The TwoRuba website screamed friendship with a hint of elegance so I invited my good (elegant) friend, and damn fine poet, Anthony Hett to join me for an evening of cocktails and street food, writes After Nyne’s Dominic Stevenson.
The fact that a cocktail bar snuggled into the heart of the Hilton London Tower Bridge serves street food shows just how synonymous the words have become with dinner and how sharing is becoming a social norm. People oft discuss street food unfairly I feel. To be offended, by the fact that street food in most London venues is a million miles away from delicious deep fried samosas in a care park on the road out of Kathmandu, is to miss the point.
I see street food as the opportunity to gorge yourself in a microcosm of a culture, and while I won’t get into the wider argument – I wanted to set my stall as someone who quite likes multiple dishes in the same meal.
The question that wasn’t answered by their website was though I could, would I want to share my food with Anthony, or would the enticing sounding ‘cream soda jelly’ with brioche and duck parfait prove so irresistible that I made napkin walls around my plate to protect it from food snatching fingers?
Despite some really positive advanced signs from the website, the extremely noticeable lack of vegetarian dishes on the evening menu worried me. There are four but two are arguably side dishes, the bread board and chips, and I believe this to be a mistake for any restaurant or bar. I know a lot of vegetarians and so I’d have glanced past the menu and onto elsewhere so that everyone could have wider choice.
As you approach, from whatever angle, there is no mistaking the Hilton sign glowing in the night sky on the south bank of the River Thames. Like a north star guiding you to the cradle of cocktails below, it shines as brightly as the children who share its name once did.
‘TwoRuba’ is beautifully emblazoned on the side if huge windows at street level – though slightly awkwardly at one entrance you have to walk through the hotel reception area.
The interior is opulent but not ostentatious and while the place was busy, it didn’t ever feel crowded, or too loud. I was even impressed with the volume of the music and the rooms acoustics – enough to know it’s there and drown out other peoples conversations, but quite enough to let your own flow. It was refurbished fairly recently and only opened again in September – but despite this it looks and feels enjoyed, and despite the chilly night outside it was a haven of warmth.
Two arm chairs, two writers and two cocktails – mine a Tabago’s Secret (as recommended by our waitress) and Anthony plumped for a virgin cocktail being a non-drinker. We chose and ordered six sharing street food in the hope of discovering the ‘TwoRuba twist’.
Duck liver parfait, cream soda jelly & toasted brioche – This was sublime. Cream soda jelly?! That really was a TwoRuba twist. The waitress told us how when the new menu was created the chefs were asked to design dishes around the flavours of different soft drinks, including cream soda. It shouldn’t work with the parfait, but it does. It so does.
TwoRuba fish tacos, pico de gallo & citrus dressing – The tacos and dressing were nice, but the fish needed a lighter and fresher batter to match up with the crisp shells and fresh dressing.
Chicken popcorn, cajun salt, sweet chilli sauce – The chicken popcorn came with unannounced chips, which is always a bonus. Succulent, tantalisingly seasoned and plentiful – this dish surprised me and I’d definitely go for it again.
Salt and pepper squid, with lime crème fraiche – Like the chicken, well-seasoned and although delicious it didn’t pack the punch needed to separate it from squid elsewhere.
Tempura vegetables & wasabi mayonnaise – I tried the tempura vegetables because I’d already noted how few vegetarian dishes there were, but I figured that if their one vegetarian dish I’d consider a main was outstanding then I’d not mention it. Sadly this was the most disappointing dish that I tried, with oily heavy batter that tasted like that on the fish tacos. Some of the vegetables were well cooked and some a tad al dente. I’d give this dish a miss next time.
King prawns flash fried with garlic Yuzu emulsion – This was Anthony’s dish, although we shared them all (though I fiercely guarded the cream soda jelly), but I tried a prawn. I’ve never been a prawn fan but for the sake of being able to write about them I tried one, and it was delicious. Firm but still succulent and as far away from a supermarket shrimp as you can imagine. The Yuzu emulsion made this another ‘big tick’ in the TwoRuba twist box.
The TwoRuba website talks about their local market influences and our waitress reassured me that much of their produce is locally bought – and when you consider the innovation you see at London’s famous local markets and the TwoRuba twists, you can easily see the link in both the food and the cocktails.
Each dish was immaculately presented and plentiful, and when the TwoRuba twist was present, it made them worth recommending. The waitress who was assigned to our table was delightful, thoughtful and interested in our holistic experience of TwoRuba.
While I think receiving five out of six dishes that are well worth ordering again makes it a hit, I’d consider it a bit pricy at around £34 a head for three dishes and cocktails. Until they find a distinctive twist for all of their dishes I think it will be a superb spot for a first date, or a catch up with friends, rather than the culinary hotspot it could so easily become.
TwoRuba Hilton London Tower Bridge
5 More London Place
Monday – Saturday: 7.00am – 1.00am
Sunday: 7.00am – 12.00 midnight