This diminutive, dimly lit room beside the veg stalls of Berwick Street Market was one of the places that signalled, when it opened in 2005, the increasing influence of Antipodean coffee culture in London. It was hugely popular from the outset. Coffee has always occupied centre stage here, and while espresso drinkers have sometimes been disappointed, our latest visit was a resounding success.
Introduced to London by Alan Yau in 2008, this smart outpost of a Milanese bakery chain remains a popular all-day option. It’s an airy, good-looking room, with a sandstone interior, long black marble counters and a (slightly odd) water feature that runs the length of one wall.
Conceived by restaurateur Alan Yau more than a decade ago, this original branch of Busaba Eathai attracted queues round the block when it opened in Soho. These days, Yau has only a minority share, and Busaba has become a ten-strong chain – but it’s still not your average Thai joint. The dark, handsome interior combines teak wood, incense and dimly lit lanterns.
A little sister of the other Gail’s scattered across London, this branch of the artisan bakery is fighting its corner, quite literally, in Soho. The interior decor is a product of the same white/red/grey palette of its siblings, and the zinc-topped counters and exposed lightbulbs parading around the perimeter of the room remind you that Gail’s is taking its arrival in W1 seriously.
If Spanish hams are your thing, check out this first branch outside Spain this chain of high-quality jamonerías. This Soho outpost is asmall, no-frills place, with a slicing counter and display cabinets upfront and simple seating up back. Local colour is provided by the manySpanish-speaking staff and customers – expats suffering withdrawalsymptoms, no doubt.
Houmous may be nothing more than cheap student-fuel to many, but this humble chickpea paste is elevated to something altogether more delicious in the hands of Hummus Bros. The original Wardour Street outlet is still spartanly decorated, despite a ten-year refit, with communal tables and big windows – with queues of office workers snaking into the street at lunchtime: scenes replicated at the Holborn and Cheapside branches.
There are few more affable temples to nostalgia than this cluttered café, its brick walls covered with ’80s memorabilia – from record sleeves of celebrated movie soundtracks (Back To The Future, St Elmo’s Fire) to a T-shirt bearing the surnames of the original Breakfast Club actors. Finding a weathered wooden table on which to perch isn’t easy at lunchtime, but it’s the best way to fully appreciate the similarly sigh-inducing range of comfort food.
Kêu (which is pronounced ‘that sandwich shop on the corner’) is a new Vietnamese café in Soho that’s a branch of the Cây Tre and Viet Grill restaurant chain. To read a review of the first branch, in Shoreditch, click here. You can sit in (table service) or take away (cheaper).
Poised at the top of Wardour Street, Brgr.co’s first branch outside Lebanon opened to a mixed reception. In a city in the throes of street-food hysteria, it doesn’t curry any favours by plastering a theory of ‘BRGRology’ all over the placemats. Small burgers, made from the cheapest cuts, start at a very reasonable £4.75. Ordering them is more difficult, with the staff schooled in the art of upselling expensive specials and gourmet alternatives.
Yalla Yalla continues to produce its hit formula of superior Lebanese cooking in a casual setting. Its self-styled ‘Beirut street food’ resonates with the upbeat informality of these dinky Soho premises; we’ve found the quality to match that of much pricier restaurants. Diners cram on to faux-rustic tables at lunchtime, while others nip in for takeaway wraps – filled with everything from falafel to spicy sujuk sausage – from the pre-prepared selection behind the counter.
This quick-fix open all-week spot has taken fusion to a new level with new-fangled spins on South African bunny chow - Durban’s comforting curry-in-a-loaf staple. After selling bunnies from a food truck and then a pop-up in Shoreditch, the team who set up Bunnychow have switched its allegiance and turned the dial down low on its South African roots.
Jerk City takes the idea of not changing a winning formula maybe a little too far. We’d say the menu hasn’t changed in years, but it’s more likely that it hasn’t changed since the place opened. The decor and furnishings still feel like the student-flat section of an Ikea showroom.
Falafel-filled pittas are the star at this global vegetarian fast-food chain. White or wholemeal pockets, crammed with crunchy falafel, are handed to customers, who can then top them off with a choice of garnishes from the buffet. And what a feast for the eyes this salad bar is: from pickles and olives to bulghur wheat salad, shredded red cabbage and a huge selection of sauces – it’s easy to overfill your pitta.
A Chinatown stalwart, the New Mayflower is a cavernous venue, set over two floors and several rather small rooms. The red-carpeted, white-walled interior is drab and could use a little updating. Nevertheless, the kitchen is capable of producing Cantonese cuisine to a high standard, if you know what to order. Sadly, a certain proportion of diners here (tourists wafting over from Piccadilly Circus) do not, and are nudged towards the lacklustre set meals. A dish of succulent clams with a mild chilli and salty black bean sauce was the star of our meal. We also enjoyed a home-style steamed minced pork patty, studded with water-chestnuts and topped with salted egg. Emperor chicken, ordered from the menu written only in Chinese, was fine, but the accompanying ginger and spring onion sauce lacked salt. Finally, a plate of stir-fried water spinach was too oily and contained no trace of the fermented beancurd sauce we requested. The generous portions resulted in plenty of our dinner being boxed up and taken home. On our weekday visit the restaurant was packed, causing cramped seating conditions and leading to inattentive service. We’ve had such problems here before.
"One of Chinatown's original venues, serving traditional Cantonese and Peking dishes, daily dim sum, handmade cheung fun and BBQ meats."