To the cynical, Heliot Steak House screams “beware!”. To the cynical restaurant addict / food writer / Londoner, Heliot Steak House screams “beware!” very, VERY loudly. Heliot is on Leicester Square, home to all those great restaurants over the years such as… well… none of them. Nothing of culinary note has existed on Leicester Square in the 40 years or so that I’ve been going there. I mean, I’m prepared to be proven wrong but…
Heliot is a casino restaurant. While that might not be a red flag in Las Vegas or Macau, in London it’s a slightly different story. There are exceptions – Judy Joo’s tenure at the Playboy Club remains one of the best meals I’ve had in the capital, for example – but, even when a place is good, the level of support is minimal as people are typically there to gamble, not eat, and good chefs rapidly move on when all they’re being asked to cook is well done steaks or things that can be wolfed between hands of poker.
Heliot also claim to have been voted “The Best Steak House in London”… but don’t say by whom. Themselves? A random passerby? The same people who awarded the same title to Angus Steak House over the road for years – according to their A-board – instead of, say, Goodman or Hawksmoor?
So, when the call came to go and explore Heliot, I contacted John, the one person I knew who might well have been there. And he had, he admitted, on a stag thing. “And, actually,” John told me, “it’s much better than you think it’ll be.” So much so, in fact, that John agreed to return with me. And you know what? Heliot IS much better than you think it’s going to be. Indeed, it’s much, much better than you think it will be.
Much of this is down to the staff. Knowledgeable, friendly, enthusiastic and charmingly honest – there aren’t many restaurants I know that will admit to there being a shortage of wine and suggest a (surprisingly sensibly priced) available bottle rather than let you roam the list in vain. Our main point of contact, Nuria, was all of the above and more, smoothly guiding us through the (surprisingly) fun things on the menu. “One of you has to have the sea bass ceviche,” she explained. So I did. And it was – yes – much better than you’d expect. It also came on a plate over dry ice, a flourish that I hadn’t seen since about the early 90s. Utterly daft, of course, but sometimes a little theatrical flourish is welcome and sitting in what I assume used to be the circle of what used to be The Talk of the Town – because, yes, I AM that old – is as good a time as any. Besides, it wasn’t theatrics to mask a dull dish: this was a well made plate of fresh sea bass, mango and punchy tiger’s milk. Across the table, there were simpler pleasures of decent USDA meatballs because sometimes, beef followed by beef IS quite acceptable, actually.
And so to the steaks. There are some fish options, some other mains but when the restaurant is named after a particular dish, there’s only one choice, really. Or, in this case, several. There’s a short menu of 28-day aged USDA steaks, a selection of steaks from around the world and a choice of three USDA steaks that have been selected by – I kid you not – “Meatologist Ioannis Grammenos” for a further 40 days of ageing. For the purposes of comparison, we opted for a (standard) USDA rib eye, and the same cut from Argentina, plus a topping of roast bone marrow, bearnaise and chimichurri sauces, chunky chips, some greenery and “Millionaire’s mac & cheese” – topped with poached duck egg and black truffle – from the list of decent sides and really quite sensibly priced extras.
You can guess the punchline. Both steaks appeared perfectly medium, substantially different from each other to justify the exercise and, well, just thoroughly decent and beefy. Sides were perfectly decent. The sauces were perfectly decent. The bone marrow and tweaked Mac & Cheese added very decent, decadent touches. There’s nowhere to hide with, basically, steak and chips and this suggested that Mr Grammenos – who turned out to be executive chef as well as the “meatologist” – has put together a team of people who know a little about sourcing and grilling.
Desserts, remarkably, brought another surprise. Cheesecake was cheesecake – a perfectly decent version of a classic, a fine sweet finish to the meal – but the Almond Millefeuille was quite, quite exceptional. Seriously. If it came from a Hackney bakery, it would be all over Instagram already.
So a stellar finish to a perfectly decent meal. Heliot should probably drop the “Best Steak House in London” banner – it’s not, and I doubt even their meatologist would argue otherwise. Instead they should celebrate what they have achieved: a perfectly decent, occasionally exceptional, well-priced, restaurant on Leicester Square.
Heliot Steak House