We are all used to good Vietnamese food in London – Kingsland Road is one Vietnamese after another all offering good food at discount prices. Cai Tre, with branches in both Hoxton and Soho, is one of the better known cafes and comes in at a similar price point to House of Ho, a new Vietnamese restaurant on Old Compton Street run by Bobby Chinn.
Bobby Chinn is a bit of a celebrity over in Asia with TV shows, cookery books and two restaurants in Hanoi and Saigon. Over here, however, he is less well known and I would be surprised if many of the diners in his new, moodily lit restaurant would recognise him.
So, the celebrity chef element alone probably isn’t enough to attract diners (and with so many celebrity chefs around at the moment it is hardly a USP anymore) which means the food really has to step up. On the whole, I’m pleased to report, it did a pretty good job.
The pho cuon cold rice noodle rolls with fillet mignon (or cow) were delicious. Generous with the beef, they were plump and full of flavour with a slight heat at the end. A promising start, which wasn’t quite matched by the crab and pomelo salad, although it was still a tasty – and generously portioned – option.
Pomelo is very much like a grapefruit but the few segments that we had lacked any real tartness, which would have lifted the dish. It just needed a zing of citrus and a few more fresh, vibrant herbs to make the taste less one-dimensional.
We skipped the hot and grilled section in favour of a few from the section headed ‘Ho’s dishes’ under the assumption that these were the signature dishes and therefore worth our attention. We ordered the shaking beef, apple smoked pork belly and the chicken potato curry with nearly all of the sides, which seemed to magically refresh – especially the morning glory, which before you snigger (and we did), is very much like spinach.
The shaking beef was very good indeed, heavily smoky on the outside from the chargrilling with rosy, tender flesh beneath the crust. I would never usually order fillet, as it lacks the flavour of harder worked cuts but you couldn’t accuse these bits of meat of being dull. I outshone the pork, which was good, but the fat hadn’t rendered out and it was sadly lacking a crackling top.
The chicken curry was a bit of a disappointment for me. Having eaten many a very good massaman curry – and I know these are not the same thing, but still – of chicken and potato this seemed to be an inferior relation. It had an almost soapy taste, which perhaps might have been lifted with some crunchy peanuts and a squeeze of lime but sadly it left me rather unsatisfied. Good job for all of that morning glory and stir-fried egg choyote, our very enjoyable side dishes.
According to his website Bobby wants to ‘introduce modern Vietnamese food and flavours that this city hasn’t experienced or tasted before’ with House of Ho. I wonder if he has somewhat failed to do his research, as there are so many great little Vietnamese restaurants around, where flavours if anything are more vibrant and authentic than House of Ho.
That said, House of Ho offers a great location, relaxed atmosphere and good, tasty food so it is very much worth a visit.