It’s not out-of-the-ordinary to associate Leicester Square with flashy tourist nonsense, so it’s fair to say that Leicester House Restaurant stands out from the crowd as a boutique hotel flaunting expertly crafted Vietnamese-French fusion cuisine. A unique townhouse on the fringes of Chinatown and Leicester Square, the hotel itself is from the same ilk of haunts like Soho House and Charlotte Street Hotel, and a much needed haven away from the hive of frenetic activity on Leicester Square. Combine this with a team that boast top-breed restaurant backgrounds, and we’re onto a winner.
Currently trending in the restaurant and street food landscape, colonial French Vietnamese influences are clear to see everywhere, with the likes of hipster snack banh mi; a fusion of French baguette and Vietnamese fillings. The Leicester House menu itself is rooted predominantly with Vietnamese offerings in the majority, but with a few French accents, and is divided into small things, charcuterie, bigger dishes and sweet things. We went for the Vietnamese options, but if you were to choose the French-inspired creations you might stumble across the likes of duck liver parfait with spiced butter, a subtle nod to the fusion ethos which, they tell us, has been further refined on the menu in recent weeks to pitch the tone exactly right. Some dishes also change regularly, and there were some cuisine crossovers when we visited – I spotted chargrilled frog’s legs on the menu, which you can also find down at Kingsland Road Vietnamese eateries… to varying degrees of success. Adopting a diverse cooking approach, the robata charcoal grill is key to the grills here, which include steaks, ribs and shellfish.
As eclectic as the food, the drinks menu features a predominantly French wine list and Vietnamese beers. An elixir martini with lychee was a touch too syrupy-sweet for me, but will be popular with sweet-toothed cocktail lovers. However, the citrus piquefort was the ideal match to the feast we ensued upon.
And what a dish that began the feast: treacly-sticky ribs were perfumed with aromatic kaffir lime leaves, an awesome combination that made me reconsider my Bodean’s addiction. Smoked to perfection, the sweet herby freshness of the coriander lifted the smokiness and coated these sticky-sweet ribs with a unique, delicious marinade.
Whopping-great grilled tiger prawns had meaty flesh and came peppered with crushed peanuts. The nuoc cham dressing was made with fresh lime and fish sauce – my favourite flavours partnered.
A plentiful pile of fried quail was crisp and crunchy, sharpened with fresh lime. The fennel and mint salad brought gorgeous aniseedy freshness, balancing the rich, gamey quail.
Scallops and seashore vegetables made up a beautiful plate with the saltiness of the samphire and sea vegetables against sweet scallop flesh. I have to say, the bone broth with this was a masterpiece – crafted with incredible complex flavour from the Pho stock, with lingering depth from star anise, fresh, aromatic herbs and rice wine. I would return for this alone!
Recommended by the team, the steamed buns yielded crispy pork belly, offset by pickled cucumber and enveloped by the doughy clouds of bun. The fiery kick of the chilli mayo and the soft and crunchy textures make this a must-try dish here.
Blackened squid brought the subtle smoke of the chargrill and was peppered along with salty samphire and fresh lime. We start to realise that this is seriously impressive cooking.
With a generous smattering of nuts, the zingy green papaya salad with daikon had a tangy lime and chilli dressing. This was both palate cleansing and livening, and one of the standout dishes. I would say this is a very different take to my favourite autentic Thai & Vietnamese salads but a successful one nonetheless.
Despite gorging ourselves on savoury dishes, we had to sample the desserts. The bitter chocolate pot with hazelnut cha fee was a revelation – smoky bittersweet chocolate against the mellow, whipped hazelnut foam was a truly delicious combination, with Nutella goodness and an espresso kick.
The sublime desserts were cleansing and decadent in equal parts. Salt-baked pineapple was livened with the zip of Kamot green peppercorns. Wafer-thin pineapple was caramelised with a candy taste from the bruleed burnt crust, while the kaffir lime sorbet had a delicious tangy aroma. I tried to put the spoon down but kept going back for more, always a good sign.
An exotic ice cream plate included pineapple and salted caramel, but the fusion of strawberry shiso was the strongest, with a fruity-tang alongside the white chocolate crumb. I was really impressed with the desserts which seemed to succeed in fusion and flavour where perhaps some other South East Asian restaurants don’t. And taking a wholly different stance to Mr Jay Rayner on the experience in general, if you want top-notch authentic Vietnamese food, you can find this across London and in plentiful measure amongst the restaurants dotted along Shoreditch’s Kingsland Road. Leicester House has an alternative approach. This is excellent contemporary fusion cuisine in a central London boutique hotel, rooted in a different ethos altogether. It’s something that they execute to lip-smackingly brilliant effect, hopefully for a long time to come.
1 Leicester Street, London, WC2H 7BL