The borders of Soho are rigidly defined. London’s most intriguing, infuriating and genuinely spectacular neighbourhood spans Shaftesbury Avenue to the south, Oxford Street to the north, Regent Street to the west and Charing Cross Road to the east. You’ll find statuesque new restaurant Nessa creeping towards the far-flung southwestern edge behind Piccadilly Circus, which, though technically still Soho, feels a world apart from the more ruggedly independent reaches of the area. Here rests a Nando’s, a Whole Foods and an unnervingly large branch of Stone Island. Despite this corporate ooze, Nessa does its best to bring a tastefully bohemian energy to the location.
On the ground floor of new members’ club 1 Warwick, this contemporary British bistro and all-day dining spot used to be unspectacular boozer The Warwick, but is unrecognisable from its pubby past. Now celebrating its Edwardian heritage and architecture, Nessa is so named in tribute to Vanessa Bell, the English painter, designer, sister of Virginia Woolf and core member of the proto-hippy Bloomsbury Group, who flounced around 1910s London and, said winking wit Dorothy Parker, ‘lived in squares, painted in circles and loved in triangles’. Get in.
A crumbly roly-poly with gooseberry jam and moat of bay leaf custard was gazed at with wide-eyed wonder
On our weeknight visit, there was no glaring evidence of any such complex romantic trysts, but the welcome to the art deco-inspired room was warm and extremely friendly, not least to the member of our party who happened to be a giggly five-month-old baby. A spacious bar packed with plush furnishings and brass fixtures leads to the main dining room, where chef Tom Cenci’s indulgent but accessible cuisine kicked us off with an imaginative offering of oysters. It’s hard to make oysters original, but fermented jalapeño sauce, hibiscus mignonette and spiced Ritz crackers brought fresh energy to a classic starter.
Next, some house-made barbecue-spiced crisps gave Torres a run for their money and acted as the perfect scoop for some zingy beef tartare. Celeriac carbonara with nuggets of salty pancetta, vibrant orange confit egg and winter truffle was Cenci’s British-with-a-twist cuisine personified, tarting up shavings of the grisly root via a graceful pasta-shaped reimagining. Spiced bulgar wheat-stuffed savoy cabbage pulled a similar trick, with a veg-plot standard of creamed parsnips gone somehow sexy, while a juicy mega-meatball of lamb and pork belly beamed naughtily out of a bed of creamed spinach and minted peas. Monty Don could never. Perhaps tastiest of all, though, were woodfired leeks, pushed to semi-pudding territory thanks to their accompanying almond ricotta and a scattering of caramelised pecans.
Cenci evidently has a way with the sweeter side of a menu. Our actual desserts consisted of an excellent baked alaska with gingerbread ice cream, which came swimming in a pool of bright fuchsia rhubarb, while a crumbly roly-poly with gooseberry jam and moat of bay leaf custard was gazed at with wide-eyed wonder by the baby. Maybe there’s hope for this side of Soho after all.
The vibe Sophisticated all-day dining bistro on the fringes of Soho.
The food Seasonal British ingredients fed through a global lens, followed by some sensational takes on trad puddings.
The drink Cocktails are off-kilter classics, with the Victorian punch-inspired Randy Hiball and the rhubarb- and marmalade-infused gin mixer, the Forced Breakfast. Don’t let the odd names put you off.
Time Out tip At Nessa vegetables maketh the dish. Make sure whatever you order has a decent helping of greens, and you’ll order well.