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Soho area guide

Discover countless drinking holes, excellent restaurants and unforgettable entertainment in vibrant Soho

Gordon Rainsford
Compton's of Soho

Soho is a hard place to pin down. The district – and its southern subsection Chinatown – teems with tourists going to West End shows, media professionals marching to work, hungry patrons sampling some of London's best restaurants and people looking to have a long night out at one (or several) of the area's clubs, bars and pubs. But Soho was also home to many historical figures, including Mozart, Karl Marx and The Sex Pistols. Many Londoners still think it’s all about sex, but the fact is, Soho should be as notable for its history and culture as it is for the sleaze.

Love London Awards: this year's winners

Restaurants

Cay Tre

Part of the Vietnamese Kitchen group, with branches in Hoxton and Shoreditch, Cây Tre is just what you might imagine a Vietnamese restaurant in Soho to be like: chic, minimal decor, impeccably smart and efficient black-clad staff, and beautifully served food. Customers are very mixed – tourists, Chinatown youngsters looking for something fresh, and a smattering of techies and media types. The chain prides itself on using all fresh (ideally local) ingredients with impeccable provenance – witness the delectable Devon crab wrap with crisp lettuce and perilla leaves (in which to roll up the super-tasty filling); grilled Cornish scallops in spring onion oil, roasted peanuts and nuoc cham; and barbecued Somerset ribs with lemongrass, sriracha chilli sauce and galangal. The menu is peppered with imaginative combinations, such as a delicious textural treat of grilled squid stuffed with duck pâté, or braised ox cheek pho with lemongrass and coriander. Thoughtfully, counters with stools have been provided by the entrance, facing the street, for those in a hurry or singletons. A big choice of cocktails leaves little room for a decent wine list. Loud piped music throbs through the place – enjoyable, but not conducive to conversation. Sister restaurant Viet Grill in Shoreditch has had a makeover, and now has a dining room with a new organic menu, and a retro-styled Vietnamese cocktail bar.

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
Users say
  • 3 out of 5 stars
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Bars and pubs

The Vault of Soho

Lovers of the malted grain have being paying homage at the whisky specialist Milroy’s since 1964. It has accumulated an enormous range of whiskies: around 400 from Scotland alone. A small tasting bar on the ground floor has been a feature for some years, but now – under new, independent ownership – the bar side is considerably expanded. There’s a small copper-topped bar with just a few stools, plus a table for two in the window. The ground floor is whisky-and-whiskey-only. If you’re looking for other spirits, head downstairs. The basement bar, aka The Vault, now calls itself a ‘speakeasy’ bar. This misleading bit of marketing-speak might be regarded as passé, and it isn’t particularly convincing here: it’s just a shorthand way of describing an dimly lit basement bar with dark-hued furnishings. But it's an attractive and comfortable room, and there is a rather splendid touch in the entrance to the stairway down the basement – you enter via a ‘hidden’ door in a fake bookcase. In the bar’s early days the service, though sweet and smiling, lacked the polished sheen of professionalism. But this didn’t detract from the perfection of a martini made with the bartender’s recommendation of The Botanist gin. The main cocktail list is heavy on experimentation, and the bartender’s evident expertise might make it worthwhile dipping in there. Drinks hover around £10, which is not unreasonable in this part of town. Soho’s not short of cocktail bars, but Milroy’s has lit a bright new spark

Time Out says
  • 3 out of 5 stars
Users say
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Restaurants

Bar Italia

This historic Soho café was established in 1949 by Lou and Caterina Polledri, and quickly became a social hub for the Italian community in London. Despite several upgrades to the decor, much of the original fixtures still remain, from the red and white formica to the Gaggia espresso machine and the flooring.

Users say
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Shopping

We Built This City

London souvenir shops have never been cool. They’re usually the home of sharp-elbowed tourists, barging their way through aisles of wind-up London buses, unofficial royal memorabilia and Lil’ Wayne vests. Until now... We Built This City is the kind of gift shop you're happy to take your cousins to when they come to visit. After a successful stint in a pop-up venue, it's returned to Carnaby for the long haul, selling a selection of curated pieces from London artists inspired by the city around them. Red, white and blue are banned. Artists regularly drop in for live sessions, and you'll find art and design workshops in store, too. East London artist Camille Walala has even given the shop a super cool graphic look both inside and out. Put down the Kate and Wills tea towel, drop the Harry Styles mask and give We Built This City a go. 

Users say
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Cinemas

Picturehouse Central

The Picturehouse's latest branch, opened in the summer of 2015, sits on the site of the old Cineworld in Piccadilly's Trocadero centre, which has had a stunning revamp. Distancing itself from the old maze that was former cinema entrance, Picturehouse have walled this up and made a clear entrance on the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue and Great Windmill Street. Inside visitors are met with a grand staircase paired with a film themed mural by US artists Patrick Vale and Paul Davis. There's also a ground floor café. Up a level you'll find the box office and the bar, before heading to one of the seven screens. Still in the same theatres the original screens were, these rooms have been overhauled with larger screens and comfy seats with more leg room. Another climb up a level will take you to the gallery space and a members-only bar with a roof terrace that looks out over the busy streets of central London.

Users say
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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See the full results of this year's Love London Awards

Restaurants in Soho

Restaurants

Breakfast in Soho

Wake up to the best restaurants for breakfast in Soho

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Restaurants

Soho's best restaurants

West End eats don't come better than these

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Restaurants

Cheap eats in Soho

Find the best places for cheap food and best budget restaurants and cafés in the Soho 

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Restaurants

Where to eat in Chinatown

Dine at the finest Chinese restaurants the West End has to offer

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See all bars and pubs in Soho

Things to do in Soho

Attractions

The Chapel of the House of St Barnabas

Soho was a very different place when the Chapel of St Barnabas was completed in 1864. Now, nipping into this holy spot off rowdy Greek Street feels like stepping from the ridiculous into the sublime. The chapel’s architects were inspired by the rustic majesty of the medieval Montmajour Abbey in the south of France, and created a simple yet wonderful place for worship, which is now also used for gigs. Discover the capital's most magical music venues

Users say
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Attractions Buy tickets

Ripley's Believe It or Not!

Attraction showcasing weird and wonderful items from around the world, such a 13-foot-long Tower Bridge made out of matchsticks, a piece of the Berlin Wall, shrunken heads, a copy of 'The Last Supper' painted on a grain of rice and a Swarovski crystal-covered Mini Cooper. New displays include the laser beam LaseRace.

Users say
  • 3 out of 5 stars
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Comments

1 comments
Sarah Dunbvand
Sarah Dunbvand

Foxcroft & Ginger A Great little food emporium, run by a dynamic husband and wife team, founded upon the principals of great British food, with locally-sourced ingredients and given an original twist. With a seasonally changing menu, from hearty/recovery breakfasts to daily special sandwiches made on their own sourdough. All bread, pastries, muffins, cakes and muesli are all made and baked in the premises. Also opening on 3 December 2011, Foxcroft & Ginger in Shoreditch, 42-43 Boxpark Mall, 2 Bethnal Green Rod, Shoreditch, E1 6JY.