Billed as ‘Aegean’ and sitting on the cusp of Chinatown, Hovarda opened at the end of 2017, the second restaurant from executive chef Hus Vedat (the first was Yosma). Completing Rupert Street’s now-glitzy line-up alongside Xu and The Palomar, Hovarda’s teal exteriors don’t give much clue as to the massive 5,670 square feet the restaurant occupies.
We visited in the first week of January – always a painful week for restaurants, coming down off the highs of a hectic Christmas. Led to our table by a polished and enthusiastic server, we were faced with a wall of shimmering Raki bottles. There were a few other tables having dinner but it was far from busy, making the loud music seem all the more prominent.
The menu is divided into raw, meze, mains, salads and sides, and a daily fish menu of what’s fresh in off the boats. Everything in the restaurant leans you towards a pescetarian choice – hubbly bubbly water sculptures on the walls were faintly reminiscent of lab coats and Bunsen burners, but we particularly enjoyed the menu drawing of a person holding up two fish for eyes.
The meze, if you’re used to having meze, is aggressively priced. Bean pilaki was glorious; fat squidgy beans bathed in tomato sauce, topped with a grassy verdant olive oil, whiffing pleasantly of garlic. Taramasalata was studded through with slices of bottarga, light and whipped, the grilled pita bread not nearly enough for us to greedily scoop it up but happily replenished.
Marinated prawns came dressed in tarragon and lemon oil. Some of them hadn’t been cleaned well enough, but otherwise, it was a generous portion. From the raw section, £13 for four slices of yellowtail felt steep, but it was up there with the beans as the standout for the evening. Soaked in a light orange juice and served with cucumber, chilli and lime, this was beautifully balanced with sweet and sour.
We turned to the catch of the day for our main course. The Dover sole (sea bass and turbot were also offered) was the only one appropriate in size for two, and at £8/100gr we were looking at a £35 main course, ungarnished. Our very sweet waiter brought the fish to our table fresh off the grill and expertly filleted it tableside, dressing it in an emulsified olive oil and lemon mixture. Unfortunately one of us got the whole un-grilled side and the other the charcoaled skin that had seen the grill; far better would have been for us to have a fillet from each side. Never mind – the fish was indeed fresh, and cooked perfectly with a delicate touch. Are we being very old-fashioned for wanting a warmed plate?
Chargrilled broccoli with garlic, anchovies, port and olive oil on the side was a mediocre portion for £7, and it was overcooked so the vegetable had lost much of its green resistance. Chips with garlic and parsley were a delight though – they reminded us of McDonald’s chips with a posh frippery and that is No Bad Thing.
We were led upstairs to the bar for dessert, navigating at least three different areas of plush velvet sofas and gleaming gold. ‘Ekmek Kadayif’ was ice cream made with mastic, which gave it a chewy, elastic quality – it was balanced on top of a honey-soaked ball of vermicelli-like pastry. Lokma, which are deep-fried doughnuts soaked in syrup were crunchy and hearty, the cinnamon ice cream doing little to lighten the load. Cocktails were proffered, including a clever one made with Raki so it tasted like a boozy coffee. A martini was given to us with a slice of orange peel, our waiter triumphantly telling us it was a lighter martini than the usual, with a lower ABV ‘for the ladies’. No thanks.
It’s a strange space, Hovarda. It has the clubby Euro vibe of high-end bars and restaurants in the West End where people go to see and be seen, with pricing to match. The food is a delight on the eyes but in particular, the main course didn’t live up to expectation and veered a little on the safe side. Stick to the raw and the meze and although you will spend a lot more than you would on a full Green Lanes experience, those beans really are very good.