House of Ho, Soho
When you name a restaurant House of Ho, you’re giving the nervous dater immediate fodder for some rather unfunny banter. The awkward phone call ended with ‘Oh it’s not what you think Petra’ (pause) ‘unless you want it to be…’. The night before text with ‘Well I thought you were into that sort of thing’ (smiley face wink). Or the classic in person train crash of a slapped knee and a shouted ‘hell yeah it is!’. The Soho location and the neon sign don’t help your unwitty smokescreen but thankfully once you enter HOH you’re presented with a casual and mood lit room, with a very long bar and 2-man tables with tea candles and decadently large wine glasses. The food is modern Vietnamese and the restaurateur behind it is TV personality and chef Bobby Chinn, a man whose flitting between edginess and intense charm only adds to the media buzz about to descend on this place. The layout actually couldn’t be more perfect for dating; it manages to be casual while bathing you in a flattering light and enticing you to work away at the cocktails. The charming and slick staff class itup even further and, although primarily a restaurant, talk you through the cocktail list, encouraging you to order ‘to your taste’. And unlike Soho’s date magnet Yauatcha, with its infallible small plate and cocktail combo, the prices are goddamn reasonable. Sold.
If Chinn is in the building he’ll guide you to an ‘off menu’ item involving an egg in rice paper with mushrooms and a light but sweet sauce. It wasn’t my favourite thing on the table but if the big man offers you a speciality in full view of your date you say hell yes and ask for more suggestions. Politely decline and you look like an ungrateful pansy. The food comes in small plated portions so the best way to work is to order in two rounds and see how you feel. Start with cocktails – a Hogroni and a variation on a Whiskey Sour. Then order the unbelievably moreish sweet Lemongrass Monkfish (actually order two), apple smoked Pork Belly and smokey aubergine. Now pause, have another round of cocktails and re-enter the fray with their popular chicken wings (delicate and not sloppy to eat) plus whatever Bobby tells you to.
It’s ideal for an enjoyable Thursday night double date or an extremely relaxed second date. You can either book or walk in so this could be a good option for carrying on a drinks date in Soho that seems to be going well. There’s very little game that’s required here, other than maintaining a calm and relaxed vibe – it’s not the place for pedants or peacocks. Stick to spirits, getting giddy and stopping after two rounds. Wrap it up after 90 minutes and suggest continuing the cocktail vibe in the basement at Bodega Negra or at the champagne bar at Kettners. All going well, this is the sort of place you’ll return to the next week with another couple, and perhaps next month for your birthday meal. Whether you get action depends on whether you can pepper the informal vibe with the odd spark of smut.
Minimal. It’s just opened so there are bound to be a few teething issues. Some dishes are pretty sweet but that’s down to taste.
3. Fun and casual, could go either way.