It’s not often you’ll hear a central London restaurant described as being in the ‘vibrant midtown area of Holborn’, but it begins to make sense once you glean that Rocket is a full-on American joint, complete with gut-busting portions and over-enthusiastic waiting staff.
Housed in a subterranean cavern a short walk from Covent Garden, the piped-in muzak and City Boy decor doesn’t inspire much confidence in my fellow diner and I as we arrive and are seated in a thoroughfare beside the toilets, rather than one of the more intimate wine cellar annexes. Glancing around, we needn’t have booked –but, to be fair, it is a drizzly Tuesday evening.
The young waiter insists we start with a cocktail – something this place does well. The Rocket chain –they have three further outposts in central London and a fifth restaurant in Nottingham – is big on preserving the history of mixology, encouraging its staff with the promise of their very best creations ending up on the menu (‘saving them from obscurity’, as they put it). My heavily pregnant friend opts for a Virgin Mary– mixed to piquant perfection, she says – while I sample a signature cocktail, the ‘Au Pear’– a refreshingly tart blend of vodka, cognac, passionfruit and lemon topped up with champagne.
The menu is vast and specialities include gourmet pizzas, Californian-style salads and grills. I start with the blue cheese beignets and roasted curried cauliflower – the gooey cheese contrasts excellently with the bite of the cauliflower to more than take the edge off my appetite –while my friend enjoys a competent plate of halloumi and chorizo kebabs.
I follow my beignets with the n’duja, cherry tomato and prosciutto stone-baked pizza–a decision (correctly) made on the basis that no pizza liberally smeared with spreadable spicy sausage could ever be bad – while my pal orders what turn out to be lacklustre crayfish and salmon fishcakes. Oddly, the radish and green bean accompaniment she’d been expecting is replaced with limp lettuce and watery tomatoes, and no mention is made of this by the waiting staff.
We also, greedily, get a side of zucchini tempura to share. This is where those big Yank portions really start to backfire – I manage just one of the deep-fried courgette chunks (albeit a tasty one) and only half of my really-rather-nice pizza. As I sip a glass of 2011 Vina Cerrada Crianza Rioja in consternation, our keen waiter friend offers me a doggy bag for the rest. Naturally, I later leave clutching a warm bag of cheesy sausage stone-baked goodness.
An amateur might stop there, but us professionals know that desserts are digested in an entirely separate ‘cake stomach’–so we happily moved on to our third and final course of the evening. I decided on the key lime pie, which came with a pile of fresh strawberries and served as the perfect palate cleanser before I finally rounded things off with a chocolate orange dessert cocktail. A fantastic dupe for Terry’s festive favourite, it combines orange-infused gin, Mozart vodka, orange curd and lemon juice for just the right balance of citrus and chocolate. My pregnant friend demanded a sip (don’t tell her husband), and agreed it was a triumph.
Rocket is perfectly adequate, but then I’m not who they’re marketing to –on-site conference rooms, a private, cave-like dining area and unfussy, filling food makes this a great, central location (just a minute’s walk from Holborn station) for thrashing out the finer points of your next big business deal. Similarly, US ex-pats might like to swing by for an indulgent taste of home, and it’s a reassuringly straightforward dining experience that might suit a crowd of excited theatre-goers who are ‘up in London’for the day.