Do you know about Hovarda? Clearly, judging by the many happy faces visible on the cool, early weekday evening of my visit, a lot of you do. However, judging by the Google results, I wasn’t alone in my ignorance. Hell, their own website doesn’t come up on the first page, for me, and loiters some way beyond their LinkedIn profile and their Companies House overview.
Actually, it gets worse. I was relying on Google Maps to find Hovarda and, as it does sometimes, it got me to Rupert Street and appeared to stop working. I could see Speedboat Bar, I could see The Blue Posts, places with which I’m very familiar, but couldn’t spot Hovarda anywhere… until I slowly turned, my eyes adjusted a little and I realised I was right outside it. In my vague defence, gold writing on a greenish background isn’t easy to read at night but, yeah, not my most impressive geographical moment.
“So when did you open?” I asked the first of many helpful team members at Hovarda, as they guided me to my table, expecting an answer in terms of weeks, perhaps months. “Oh, about six years ago,” came the reply.
So, yes, all of this is a long way of saying that, sometimes, ignorance most definitely ISN’T bliss. What is bliss, however, is sipping on a Mykonos Sour, while savouring the crunch of one’s teeth through Saganaki, a kataifi-wrapped meze of barrel-aged feta, truffle honey and basil. Or wiping the excellent house-made pitta through a swirl of silky tarama, topped with bottarga and dill oil.
The above should give a clue to Hovarda’s inspirations. In fact, it bills itself as Aegean, taking influences from Greece and Turkey, plus dayboat-caught British fish and the occasionally wider nod to Europe, such as the Iberico pork chop. But hey, if you’re going to break your own rules, Iberico pork is the best of reasons.
In comparison to reviews from 2017 – in my defence, they also appeared on Google before the restaurant’s own website – Hovarda has made some considerable changes in the kitchen and, from welcoming cocktails to desserts, it doesn’t put a foot wrong. I, however, do and don’t make a note of the puddings. My apologies…
So, yes, the things I do record. The room is gorgeous – cavernous but intimate, stylish, cool but comfortable. The team are, to a person, charm incarnate, with a tremendous and contagious sense of mischief that’s perfect for the late night vibe here. That Mykonos Sour – Monkey 47, Italicus, Falernum (two somewhat obscure spirits that suggest the mixology team know their stuff), lemon, merengue, olive oil – is delightful, and I very much enjoy the Nissos Greek beer too. That tarama – hands down the best I’ve had anywhere.
The seabass tartare, with “egglemon” (a whipped, er, egg and lemon sauce), fig and kohlrabi, which is the first dish I’m ordering on the next visit as it’s quite exceptional. Those Saganaki, which are the salty, crunchy, sweet and rich drinking snack you didn’t know you needed. The Iberico Pork Chop is, of course, superb, ditto the grilled octopus, with fava beans, onion and fennel marmalade, although I am feeling increasingly guilty about eating octopus.
Two friends have already given it up for moral reasons, one arguing that he doesn’t want to eat anything more intelligent than people he’s worked with. I don’t quite take that opinion – frankly, thinking of one ex-colleague in particular, that would also take out everything, down to the potatoes – but I am starting to have a small moral quandary with octopus. Perhaps I can take solace in the fact that it got caught means it’s not as bright as many of its kin, so perhaps I’m actually helping the octopus gene pool? Oh, roasted smashed potatoes, with herbs, lemon and oil were as addictive as they were unnecessary.
Before we head out, we’re given a quick tour of the bits we couldn’t see from our table, including the open kitchen, the very pleasant upstairs bar and the new floor/ceiling, forming a new upstairs room where the DJ kicks in, and the late-night crowd can dive into the bottle-service section of the menu. And, more importantly for people of my age and outlook, where the diners downstairs can sip and savour in relative peace while it all goes on above their heads. Whichever side of that fence (well, floor/ceiling) you sit on, you have to admire the decisiveness of that alteration.
To be fair, I’d probably suggest sticking to the top half of the menu – “Spreads and Bread”, “Cold Meze” and “Hot Meze” – but then I almost always would these days. Regardless of how I hit Hovarda again, rest assured I will be hitting Hovarda again. And a lot sooner than six years too . . .
36-40 Rupert Street