Heliot restaurant at the Hippodrome Casino, Leicester Square, 42-43 Cranbourn Street, London, WC2H 7AN
If we were to tell you that we had a great night out at the Hippodrome, you’d probably think we were a little crazy and/or drunk!
To be honest if this review was done a few years back we would have to agree with you. I last had the displeasure of staggering out of the Hippodrome after a work’s awards night and was left with the memories of a dark somehow claustrophobic nightclub with damp, sticky carpets and overpriced drinks… Not good!
But all that has changed and the recently opened Hippodrome Casino is now a spacious, welcoming and reasonably priced venue in the heart of the West End that’s open 24/7. The casino operates an over 21 policy and if you’re lucky enough to look under 25 be prepared (and flattered) to be asked to show some ID. Other than that you’re free to wander in without the inconvenience of having to sign up and become a member.
We walked through the main entrance, past the friendly but slightly wary doormen, straight onto the gaming floor. The first thing that hits you is the scale and beauty of the venue. The building has been meticulously restored to its Victorian splendour. Owner Simon Thomas spent 30 months and £40 million on this project and it’s time and money well spent, the attention to detail is incredible! I was in awe, but my hard to please wife wasn’t as impressed as I until she witnessed the views from the bar upstairs.
The original Hippodrome, designed by Frank Matcham, opened in 1900 with a circus/freak show and some variety thrown in for good measure. Think ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ Victorian style. The acts included polar bears that could catch, sliding elephants, a one-legged cyclist and dwarves that dived from the roof into an illuminated 100,000 gallon pool below. Kind of puts Simon Cowell’s show to shame! A very young Charlie Chaplin and an end of career Harry Houdini performed here around this time too. Even Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake had its UK debut here.
In the 1950s it was converted into the famed Talk of the Town and featured legendary artists such as Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Stevie Wonder and Tom Jones. As a little nod towards these glory days they have included The Matcham Room, a 180 seat theatre which is set to attract the best existing and new talent. It was nice to see some of the original Talk of the Town programmes and posters that are framed on the walls.
As mentioned before, the venue became a slightly tacky tourist trap nightclub. Even a certain Mr Peter G-Stringfellow couldn’t make it into a success and, after a brief spell as a burlesque cabaret, it closed in June 2009…
I’m lucky enough to have been to a number of casinos, both in the UK and abroad, and The Hippodrome feels the most akin to the excellence offered in Las Vegas. We’re planning a return visit to Sin City next year, not necessarily for the gambling but for the restaurants, bars and cocktail lounges that play an increasingly important role on The Strip.
By following this example The Hippodrome has got it right. It’s not seedy or gloomy like many other UK casinos and it’s not just about the gambling. Although the poker, blackjack and roulette tables are great, it’s the dining tables of the Heliot Restaurant, cocktail lounge and bar that we’re really interested in – this is a food blog after all!
The restaurant is overseen by executive Chef Barry Vera (Conran restaurants, Le Pont de la Tour) and the ONE Group – big in the US of A for its successful STK restaurants. Watch this space for STK London at the Me by Meliá Hotel opening this autumn in the former Marconi building.
The Heliot, named after Claire Heliot, famous for feeding raw meat to lions on stage, is spread over three tiers with great views of the casino floor below. I read a review stating that it was like being seated in a corridor, but I’d rather that than being crammed in a room so small that you can not only see what your fellow diners have ordered, but smell it on their breath. Of course there are private dining rooms (VIPs and celebs have to be ‘special’ somewhere) but emphasis is on a relaxed dining experience.
Just above is a separate smoking terrace, complete with cigar sommelier! This small top terrace will be a top-secret sun trap next summer, although it could do with a bit of sprucing up.
The menu isn’t too over complicated and although it’s not cheap you have to remember that you’re in tourist central and an inferior meal just around the corner, at say god forbid, Aberdeen Angus Steakhouse, would probably set you back just as much…
To start I had the Golden Beetroot Salad, goats cheese, grilled pear & pickled walnuts £7.20. The thinly sliced pickled beets and pear the perfect antidote for the tangy goats cheese. This was overshadowed by Saff’s Peking Duck Consommé with duck dumplings & hon-shimeji mushrooms £9.50. The broth was delicious, bold and meaty and the dumplings held their own, she would have liked one more though. The Steak tartare, as a fellow diner said, was ‘decent’ too – ‘well seasoned and minced the correct amount’.
The main dishes are split into three sections, ‘Talk of the Town’, ‘Grills’ and ‘Comfort Food’. Saff went for the Classic Burger with grilled dry cured bacon, mature cheddar, dill pickle, tarragon mayonnaise in brioche bun and house fries £13.80,. This is a big gamble for her (no casino pun intended), she’s so fussy with her burgers but as it came highly recommended by Fay Maschler she thought she’d dive straight in (a bit like those acrobatic dwarves). And she was glad she did, the beef was moist full of flavour, the bun perfect and it wasn’t not too much of a tower! She’s a firm believer that you shouldn’t have to dislocate your jaw to take a bit out of a burger!
I, on the other hand, was a little disappointed by my Maple Caramel Twice Cooked Pork Belly with baked apples & ginger sauce £17.50. Sure the pork was well cooked, the ginger in the apple sauce worked fantastically well and the thinly cut straws of crackling shattered in the mouth. But I was expecting more from the caramelised maple.
But all was not lost… The Millionaires Mac n Cheese a whopping £28, was possibly the best that I’ve had all year, yes better than Spuntino, yes better than Hawksmoor… The baked macaroni & gruyère, topped with shaved black truffle and a poached pheasant egg is meant to be shared by two but could easily be split between four or five as a side dish, especially at that price.
The Shepherd’s Pie £14, made from braised lamb shank and goats cheese mash was possibly a fiddle too far. I wasn’t to keen on the cheesy topping (and I love cheese) although the chunks of lamb shank instead of mince was an interesting twist. I can’t help but think that some dishes should be left alone, especially when they fall into the comfort food category.
We also tried some Veal & Marjoram Meat Balls with handmade Spaghetti £13.50. A really filling pasta dish at a very reasonable price, it’s nice to know that they have catered for the punters who’ve had a rough run of luck on the casino floor!
Desserts were a bit special and so they should be. They are, after all, the last thing you remember when you’ve finished your meal. That’s why Heliot have blown the budget and hired a top pastry chef… And it shows.
My Wensleydale Cheese & warm Eccles Cakes £7, were amazing, flakey pastry stuffed with moist, sweet mincemeat paired with creamy Wensleydale – jackpot!
Saff shared the Lemon Meringue Tart and the Crispy Date Cigars & Lemon Curd both £7.55. The quality of the pastry was fab and the light, tangy lemon filling in both desserts couldn’t be faulted.
Add all this to a great wine list (prices from £4.50 a glass) and cocktails (I recommend the Espresso Martini) it’s a good job the venue is open 24 hours as I found it very hard to drag myself away from the Roulette wheel. Thankfully Saff acted as the responsible adult and rushed us off into the night to catch our last train…
Leicester Square, 42-43 Cranbourn Street,
London, WC2H 7AN
Telephone 0207 769 8844
Monday to Wednesday 5pm – Midnight
Thursday to Saturday 5pm – 1am
Sundays 5pm – 11pm
Book online here
Nearest tube: Leicester Square