Heliot Steakhouse London – Review by Chris Zacharia
Step into the Hippodrome on Leicester Sq, resist the urge to plunge into the blackjack table and wind your way up the flared staircase to Heliot. Finding a quality restaurant inside a casino is a surprising delight, like discovering an aquarium inside a bookies or an antiques shop within a gym.
Specialising in steak, Heliot is modelled on a glamorous, Roaring Twenties cabaret aesthetic. Named after Claire Heliot, a legendary lion tamer and entertainer who performed at the Hippodrome a century ago, Heliot Steakhouse plays off this sense of history and spectacle throughout.
Diners can eat while overlooking the gaming floor, which is both fascinating and somewhat disturbing. Far from witnessing outbursts of joy or misery, the gamblers seem oddly placid, as though jaded by the whole gamut of losing and winning.
Still, there is a thoughtfulness present in Heliot which you might not expect. This isn’t a brash steakhouse fuelled by testosterone. As well as the USDA-prime steaks, there’s a selection of light yet comforting dishes which bring freshness to the table. There’s a wine grower of the month special on the drinks menu, bringing lesser-known wines from unsung vineyards. And the service has the genuine charm of old-world glamour about it, gracious and unassuming.
Beef tataki is the kind of thing you want before a steak: light, subtle and fragrant, it’s a totally different take on the meat. Medallions of fillet beef, no thicker than a pound coin and seared on the outside, are served with dried garlic, coriander and a soy dipping sauce. Sharp and zingy, the tataki has a loose energy about it which fires up the palate.
Meanwhile, tuna tartare goes for the same refreshment but without quite hitting the same highs. Served in a log the shape of gold bullion, rose-coloured chunks of raw tuna are doused in honey and packed together with a rubble of chopped onion, flakes of parsley, and crumbs of ginger. Droplets of mint jelly surround and decorate the tuna. A dollop of wasabi mayo looks on from the plate’s fringe.
It’s a bit of a riot. Honey and ginger, usually so good with fish, overpower the delicate tuna, crowding it out with their sweetness. The wasabi mayo helps to balance things out, but the saccharine mint jelly threatens to turn each mouthful into confectionary. This is an ensemble which would benefit from having one fewer star performer. Gaucho’s tuna tartare, with guacamole and chilli, is better.
Even though the place is heaving, we’re served out steaks a few minutes after our starters vanish from the table. Heliot offer a variety of heavy-hitting comfort dishes for those who aren’t tempted by their steaks, but I’m unable to resist. My sirloin (£20 for 350g/12oz), cooked to medium-rare perfection, hits the spot. Lagoons of fat trickle their oiliness into the pores of the meat, tenderising each bite. My partner’s fillet steak doesn’t look too bad, either, although she’s wolfs it down before I can have a taste.
It’s not quite up there with the steak-worshipping selection of Gaucho or the refined precision of Hawksmoor, but Heliot’s steaks are no disappointment. Aged for between four to six weeks, there’s a depth of flavour to the meat which is complex and satisfying.
Bone-marrow is making a comeback, and Heliot’s incarnation – served on the bone (£3) as a side dish, sprinkled with fried panko breadcrumbs – makes for an excellent accomplice to the steak. Bone marrow has a subtle, lilting sweetness which goes very well with the richness of the sirloin. You might have to scrape the the bone with your fork to get it out, but it’s totally worth it.
Despite the fact that she usually leaves it unfinished, my partner always insists on ordering the mac and cheese. For me, mac and cheese is one of those American inventions which raise more questions than they answer, like the phrase ‘from the get-go’ or ‘that came outta leftfield’. Yet Heliot’s interpretation of the dish (Millionaire’s Mac & Cheese, £7) is a significant upgrade on what you typically find elsewhere.
Dusted with shaved truffle so that it looks like a crème brûlée, and crowned with a poached duck egg, this is serious comfort food. The rich, golden yolk cascades into the cheesy pool of macaroni below, bonding it together in a savoury syrup. The nutty aroma of the truffle blends with the creaminess of the cheese, making the mouth water. Scoop the gooey macaroni together with the crust and linger over their satisfying flavours. For once, the mac and cheese isn’t sent back unfinished.
Triple-cooked chips and American-style fries are as good as you’d want, their crunchy fried casing yielding fluffy potato within. You can also adorn your steak with a fried duck egg, chargrilled king prawn or a whole lobster tail, but portions are decent so we resist.
Choosing the right dessert after a steak is tricky. Do you opt for something light and refreshing, to balance out the heartiness of the meat, or do you just go for the full-on blow-out with something rich and heavy?
We get one of each. A dark & milk chocolate tart topped with hazelnut, a buttery caramel sauce and a dash of cointreau, is decent. The pastry isn’t as delicate as it should be, but the accompanying clementine jelly brings the whole citrus uppercut of the fruit to the plate.
But if you really want to leave with a smile on your face, order the almond millefeuille. Chosen on our waitress’s confident recommendation, it’s an excellent finale to the meal. A three-tiered structure of wafer, mascarpone and berries, each layer of pastry cracks audibly when pressed with the spoon, showering the cream with buttery flakes. Tart yet syrupy winter berries galvanise the mascarpone, reawakening the appetite and cleansing the palate.
As we stagger back through the gaming floors, past the glitzy bar and the scantily-clad blackjack dealers, we leave the Hippodrome casino having lost nothing but our hunger. On the street, assaulted by Leicester Square’s giddy circus of noodles, burgers and fish and chips, there’s little sign of Heliot. Step into the casino, however, and you too will find a pleasant surprise.