from an education in England to a career in finance on Wall Street, finally discovering his passion for food. Moving to Vietnam after various stints in the US, he established himself as a successful celebrity chef and cookbook author before making his way to London.
House of Ho occupies a prime spot in Soho’s Old Compton Street. Off the bustling street, you enter a low-lit restaurant, with dark interiors and a warm buzz of diners tucking into ’Ho’rny Devil’ and ‘Ho Groni’ cocktails. The man and I are seated at one of the restaurants three top tables – 14, 20, 26 – overlooking the riotous fun that is Soho on a busy evening.
The food is for sharing. Small plates, hot and cold, that arrive slowly to the table, “banquet-style” one at a time. A bottle of the Chilean Vina Morande Gewurztraminer Reserva (£31.00) and a Singha Beer provide hydration as the food starts arriving. First, the Imperial Rolls. Feted as hot and crispy, with a pork and cellophane noodle and herb filling, were not terribly hot nor crispy.
Next, a firm favourite with regulars – Smokey smooth aubergines in a warm scallion vinaigrette finished with crispy scallions and shallots. Tangy sweet with a crunchy kick, this didn’t disappoint.
Then came grilled octopus with smoked sea salt, smoked black pepper, kumquat and chilli. We mixed the lime in the powdered spices and chilli before dipping the octopus in it. Despite the fresh seafood, the sublime dipping sauce needed a little something more than slithers of octopus to do it justice.
Of the two meat dishes recommended, the Shaking Beef 30-day aged grass fed Aberdeen Angus definitely stood out as the star of the evening. Shaking refers to the way the beef, tossed in a marinade of soy sauce, garlic and spices is shaken, until tender and perfectly cooked.
Still, like the dessert of sticky rice pudding with a black sesame sauce, the food lacked the punch I’ve come to love and expect from Vietnamese food. If giving the cuisine a modern or fusion twist means toning it down with a more European sensibility, then Bobby Chinn might want to rethink his interpretation of London’s international food scene.
Saying that, there were plenty of happy punters sharing plates at a leisurely pace, washing them down with cocktails and bottles of Hanoi and Singha. Go in a group, and if, like me, you are so inclined, ask for chilli sauce.
A meal for two with wine is £50-£60 per head. 55—59 Old Compton Street, Soho, London W1D 6HW, 020 7287 0770