I’m not going to lie, I accepted this invitation out of pure morbid curiosity. Oh come on. What comes to mind when you think of The Hippodrome? It’s not positive is it? Well, the former theatre has had a complete and extensive £40 million reburbishment and now boasts the title of the largest casino in Britain with a license for 24 hour drinking and partying. Only recently re-opened I visited as part of a small group a little over a month ago.
The building is vast; three floors filled with a number of bars and gaming rooms, a cabaret theatre, smoking terrace and the Heliot restaurant and cocktail lounge. The renovation has it polished and primped to it’s former glory, I may not have been to many casino’s in my time, but this has the distinct vibe you might expect, that is ever so slightly dated, although in a very sparkly and showy way, I kinda feel like I’m in a Bond movie. A tour and a little history reveals many nooks, some more glamorous, like the intimate cabaret theatre, than others, the clientele split between those squandering blithely for the promise of riches and those merely exchanging hard cash for food and drink. The building has a rich history, playing the stage for many, many illustrious stars, along with more exotic and extravagant circus acts. We’re told there’s a wall in the basement that holds a painting by Rolf Harris daubed in moment of histeria, sadly we’re not allowed anywhere near this, but the mind boggles.
We congregate at the large and swanky Heliot Cocktail lounge on the first floor, one of five bars, with menu reassuringly designed by Tony Conigliaro. I’m personally impressed with the extensive range of gins and enjoy both a well made Martin Millers Martini and Negroni. The restaurant format is a little unusual and we have to navigate what I assume is just a narrow balcony but when we reach our table, I find this *is* the restaurant; tables are staggered on a kind of viewing platform with a bar in the centre, except half of us have our backs to the action.
The menu is a also slightly odd, a combination of European, American and Asian, presumably in order to attempt to cater to all tastes, and I find it hard to choose from such a varied list. For my starter I veer towards the golden beetroot salad with goats cheese, then grilled pear and pickled walnuts, am swayed by the steak tartare with duck egg, but finally go for a foie gras terrine with brioche, mainly on merit of a promised apple and cherry jam and vanilla salt garnish. It’s good and as rich as I’m expecting but I’m not overly wowed, I think because I’m expecting more of a punch from those delightful sounding accompaniments.
Mains present an even harder choice, divided into three sections; mains, grills and classics, I find I want at least one from each. Contenders are maple caramel twice cooked pork belly, veal and marjoram meatballs with hand made spaghetti, lamb kebab, the burger (of course), various steaks and an intriguing sounding shooter sandwich. Racked, not unusually, with indecision I go classic and opt for the monstrous 350g rib eye, and it’s gooood, cooked to perfection and full of flavour with generous fat marbling. I’m quite quite taken with the crispy lattice fries that come with, but I still prefer chips, there’s something inherently unmoppable about a crisp, and with no bread in sight I’m afraid that’s a priority.
As we are a largish group, we’re also treated to some supplimentary dishes to share; chips (yay for mopping up steaky juices!), a shepherds pie is resplendently luxurious in it’s own little copper pot, whilst a, verging on the ridiculous, millionaires macaroni and cheese is presumably the dish to order whilst on a winning streak; rich and oozy, scattered lavishly with shaved truffle and crowned with a duck egg. That heady truffle aroma wafts across the table, intoxicating each inhalation.
We just about manage to squeeze in a dessert between us after that beast of a meal, choosing a knickerbocker glory, almost solely for the sheer delight pronouncing it brings. We’re served a far lighter, tropical and dignified example than I’m expecting and it goes down rather well and quickly; after smashing through candied pineapple we scoop up layers of fruit compote, cream and jelly, lovely! I finish with a very sweet espresso martini.
I can’t help feeling machiavellian as we sit eating a lavish feast; ostentatious and lavish whilst gamblers shuffle around tables below, one can only assume losing hard earned pennies due to luck heavily weighted in the casinos favour, for our voyeurism. It does make me wonder if it has changed so far from it’s Victorian history where the rich watched performing animals and dwarves?
Having said that, there’s no denying I was genuinely surprised and impressed by the quality of the food and cooking, I’m just not sure the setting would entice me return ordinarily. It would be a great setting for a party however, and I’ll be sure to remember the bar’s 24 hour status for when I next get a sudden Negroni craving in the early hours. Or indeed on the way to work. Ahem.