There is something faintly ridiculous about celebrating Independence Day in the UK; it’s sort of like if the French started cracking out the bunting every year on the 18th June to commemorate Waterloo. (I know Independence Day is more about the actual Declaration than the prerequisite fighting, but it was still all very embarrassing.) The London food scene, however, isn’t going to ignore an opportunity to cash in on the city’s apparently unquenchable appetite for American cuisine – that’s slow-cooked barbecue, creamy dressings and heart-stoppingly indulgent desserts – which is how I found myself at venerable tiki restaurant Trader Vic’s this week to preview its Independence Day menu with fellow food blogger Rosie from A Little Lusciousness (recommended reading for fanatical foodies).
I arrived at the restaurant sweating like a buffalo and royally pissed off at whoever was in charge of town planning the intersection between Hyde Park and Park Lane. It’s not my part of town so I wasn’t used to cycling around it (also it was about a million degrees), but the whole area is a labyrinth of one-way streets, underpasses and other stupid things that made me 45 minutes late. Fortunately dinner wasn’t yet being served, and also it was very dark and very cool in the restaurant, which meant (hopefully) nobody noticed that I resembled a well-lubricated beetroot.
Once I’d calmed down and sucked down one of Trader’s Vic’s signature Mai Tais (which were invented in in 1942 by Trader Vic himself in his original Californian restaurant), I started to appreciate what an awesome space I was in. Fantastic air conditioning aside (whew), the restaurant is fucking amazing; a Polynesian wonderland of kitsch, stuffed with giant wooden heads and tiki shack paraphernalia. It reminded me of one of Walt Disney World’s higher-end restaurants, and would be a great place to take a date for dinner of drinks for the wow factor alone.
The set menu for Independence Day was pretty heavy on the ribs; if you were so inclined, you could have them as a starter and a main. To begin, however, I chose the Maryland crab cakes, which came with an incredible tartar sauce. They were very good, and fresh, but if you’re hungry the comedy-sized portion of spare ribs may be a better shout. (These are available any time of year in the restaurant and bar for a tenner.)
The main-size portion of ribs – this time Mongolian short ones, served with corn cob, bell pepper mash and lashings and lashings of the tangiest BBQ sauce I’ve ever had – was even larger. I don’t know its exact recipe, but it had a subtle aniseed kick to it. I don’t like licorice or sambuca but aniseed in sauce, over ribs? It’s surprisingly good.
The BBQ monkfish in Parma ham with spicy ratatouille looked like a solid choice too, though after the nightmare journey I was not in the mood for the healthier option.
There were veggie options for each course, and they looked good, but IMO vegetarians always lose out on these set menu deals.
Alas, after the show-stopping ribs, dessert came as a disappointment to me. It was too fluffy and not intensely chocolate enough, and its caramel sidekick was slightly overdone. (The girl next to me though polished it off completely, so perhaps it just wasn’t for me.) The other option – deep fried banana fritters with ice cream – seemed to go down a storm, so if you go for the special menu today, I’d recommend those.
Trader Vic’s is serving its special menu today only, but I’d recommend popping in any time even just for a post-work Mai Tai; the decor frankly makes the Rainforest Cafe look like a pile of old tat. Take someone you want to impress and buy them a plate of ribs; it might even get you lei’d. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
Trader Vic’s, Hilton on Park Lane, 22 Park Lane, London, W1K 1BE
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in East London and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.