Dining amongst bare boobies and bums is always going to divide opinion, but the food at Spearmint Rhino’s in house restaurant is actually pretty good.
A table dancing club is perhaps the last place you might expect to find a restaurant, especially when there seems to be very little demarcation between the two very different ventures. But that’s where Wild Ginger finds itself, right in the thick of things. In fact, you’ll probably need to ask where to sit as the dining tables tucked up near to the back bar look pretty much the same as the rest, especially in the kind of dimmed light you might expect from a venue adept at keeping profiles low. Views of the stage and across the rest of the open-plan room no doubt make dishes go cold on occasion, but looking at the ladies is kind of why most are here.
Well, it’s certainly a novel experience. But while some table dancing clubs are pretty insistent and a bit of a pain in the arse, Spearmint Rhino is more relaxed, so the (very pleasant) girls won’t bother you too much while you dine. But if they do, they can take a hint – struggling with chopsticks and spilling tempura down your shirt usually works. The only real negative comes from those you’re likely to be sharing the room with. Whilst most are just after a bit of a laugh, there are of course those less appetising frequenters, with the pervy old men and suspiciously alert boys with aggressive bravado chief amongst them.
With Ian Pengelly of Gilgamesh kind of giving his name to the restaurant (the menu is ‘inspired’ by the Camden venue, apparently) there’s certainly scope for the food to merely be a lame imitation. However, it’s really rather good, and the fact that Pengelly pops in pretty regularly to keep an eye on the kitchen shows that it’s not just about basking in reflected glory. Dishes are hardly the cheapest but there’s definite quality there, and considering the entertainment, prices seem just about right.
Sashimi is sound, with the yellow tail (£18.80) fresh and buoyant and benefitting from some astutely sedate slices of jalapeno and a good, tart yuzu dressing. Sushi is similarly decent, with the Gilgamesh favourite, Mr Chang (£13.85), particularly good, even if the spicy mayonnaise and teriyaki sauce threatens to overpower the delicate prawn tempura. Dim sum impresses, with scallop siu mai (£8.55) well steamed to avoid that cloying stickiness, and boasting enough scallop and prawn to give it a good whack of seafood flavour.
Crispy squid (£8.95) is okay (the batter is a little heavy) but the duck and watermelon salad (£14) is superb, with aromatic crispy duck and big chunks of warmed watermelon, cashew nuts, loads of mint and basil, and a little hint of hoi sin – it’s a great, contrasting mix of flavours. The bulgogi beef (£25.50) is good too, with a decent bit of fillet immersed in the Korean marinade and served in a similar sauce. The Japanese chive mash with which it is served is perhaps a little heavy, though.
Only two desserts are available: a disaster of a green tea crème brûlée (£7.80) that tastes good but isn’t actually burnt, so is essentially pointless; and a chocolate fondant (£9.50) so brilliantly impressive, rich and delicious that giving away a spoonful might even get you a free dance (ahem...).
There is, too, the option of trying your hand at 'nyotaimori' dining, which promises to be pretty popular. Also known as 'body sushi', you and (up to) five of your buddies can take your (naked) lady to the private room and tuck into sushi that covers her modesty. Until it's eaten, of course.
You’re buying from the Spearmint Rhino bar, so expect slightly elevated prices but perhaps not as elevated as you might imagine, given the reputation of less illustrious establishments pedalling a similar thing. Bottles of beer (Becks, Bud, Corona, Stella) are around the £6 mark; cocktails from £10-£15; and wines from £7.50 a glass. Obviously you can spend a fortune should you wish to be Charlie Big Spuds (and many do), with bottles of spirits, champagne and pricey wines heading well north of a grand.
The Last Word
Surprisingly, perhaps, Wild Ginger doesn’t feel like a gimmick. If you want to eat good pan-Asian food as you ogle pretty ladies in dental floss bikini bottoms without getting into trouble, then this is most probably the best place to do so.