It was a cold London evening and I stayed at the Hilton on Park Lane. It was dark and there was a cold chill outside, I was missing summer already and it was only the start of November. Then I entered the Trader Vic’s restaurant located in the basement of the Hilton and I was transferred to a remote island where the cocktails are yummy the sun always shines and the food is great. Trader Vic’s is a tropical-themed bar with Polynesian cuisine, home of the Mai Tai and it has an island decor. Yes, this themed restaurant had everything themed from bamboo furniture, wall art, wooden statues to a woven wooden ceiling.
The history of Trader Vic’s started in 1934 when Vic “The Trader” Bergeron built his first saloon Hinky Dinks in Oakland, California. The trader used his bar tendering and rum knowledge he learned in Cuba and transformed his saloon into a tropical retreat and named it Trader Vic’s. He started serving different island-style cuisines and became one of America’s first fusion restaurant concepts. In 1963 Trader Vic’s at London Hilton’s Park Lane was opened followed in 1994 by multiple franchises around the world.
Little did I know I was going to dine at an institution dating back since 1963. First I was offered to go to the bar area for some cocktails and some finger food to go with it. Little did I know I was going for another history lesson.
Home of the Original Mai Tai
I have heard of the Mai Tai Cocktail and I drank a few of them in various places around the world. I never stood still where the name came from and who created the drink. Trader Vic was a bit of a cocktail man and he created the Original Mai Tai in 1944. In his Oakland bar, he pulled down a bottle of 17-year-old Jamaican Rum, added a squeeze of lime, a dash of rock candy syrup, a splash of orange curacao, some French Orgeat and poured the concoction over cracked ice. This was given to his friend from Tahiti who tasted it and said “It’s Mai Tai Roa Ae!” (Tahitian for “Out of this world- The Best”). Trader Vic not only created the Mai Tai but over 200 other signature cocktails.
After reading this story I had to have a Mai Tai, something I recommend to anyone that comes first to the Trader Vic’s. The food to go with the Mai Tai was the Cosmo Tidbits. A plate to share for two with crispy prawns, crab Rangoon and Char siu pork BBQ spare ribs. I also had some chicken skewers which were marinated in chilli, ginger and buttered methi tomato sauce. These skewers then needed to be quickly seared in some hot flames.
After the bar experience, I went to the restaurant area which had a similar look and feel. I decided to stick with Mai Tai’s for the rest of the evening. I had the Ocean Island Scallops which were fresh jumbo sea scallops, saffron risotto, sambal chilli vinaigrette and sesame pea shoots.
The second main was the filet of Wild Sea Bass which was ginger-soy marinated with broccolini and shiitake mushroom vinaigrette.
For dessert, I had the Trader Vic’s Polynesian Snowball which was a coconut ice cream rolled in toasted coconut with chocolate sauce.
My dinner date had the Pukolu Bowl which was a trio of sorbet with fresh mango & pineapple finished tableside with ginger beer.
Truly themed restaurants are a rare breed in London and the Trader Vic’s is eating and drinking on a tropical island in the midst of a cold grey London. The food, the cocktails and the whole decor transferred me away, the combination of it all worked well. The food was a mix of Polynesian and various Asian cuisines together with cocktails from the Caribbean. I had a blast for almost four hours and then I walked up the stairs from the restaurant and I left paradise behind me. I wanted to go back in but I was the last customer and then I released that this was a great concept. A concept that has been working well for 53 years in a row now.
- Cost: £80-100 per person with a couple of cocktails.
- Website: www3.hilton.com/en/hotels/united-kingdom/london-hilton-on-park-lane-LONHITW/dining/trader-vics.html
- Address: 22 Park Lane, Mayfair, London W1K 1BE
- Phone: +44 (0) 7208 4113