I’ve got a confession to make – I like rum, writes Richard Cawley.
So when I got the chance to sample Trader Vic’s at Park Lane’s Hilton Hotel, the cocktail menu was always going to be a winner.
I’ll get on to the food in a bit, but I just had to kick off with their Mai Tai (£13.50). The recipe dates back to 1944.
And it was lovely. It contains two rums – amber Martinique and dark Jamaican – fresh lime juice, Cointreau, orgeat syrup, a slice of lime and a sprig of mint. With plenty and plenty of crushed ice.
The restaurant gets its name from American Vic “The Trader” Bergeron. He opened his first one in 1934 in California.
Bergeron went to Cuba to learn the dark arts of bartending. He brought that cocktail expertise back to the US.
Trader Vic’s claim to be one of the first fusion restaurants. The dishes range from the Mediterranean, Middle East, Asia and Japan. Their London home has been open since 1963.
Even just to get through their cocktail menu would take many a merry hour. There are ones that serve between two or four people, as well as different versions of the aforementioned Mai Tai.
Having been married for more than 15 years, I decided that drink number two needed to be Suffering Bastard (£11).
The legend goes that the bartender saw a punter who was upset at the bar – his wife leaving him for a local – and decided to replace his tears with rum.
It comes in a jet black Tiki mug which depicts a figure with his hands clasped to the sides of his head.
My final drink of the evening was the Tiki Puka Puka (£17) – three styles of rums, orange juice, grenadine and spices. Let me make a point here, these are proper drinks. The kind of watered-down versions you can get in some joints? You get absolutely none of that here. The quality was high.
I could have easily seen myself sitting there and ticking off a few more on the list, although if I had then the ingredients listed might have become a blur.
They had a pleasant, and not overpowering, kick.
We had an amuse-bouche to kick things off in terms of the food – cheeseballs, crab ragoon and beef cho cho. My favourite? The cheeseballs (£9) – cheddar and emmental cheese, fresh coriander and chopped jalapenos. The accompanying dip was an winner – mustard, mayo and wasabi.
The cho cho (£12) are rare beef skewers in a soy sake glaze, diners just giving it a flash cooking over a flaming hibachi at the table for 30 seconds. The crab rangoon (£9) are crispy wontons filled with tasty spiced crab and cream cheese enveloped in light and crispy filo pastry. Next came the starters.
Mrs C opted for the Tom Yum Goong soup. Spicy sour seafood soup, prawns, sea bass, snow peas, carrots and coriander. The verdict was that it was clean-tasting, with sharp flavours and spiced well. I wasn’t quite so keen on mine – vegetable summer rolls.
Wok-fried Chinese vegetables wrapped in rice paper, cos lettuce, lemon oil and with a peanut satay sauce. The dish is served cold. But I found it lacked a little bit of punch.
No such minor complaints from me with the main – lamb hanging skewer (£28). It was cooked over charcoals in a Josper oven. The seven seas spiced lamb came with pearl couscous, pomegranate and herb salad – plus a mango chutney.
My dining partner went for the sweet and sour tofu (£19). It was served in a carved out pineapple. Another dish that leapt out at me was the 1.2kg Tomahawk Steak (£82).
Described as a sharing dish it came with twice-cooked spiced potatoes, charred corn on the cob and one extra side of your choice.
I’m not a massive pudding lover – but just about had room for one. I went for pineapple upside down cake (£8.50). It came with rum caramel and a rum-and-raisin ice cream.
I also had a taste of the fried banana fritter £8. Crispy tempura fried banana, Malacca sauce and crème Chantilly. Both were solid offerings.
I haven’t touched on the actual restaurant. I’d describe the decor as beach bar, but just a very upmarket one. Funky beach shack, without the rough edges – and also minus the sand.
Although in saying that, it was used to film in for the next series of The Crown.
I’m hoping I haven’t broken any secrets with that. It feels private, but not too formal. Relaxed. The service – both that we experienced and also the diners near us – was attentive and slick.
Trader’s Vic also offer a private dining space for up to 40 people.