This slick new restaurant at the recently reopened Hippodrome offers a decent menu and some brilliant people watching, it’s just a shame that prices are high and service sometimes surly.
With The Hippodrome boasting such a glamorous past, it’s something of a shame to see it resurge amidst a Leicester Square that now just feels irredeemably tacky. Doors that once only swung for the Frank Sinatras, the Dusty Springfields and the Stevie Wonders of the world are now merely blocked, by lost looking ladies and men with maps and groups of girls and lads on the leer and just that impenetrable mass of bodies attempting to be anywhere, anywhere but right there.
Unfortunately, despite being above (literally and figuratively) all this naffness, Heliot can’t quite escape it, which is a shame because as a stand alone venue, it’s really quite nice. You can’t access it without trawling your way through the crowds and the gambling halls, so by the time you reach its lofty position the otherwise agreeable sheen isn’t quite as shiny. However, you can tuck yourself away and forget about it or, of course, look down on the action from one of the tables tucked up against the side, overlooking the whoops and the wails.
Once you’re in the restaurant proper, things do take on a much classier feel. Fellow diners seem to be a much better bunch too, with the wealthy and the trendy outnumbering the odd table of tourists still looking a little lost. Staff, on the whole, are lovely, but if you’re really lucky you might encounter service that ventures into a really special kind of can’t be arsed, where questions are brilliantly fobbed off, bills chucked down (alongside a tip plate… ha!) and lethargic ambling elevated to an art form. Still, that’s one example from an otherwise friendly, well-versed lot.
In a concession to the area, perhaps, the menu isn’t exactly challenging, but the quality is actually pretty good, especially where mundane classics have been given a bit of an overhaul (lobster fish fingers with triple cooked chips and wasabi mayonnaise, for example). Only the most cynical would suggest this is merely a way of justifying what are pretty lofty prices, but they would surely have to concede that, for the most part, the embellishments work.
Steak tartare (£10.50) pleasingly resists that traditional urge to be made at the table, instead turning up on the plate in an immaculate circle with a fried duck egg placed ever so delicately on top. The melba toast on the side is a little too brittle but the tartare itself is excellent, with loads of cornichon, capers and shallots giving the sweet meat plenty of sharpness – just as it should. Hot smoked Scottish salmon (£11.50) is fine, and enlivened a little by some surprisingly powerful fennel, plenty of lemon and some oak-smoked salt.
The steaks are good, but then they should be when a 200g fillet comes in at £32. You’re mixing with the big boys at that price and although it’s flame-seared to a perfect, rosy pink, it’s not quite the match of the Goodmans and Hawksmoors. Mandarin roasted sea bass (£18.50) is excellent; crisped and golden and featuring a brilliantly zingy lime and cucumber salad. And those lobster fish fingers might be somewhat steep at £19, but they are very good – and a popular choice, it seems. A side of peas and lettuce is very, very buttery and therefore very, very good but the triple cooked chips taste nothing of the sort – they need more cooking.
Desserts are very retro, with a knickerblocker glory served in all its tall glass glory alongside Eton messes, peach melbas, summer puddings and a gorgeous caramelised banana split. A fruit plate with cherry jelly and crème fraiche sorbet (£6.50) is really good but the Eccles cake(s) with Wensleydale cheese (£7) just isn’t - at all. The three mini Eccles cakes are overcooked but even if they weren’t, they’d never work with that cheese. Unless, of course, you like cloying mouthfuls of mismatched foodstuffs.
With a designated cocktail bar, and a drinks list developed by Tony Conigliaro (apparently a big mixology cheese), the drinks play a pretty big part at Heliot. Classics, ‘homages to gin and tonics’, nods to the venue’s past and champagne cocktails combine on a pretty lengthy list, with a Hippodrome Bellini (£11.50) and a very good Old Fashioned (made with Maker’s Mark - £9) both well worth sampling. The wine list is surprisingly accessible, even if too few drops are available by the glass, but if you want to go to town there’s plenty of scope to do so, with Cristal and magnums of Pommery Brut Royal the tip of a pricey champagne iceberg. There is, though, plenty of value to be had, with a perfectly decent Macabeo Sauvignon Blanc from J Fernando (£19.50) and a surprisingly good Tempranillo (£20) from the same vineyard good options for those keeping one eye on the bill.
The Last Word
Heliot may be something of a hostage to its location but it has just enough about it to keep punters happy. As long as, that is, those punters have a pretty penny, a forgiving palate and the good fortune to get the right waiter.