After checking out the Moai and other antiquities at the British Museum, we had planned to meet up with a friend at Trader Vic’s. This was the first overseas location of the chain, opening in 1963 in the London Hilton on Park Lane. (Trader Vic’s once had a franchise partnership with Hilton hotels, but most of those restaurants have closed.)
The entrance itself is kind of magical, with a giant chandelier and beautiful tapa cloth wrapping around the staircase that takes you down to the restaurant. Also at the top is a display case with some of the standard Trader Vic’s souvenirs, but at prices that will make you cringe if your currency is on the weaker side (£20 for the coconut mug!).
There was a close call this summer when the hotel suffered a fire in the basement kitchens, but luckily Trader Vic’s needed only minor repairs. They were only serving a limited menu while we were there, and had closed off the lounge area on the right. (The restaurant is scheduled to fully re-open on November 1.)
We were seated up on the left in the dining room. The decor is topnotch, with carved tiki poles, suspended outriggers, fish floats, large shells and bamboo, but I particularly liked the nautical touches of the lanterns, model ships and small yacht club flags along the wall.
Between these spaces is the bar, where an amplified acoustic guitar player was performing. Alas, the music was too loud and the wrong style (Latin) and detracted from the ambience. Earlier in the night it was filled with businessmen sipping scorpion bowls. (But sadly no werewolves drinking Pina Coladas…)
In recent years Trader Vic’s has censored their original menus by making the ladies much more modest, so it was amusing to find this saucy sign.
I always like to order the signature drink of that particular Trader Vic’s, and here it’s the London Sour (£9), which Trader Vic himself made for the restaurant’s debut. It’s composed of Scotch whisky with orgeat, orange and lemon juice. (At other Trader Vic’s, it’s made with Bourbon and dubbed the Eastern Sour.) I don’t drink much Scotch so I was a bit hesitant about this one, but I loved it. The balance between sweet and sour was just perfect.
Now if only I had quit while I was ahead. Instead I was intrigued by the section of the cocktail menu that went beyond the Trader Vic’s classics and ordered the Wanilla (£13.50), made with St. Aubin vanilla rum, pineapple, “a touch of Mandarin” and Prosecco. I had hoped for something fruity and bubbly, but there was an artificial taste to this that was a total turnoff.
Minor missteps aside, it was such a thrill to visit one of the original Trader Vic’s. It was also great chatting with one of the friendly hosts about Trader Vic’s—he seemed impressed by my enthusiasm.
Trader Vic’s is located in the Mayfair district just east of Hyde Park and is quite convenient to slake a thirst after sightseeing. Plus, Mahiki is less than a kilometer away so you could turn the night into a tiki bar mini-crawl. (Definitely hit up the Mahiki first, though, for reasons that will be explained later.)
London Hilton on Park Lane
22 Park Lane
London, W1K 1PN, United Kingdom