The winter sucks – that’s an empirical fact. I don’t want to hear anything about cute jumpers or Christmas or whatever: it’s cold, there’s no sun and everyone’s miserable. But no matter the time of year, it’s venues like Trader Vic’s – the Tiki paradise in West London – that keep the summer spirit alive despite how many months away margaritas on the beach may be; this is the place that invented the original Mai Tai, after all. So with a craving for a tropical holiday, I hopped on the train to Mayfair to see if their wood-fire cooked dishes could relight a summer flame in my heart.
Venue and Atmosphere
Walking into Trader Vic’s is like stepping into another place entirely. The busy streets of Park Lane are left behind as you step down a wooden spiral staircase and into the Tiki wonderland. The bar is split between a wide open dining room, a more secluded bar area on a lower floor, and an open space bar. Thatched furnishings, Moai statues, and Polynesian boat hanging from the ceiling create a kitsch Tiki environment, while managing to avoid the dreaded ‘tacky’ danger zone. This is all helped, as well, by the fact it’s in the basement, so London’s April grey doesn’t infect your tropical fantasy.
The Thursday was relatively quiet, with a light hum of chatter from the few tables around us and the people enjoying some (wonderfully tasty) after-work drinks. On the weekends, the place really does come alive, with people seeking out the cocktails like only an end-of-the-week drinker can. The clientele is predominately professionals, with a few family meals dotted around the place.
Food & Drink
We kicked off the evening with some cocktails and, as the home of the first ever Mai Tai, I thought it was only fitting that I drink the original 1944 version (£12.50). These guys do not skimp on the strength of their drinks, which is always a delightful experience in a tropical themed bar where the alcohol can be washed away amongst the juices, yet it still delivered on flavours. My friend, aptly, chose the Suffering Bastard (£9.50), a blend of rums with lime and liqueurs, which was a fruitier affair. As for food, the menu doesn’t really stop in one cuisine, moving between Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Asian and Japanese dishes, creating an interesting and appetising display in front of us.
With the Polynesian fishing boat hanging above our heads, we thought it best to start with some seafood. My friend opted for the Tom Yum Goong (£15), a spicy and sour seafood soup with prawns, sea bass, snow peas, carrots and coriander. The broth was punchy while the prawns and sea bass managed to maintain their individual flavour. I chose the Tuna Poke (£14), made from fresh Ahi tuna & avocado, crispy taro chips and a soy and sesame dressing. This was the right choice for starter: the avocado and tuna was light and incredibly fresh, with the taro chips acting as the crunchy, unifying base.
With our taste buds sufficiently teased, our stomachs’ attention eventually turned onto the main. Our waiter hinted that their specially designed Chinese wood-fire oven creates some spectacular dishes, and with that Biblical level temptation, we dived right in. I opted for the BBQ Monkfish (£27), cooked expertly, and broke apart into flavoursome chunks with a touch of my fork. However, in the imaginary game of ‘Who Ordered Best’ that I play every time I visit a restaurant, I have to concede victory to my friend, who opted for the Indonesian rack of lamb (£34), cooked medium rare with Singapore style curried rice noodles, mango chutney, roasted pineapple and peanut butter sauce.
Obviously, I stole a bite and it turned out to be one of the most fabulously tender, perfectly cooked pieces of lamb I’ve ever tasted in my life. The chutney and peanut butter only multiply the flavours instead of overshadowing it, and it just works as a complete, delicious dish. Seriously, you have to try this lamb.
Trader Vic’s is a little Tiki paradise hidden away on Mayfair. The interiors are wonderfully quirky and their cocktails are packed with delicious flavours (and lots of alcohol). But its food is mouth-wateringly good: from the delectable tuna starter to that dreamy, dreamy lamb. Go there, order something from their wood-fire oven along with a Mai Tai, and escape the horrible British weather in bliss.