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Restaurant review: HoSt

Angie Sammons really does like this place, but wants a glass with a stem - or, failing that, two straws

Written by . Published on January 14th 2010.


Restaurant review: HoSt

I HAVE a friend who has occasion to go to London a lot. Having migrated there, on Norman Tebbit's advice, and lived a capital life through most of his twenties, he is in the happy position of being “connected”.

Japanese, Thai, Chinese, Malaysian, Vietnamese, it's all here, but it's not a lazy menu. Australian chef Ashley Richey is at least is from the right neck of the woods, give or take 7,000 miles

He therefore enjoys posh London. There is no staying in rancid hotel rooms in Paddington, rather, he gets invited to “use the annexe” of houses of friends in places like Notting Hill Gate. You would like to think these friends are the sort of eccentrics who populate Hugh Grant films but, as we all know, those sort of people don't really exist.

Recently, my friend was eating bacon and eggs at a communal table at a trendy west London restaurant and, as one does when forced to share elbow space with fellow diners, he began chatting to two well heeled ladies of a certain age. Half way through he realised he knew one of them.

They had enjoyed a hot night of passion 20 years earlier, after a party just down the road, when they were both single, skint and unfettered by family and furrow lines. In the day when the area was run down and all about reggae beats and red lights.

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What's good for London is, sooner or later, good for Liverpool, and as recently as 10 years ago Hope Street still rattled to the same reggae as W11, from windows of housing association flats and clubs like the Casablanca and Chauffeurs. Round-the-clock music and prostitutes, each pounding their own different beats.

Eventually the dogs were set on the exploited L8 girls and they were run out by those wanting to exploit the area financially. Social flats became apartments with price tags, police stations became boutique hotels, and the area moved on up with a clutch of good-to-very-good restaurants.

But gentrification doesn't just happen to places, it happens to people too. So much so that the idea of a Tesco Express occupying any bit of this particular street, was greeted with such horror in the summer that a woman sitting next to me, on the communal table we are occupying at HoSt, is still going on about it two months after the furore.

For this is hallowed ground, and with cathedrals acting as the street's bookends, “HoSt”, as a name, works on every level. It's Hope Street abbreviated; the Body of Christ in Paddy's Wigwam at Sunday Mass and it also sounds warm and genial and clever. Geddit?

Yet given that they are on the corner of Falkner Street, owners Colin and Gary Manning could legitimately have called the place FaSt. But perhaps we'll leave that thought, instead, with one or two of the area's property buckaroos and housing associations.

It's pan-Asian food and while pan-anything food used to mean something that was cooked in a pan, it now stands for jack-of-all-trades cuisines from a vast continent or two, and which ends up a master of none.

Of course, just along Hope St, the Everyman Bistro has been doing communal tables for decades, but with proper wine glasses. Here, the rough-and-tumbler thinking from HoSt's stablemate restaurant, The Quarter, prevails and a bottle of Grillo Serenata, a single grape variety from Sicily (£12.95) is all they deserve in them.

That's not to say they don't know what they are doing on the wine matching front – far from it. On the whites alone, there are two Riesling-influences much higher up the price list, which sit well with Oriental or spiced food, and an anything-goes Italian Gewürztraminer at £26, which probably would have been the one if we hadn't been rushing to be somewhere else.

Japanese, Thai, Chinese, Malaysian, Vietnamese, it's all here, but it's not a lazy or predictable menu. Australian chef Ashley Richey is at least from the right neck of the woods, give or take 7,000 miles, and you get the assured feeling that in his native Melbourne you wouldn't get away with much on the fusion food front. It's imaginative, by standards, too: Salmon ramen broth, son-in-law egg and bang bang chicken, something certain punters would definitely have paid a tenner knee trembler for on the Hope St of old.

From the “small plates”, vegetable spring rolls (£3.25), for those who like something to pick up, were not memorable. Slow roasted belly pork with a crispy Asian version of coleslaw (£3.50), was, by contrast, melting and yielding and indulgent, and regrettably should have been saved for the “big plate” moment.

