When I first moved to London, I lived in a tiny studio right in the heart of Soho. What with the constant racket outside and the lack of space, the streets of London’s most vibrant neighbourhood became my extended living room. Soho overflows with eating and drinking options to serve the colourful melee: the new, the classic, the quirky, and the fads. I ate my way through most of these, not just because of my limited kitchen space but because of the unbearable excitement of having just moved to London. There is always somewhere new opening in Soho, but here are some solid keepers where style and substance go hand in hand.
Bar Italia, 22 Frith St, W1D 4RF
A real Soho institution. Lou and Caterina Polledri recreated the classic Italian coffee bar when they came from Italy in the 1920’s. Sit at the bar and soak up the clamorous Italian atmosphere, the heated discussions and watch the baristas do their magic.
Nordic Bakery, 14A Golden Square, W1F 9JG
Scandi chic might be trendy at the moment but this café is anything but fairweather. Perch yourself at one of the tables as you sip dark coffee from a signature blue mug. What will you eat? A cinnamon bun of course. Let the calmness in here soothe you before you take on the city.
A well established restaurant and bar, Quo Vadis also boasts its own in-house bakery by baker Karol Haring. Enjoy a delicious breakfast in the delectable stained glass-lit interior, or buy one of the daily bakes to take home. A stylish way to start your day.
Mildreds, 45 Lexington St, W1F 9AN
Like steak? Go to Mildreds – the restaurant so good that you’ll forget it’s vegetarian. It’s tucked away on Lexington, a street that boasts several fantastic restaurants. On any night you are likely to see a crowd of people relaxing with a drink, chatting happily outside Mildreds. These people are on a waiting list for a table. Once you’ve tried it, you’ll understand why.
Hix, 6-70, Brewer St, W1F 9UP
Mark Hix’s Soho offering is a treat. Offering quality spins on traditional British fare, the menu changes weekly to showcase the best of the season. At the moment you can go and delight your taste buds with the likes of asparagus, rhubarb and wild garlic, executed in such delicate ways as to allow the true flavours of each to take centre stage. Given Hix’s partnership with Damien Hirst, you can soak up some of the eclectic artwork dotted around the room too.
Mele e Pere, 46 Brewer St, W1F 9TF
It is tempting to go to Mele e Pere and get so comfortable at their long copper bar, delicious vermouth cocktail in hand, that you forget to look at a menu. I have tried many dishes here over time, but often get seduced by their tagliatelle with beef ragù. The sauce is so deliciously rich and satisfying that you will be transported out of the London bustle to somewhere very calm indeed.
Ducksoup, 41 Dean St, W1D 4PY
With an almost daily changing menu, Ducksoup likes to keep things fresh and exciting. Whether the dishes are inspired by travel or a penchant for something new, they are always chosen in homage to the season. From a dozen Northumberland oysters to deep fried lamb sweetbreads, in Ducksoup you must let your senses explore.
Dean Street Townhouse, 69-71 Dean St, W1D 3SE Once one of London’s major hangout spots for the likes of Fred Astaire, the Dean Street Townhouse remains one of the coolest places in the city. But is it in no way elitist; it’s just a great place to go. Dine in the exquisite, but tastefully decorated restaurant to enjoy great seasonal food in historic surroundings.
Bocca Di Lupo, 12 Archer St, W1D 7BB
Hidden away down an unassuming side street, Bocca Di Lupo is worth a little detour. As you walk in the door, feast your eyes on the long marble bar; you can choose to eat here and enjoy watching the kitchen perform its magic, or slink further into the bowels of the room to the dining room. You will enjoy perusing the menu which reads like a tour of Italy by mouth. When you have been fed and watered, saunter across the road to Bocca’s ice-cream parlour, Gelupo, to enjoy such gelato as burnt caramel or blood orange sherbet.
Mark’s Bar, 6-70, Brewer Street, W1F 9UP
In the basement of Mark Hix’s Soho restaurant is his speakeasy-style bar. Inviting leather armchairs and demure lighting beg for you to sit back and enjoy one of the excellent cocktails as immense in flavour as the food upstairs. The sunken bar is a nice touch, allowing you to relax on a low chair and watch the theatre unfold behind the bar.
The French House, 49 Dean Street, W1D 5BG
Cosy in the winter, and cool in the summer, The French House is always a good choice for a tipple. Take a seat in one of the window seats upstairs and watch out over Dean Street. It famously forbids mobile phones, TV, music and machines, therefore making it the perfect spot to nestle down for a good chat.
Bar Américain at Brasserie Zedel, 20 Sherwood Street, W1F 7ED
The Art Deco opulence of this bar is so thrilling that you would not be at all surprised to turn around and see Gatsby himself. The atmosphere is great here and all without even a hint of pretension. The cocktails flirt between classics to naughtier numbers like Parisian Summer and The Chrysler Cocktail. Starting your evening here will set the bar very high.
L’Eto Caffé, 155 Wardour St, W1F 8WG
When you approach L’Eto, you are met first with its dazzling array of brightly coloured cakes beaming out from the window. They do taste as good as they look, especially when paired with one of the many exciting coffees.
The London branch of this Milanese bakery brought some of that style from the Italian fashion capital when it arrived on Wardour Street in 2008. Princi is an any-time-of-day, any-type-of-meal/drink, kind of place – but their desserts really stand out. Gasp at the long counter of cakes, pastries and tarts before choosing your poison and carrying it all on your aptly chic tray to one of the oh so chic tables. Perfect for dessert post dinner as it’s open until midnight Monday-Saturday, and 10pm on Sunday. Canteen eating has never looked so good.
Sarah is among many Irish people living in London, where she delights in exploring its exciting food scene. She is passionate about food markets, spending her weekends trawling around Borough market grazing, chatting and stocking up on all things edible.
She dedicates a blog to her adventures in the markets, from her local farmers market to those she happens upon on her travels. Writing for TheTaste allows her to share tales from the food front line with fellow eager eaters.