Luminous Splendour: Heliot at The Hippodrome

When I was invited to attend dinner and drinks at the newly restored Hippodrome‘s restaurant, Heliot, I was intrigued. The building has a great deal of history, as I found out from the video on The Hippodrome Casino’s website. Also, from watching the video, I was curious how the restoration project would turn out. The architect for the building was Frank Matcham, who also designed the beloved Hackney Empire, among other buildings built at the turn of the last century. The recent restoration worked to pay homage to Matcham’s original plans, and the results are quite stunning, especially when coupled with 21st century elements.

This magnificent setting houses Britain’s largest casino that operates 24 hours a day. To be honest, I don’t gamble, as I’m the sorest loser in the world once I lose a few coins. However, The Hippodrome has something else that suits my interests.

Yes, a bar.

Upon arriving last week to meet up with other bloggers and our hosts for the evening, there were quite a few events going on in the vast space of The Hippodrome, so it was a bit hard to find the folks I was meeting. No matter, as I managed to to swipe a glass of cava or prosecco–something fizzy–as I ogled the design features, including the ringed road of pennies surrounding the Heliot bar, creating a big copper ribbon that the following photo doesn’t do justice.

Eventually, through the magic of Twitter communication, I managed to find my hostess, who shepherded me to the bar, whereupon I was invited to peruse the cocktail menu. Lately, thanks to Ruby’s Bar in Dalston, I’ve become quite partial to having cocktails, and I’ve appreciated the artistry that goes into making a fine drink. Heliot’s drinks list did not disappoint, with cocktails starting at £8.50 a tipple, which is pretty good value given the opulent setting and the selection. Standards such as the Manhattan, the Gimlet, the Martinez and the Whisky Sour were featured. I opted for an Old Fashioned made with Pikesville Rye whiskey, which was absolutely glorious.

So good. Next time, I’ll have to ask for a little less ice, although this is standard in the industry and bars to serve it with this much ice. I just really like the taste of booze.

Drinks in hand, we had a lovely tour of the place where several notable performers of bygone eras have delighted the stage. Charlie Chaplin apparently got his start in The Hippodrome, and other performers included Judy Garland (OMG, JUDY!!), The Jackson 5, Roy Orbison, Harry Houdini, Count Basie, Phyllis Diller (OMG, PHYLLIS!), W. C. Fields and more. You can view a lengthy list on The Hippodrome’s Wikipedia page.

The Hippodrome was so named because of the fantastical animal acts that were put on in the space, featuring elephants, polar bears and lions. In fact, the Heliot Restaurant was named after Claire Heliot, the lion tamer of The Hippodrome’s early days (Note: I think the text on Claire Heliot’s page should read “20th century,” not “19th century”). Where some of the gaming tables are now, there used to be a massive swimming pool that featured aquatic spectaculars, such as, so the tale goes, a one-legged unicyclist diving from the theatre minstrel gallery high above the pool.

You don’t see that many one-legged unicyclist high-divers nowadays, do you? Ah, those were the days.

After a tour which featured an interesting smoking area, a sneaky peek at the Matcham Room’s theatre and a look at the door for the big casino dawgs, we sat at one of the tables on one of the three tiers of dining space for the Heliot. As ever the token veggie, my palette was still pleased by a lovely tomato gazpacho and the tasty roasted saffron cauliflower orecchiette, aka posh cheezy pasta, but not silly posh, as it’s £12.50 on the menu, which you can view here.

There was silly posh cheezy pasta in the form of Millionaire’s Mac n’ Cheese, which I had a taster of at this dinner. It’s £28 to serve two, and it’s topped with black truffle and poached pheasant egg. It was nice, but to be honest, I make a kick-ass mac n’ cheese, so I am a hard woman to please when it comes to the subject. One of the diners ordered the Shooter Sandwich, which I thought was quite fantastic, as it looked like a giant slice of savoury pie. That, along with the burger and the shepherd’s pie, were under £15, but there were more deluxe options, including the Posh Kebab (that’s what it calls itself on the menu) of lamb shoulder, kidney, lamb sausage and liver for £21.50, along with steaks and a Beef Wellington that will set you back £50. So it’s quite interesting how the Heliot’s price range goes from being comparable to a gastropub to… well, a price I can’t afford, anyway. However, being veggie, I can eat at The Heliot without banging too much of a dent in my wallet.

Which is good, because that means I can spend more money on delicious booze.

There were desserts as well, including something called Knickerbocker Glory, which I was unfamiliar with, to the incredulousness of the ones who ordered it, as it’s apparently an American invention. The Wikipedia page doesn’t really attribute provenance to the Glory, but acknowledges its popularity in the UK, and the vernacular may well be of American origin. Either way, I’d never seen it until then, a towering glass layered with all sorts. I opted for the lemon meringue pie, which was quite richly lemony, and thoroughly excellent.

Look at the army of wee meringues! It’s like a troop of tastiness!

I had a lovely evening as a guest at The Hippodrome’s Heliot restaurant, and do intend to return to try some more drinks at the bar. There’s no membership required to drink and dine at the Heliot, and the drinks prices are, again, very reasonable. The setting is quite luxe, and I think if anyone wants to swan around somewhere, pretending to be James Bond or a Bond girl, The Hippodrome is it. Although you might want to make sure you don’t lose your shirt at the roulette table.

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