Steamed sea bass fillet (£9) with bok choi, generous shards of ginger, spring onion and celery in a soy broth would not frighten anyone, yet it was no meek choice. The fish was cooked well and the delicate balance of flavours of the rest, from a hand that had understood less is more, did it perfectly good justice.

A Szechuan stir fry of three pepper beef (£9.50) was unnecessarily topped by torn iceberg lettuce leaves. The spiciness of the dish was well thought and robust, and the entire dish was a pleasure, even though purists would probably blanch at the thought of adding jasmine rice, or frown at any cross pollination of delicacies from different nations united on a plate.

While the Catholic end of Hope St champions methods allowing you to feel clean and good again after bad indulgences, wok-fried greens (£2.75) are a far less complicated affair and do the trick just as well.

Five spiced doughnut fingers (£4.25) sound like something Fat Git would order. These are basically sugary breadstick type affairs with not a trace of grease, hot and puffy and with toothsome dips of condensed coconut milk, chocolate and chilli, and caramel dips. Similar effort has gone into the rich and filling chocolate and chilli brownie (£4.50), with good vanilla ice cream, and yes a whopping candied red chilli on top.

There is a huge selection of teas, liqueurs and cocktails, but with dessert wine at £6.50 a glass, and the theatre clock ticking, our helpful and unnamed waitress directs us to something less costly. We look at the tumblers and agree.

Yet we will be going back. The belly pork and the more indulgent wine choices suggest a more leisurely rematch is on the cards - and you never know who you might meet over a shared table in such upmarket company.

Indeed, as my London-bound friend might have it, there's nowt worse than unfinished business.

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing, 14-15 worth a trip, 16-18 very good to exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Cheeses, Mary and Joseph.

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13 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Salad DazeNovember 12th 2009.

Yes, did the posh one from London end up on Hope Street? Is she still there? is she a prostitute? Does she have a weapon dog? Does she have a senior railcard now?

scrittipolittiNovember 12th 2009.

Agree with most about Host. They took long enough to convert it but it was worth the wait: the service is spot on (friendly, quick thinking and urgent), the food is clean, healthy and well thought out, and the environment is non-pretentious but professional (you either get one or the other usually in Liverpool). Joe McG got it right: the best things to order are the starters partly because the most generic dishes are the noodle and sauce based ones which are main courses. The desserts are excellent -- the three in one was particularly tasty. Jonathan Pryce the actor could be seen there often during his recent run at the Everyman.

Liverpool wagNovember 12th 2009.

Joe McG! Let's go up there soon, sir!

Andy MeliaNovember 12th 2009.

Stop it. I'm hungry. But in Formby.

AnonymousNovember 12th 2009.

Agree with this. It is what it is, and quite cheap too, considering the surroundings. Don't go Wagamama!!

Joe McGNovember 12th 2009.

Host is exceptional...I have been there several times now, and have found the best way to approach it is to order loads of the small plates...really accurate cooking and interesting salads (crayfish was memorable with a fabulous thai-style dressing) The desserts are great , too.. I'll be back again soon...

CuriousNovember 12th 2009.

What did you do to get that, Salad?

NoodleNovember 12th 2009.

Did he get his leg over in the end?

x-manNovember 12th 2009.

Host is a better option than anything in chinatown, actually

Salad DazeNovember 12th 2009.

...and BTW my nice waitress at HoSt gave me a glass with a stem.

EsmereldaNovember 12th 2009.

Loved host, food is fresh and tasty, prices are reasonable too! A new favourite of mine.

Barry GrantNovember 12th 2009.

I too have been put off by tumblers. There is nothing worse than people doing somersaults all over your food when you are trying to engage in oral intercourse

Salad DazeNovember 12th 2009.

PS Did they really hang Gary Glitter or his brother Gilmore (from Gillmoss)? Can we vote on this?

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