First impressions were good at House of Ho. Arriving at the Fitzrovia townhouse, we were greeted by hostesses in traditional Asian dresses, relieved of our coats and shown to our table on the first floor. A slightly more intimate space than the ground floor it also felt more luxurious with lots of gold, marble and pale green. The whole restaurant definitely had a buzz to it – a lovely atmosphere made up elegant diners and efficient staff serving plate upon plate of beautiful food up numerous flights of slightly wonky stairs to parties in the private dining rooms – the higher you go, the more exclusive it feels.
When presented with a menu where the steamed prawn dumplings with garlic and chive look as appealing as crispy fried rice nets with chicken; the king prawn and scallop ceviche make your mouth water as much as the Vietnamese yellow tail rice roll and the… OK you get the picture. The only answer to such culinary dilemmas is to let the chef choose for you so, once sat comfortably with a bottle of red, that is exactly what we did.
Whilst the menu is split roughly into starters, salads, small dishes and sharing plates, the style of food here is definitely intended for sharing. Inspired by head chef Ian Pengelley’s Asian travels each dish packs as much of a punch on it’s own as it is does alongside any other. I’ve been to Vietnam and Pengelley has achieved the perfect balance of sweet, sour, savoury and hot in almost every dish.
The rice paper rolls at House of Ho didn’t disappoint. Too big for a single bite, they didn’t fall apart when bit in two – the prawns were perfect. More prawns came, this time in dumpling form and steamed with garlic and chive. A generous portion of crispy baby squid with herbs and fresh chilli was perfect to pick at and dip in the sweet chilli sauce. A whole different species to generic glutenous sweet chilli sauces, this was fresh and not at all sickly sweet.
The food continued coming, and because we hadn’t chosen the dishes the element of surprise came each time too. Minced pork on lemongrass skewers were a nice change from the fish we’d had this far and a watermelon, cashew nut and crispy duck salad was my favourite so far – so much so that I want to recreate it at home (although I’m certain the duck won’t taste anywhere near as good).
Despite slowly filling up the best was yet to come. Two signature sharing dishes were brought over; a black Angus shaking beef and Chilean sea bass with Vietnamese fermented plum sauce along with a bowl of steamed Asian greens. The group on the next table asked us what the beef was – it came in cubes, charred on the outside and rare in the middle and I agree that it looked impressive but without a doubt the highlight of the night for me was the sea bass. Beautifully presented, the waiter unwrapped it from a banana leaf at the table. The huge piece of fish was glazed in a fermented plum sauce and the slate on which it sat dotted with the most amazing miso paste, resembling satay sauce.
As I always say with Asian food, when done well I don’t feel the need for a dessert and this was definitely the case here. We rounded things off with fresh mint tea. Every last thing is considered here and tea is not overlooked – served in a glass teapot, cup and saucer, a timer ensured the mint was brewed to perfection.
House of Ho was faultless; staff were attentive, presentation was colourful, delicate and appetising and food was hearty and authentic. We felt smug as we walked out, almost as if we’d been in a members only restaurant but thankfully it’s not, so thankfully I can go again. Fingers crossed the sea bass is still on the menu…