The best restaurants in Soho
A small, unshowy restaurant that’s made a name for itself with a short but perfectly formed menu and an easy-going conviviality. Dishes are seasonal and it’s good value for money. Tables are closely packed and in the evening it can get noisy, but otherwise it’s hard to fault the place. Adept, friendly staff are a further plus. If you can’t handle the no-booking policy at dinner, bookings are accepted for lunch.
Though based on Taiwanese street food dishes, the kitchen pushes far beyond those boundaries. The restaurant’s name derives from gua bao: fluffy white steamed buns, in this case filled with braised pork, sprinkled with peanut powder. Other sorts of bao (bun) are more slider-like. Yet buns are only half the story. Xiao chi (small eats) are given equal prominence, and the drinks list (sakés, artisanal ciders, well-matched beers, chilled foam tea and hot oolong teas) is distinguished.
The move from Frith Street to a new home alongside the Hart Brothers’ Quo Vadis hasn’t dented Barrafina’s allure – or shortened the seemingly endless queues outside this no-bookings star of London’s tapas scene. Fans still clamour for perches at the L-shaped marble counter, while the chefs continue to dole out dazzlers such as oozing tortillas and milk-fed lamb’s sweetbreads to go with picks from a knockout list of Spanish wines and sherries.
Here’s a delightful distraction in the heart of Soho – a French fantasy complete with stripped furniture, objects d’art and a menu that’s as Gallic as ‘La Marseillaise’. Whether you fancy a slab of pissaladière (a pizza-like onion tart) or a mighty helping of beef bourguignon, the cooking is all about fine ingredients and bourgeois sensibilities. Thankfully, the genial French-speaking staff are quite unlike their more brusque Parisian counterparts.
Lavish, ostentatious, excessive – in other words a whole lotta fun, Bob Bob Ricard is an outlandish one-off for those who want to impress business colleagues or hot dates. Louche Roaring Twenties decor sets the scene for an indulgent menu of international comfort food with a Russian slant – borscht, fish pie, chicken kiev etc. Just press the champagne buzzer if you’re running low on bubbly.
The buzz is as important as the food at Jacob Kenedy and Victor Hugo’s enduringly popular restaurant. Dine at the bar and you’re in for a fun time – especially if you sit by the window, where you can watch celebs swan into the clamorous dining room. The menu is a (slightly confusing) jumble of small and large plates celebrating the best of artisan regional Italian cooking – all supported by an enticing selection of cocktails and an impressive all-Italian wine list.
Like a breath of sea air wafting through a Soho side street, Bonnie Gull mixes the brand’s now-familiar bucket-and-spade seaside aesthetic with some ritzy urban touches – swathes of marble, modish brass light fittings and so on. Fastidiously fresh fish is the kitchen’s forte, from palourde clams with ‘nduja and samphire to Brixham plaice with beurre noisette and capers. Really affable service seals the deal.
Bored with Taiwanese bao buns? Why not try out this Cantonese take on things – an incongruously beautiful room with a takeaway counter and a few baggable tables. Come here for steamed-to-order beauties, fully ‘closed-up’ and hand-stamped with Chinese characters to indicate their filling (decode the calligraphy by checking the board on the wall). Alternatively, nip downstairs to the speakeasy-style tea room and bar.
You know where you are with the Burger & Lobster chain – and this flashily decorated Soho branch is no exception. Obviously, everything hinges on the titular combo of hand-minced burgers (made from Nebraskan beef) and lobsters (shipped over from Nova Scotia), although B&L have tweaked their offer of late, adding a veggie black bean burger and a chilli-laced Singapore lobster roll to the menu. There are also some lush desserts if you still have room.
An atmospherically narrow Mexican restaurant on Kingly Street, eating at Breddos means great music and unabashed day drinking. Tacos are the speciality – try the masa fried chicken with habanero mayo and pickled red cabbage. But best of all is the grilled corn: it’s buttery, spicy and cut through with sharp montgomery’s cheddar.
A beautiful blast from the past on twentieth-century Shaftesbury Avenue, Café Monico comes on like a swanky grand café from the belle époque era – complete with a covetable upstairs gallery overlooking the action. The music’s loud and jazzy, service is sharp and the menu offers up a greatest-hits selection of French brasserie fare with continental add-ons – from confit chicken leg to sachertorte (that’s a banging Austrian chocolate torte). Bravo!
Martin Morales (aka Mr Ceviche) knows how to give his restaurants the X-factor, and the technicolour Peruvian party happening inside this sober Soho townhouse is no exception. Casita Andina is the love-child of Ceviche and Andina – its menu combines the pisco sours and ceviches that made us fall for Morales’ first-born with the superfood-laden dishes popular at its follow-up. From your first pisco sour through the modern takes on tamales, escabeches and tiraditos, to the choco-cherry ball dessert, there’s never a dull mouthful.
The Peruvian party hasn’t stopped on Frith Street since Ceviche showed up: Martin Morales’s restaurant-bar (and his joie de vivre) seems to have struck a chord with Londoners. Pisco cocktails alone are worth a visit, but the food is just as impressive. Obviously the star of the show is ceviche. Order with corn cakes, fresh and vibrant salads packed with avocado and lightly spiced chicken dishes and you’ll be feeling higher than a gap-year student on a Peruvian journey of self-discovery.
From those devilishly clever mavericks at Camden’s experimental Chin Chin Labs, this Soho venue is famous for its out-there ice creams but bills itself as a Dessert Club – so expect plenty of saccharine surprises along the way. Perch at the bleacher-style bench in the centre of the lurid marble and gold room and indulge in wacky Willy Wonka treats galore. Anyone for an avocado taco wafer with sharp yuzu cream?
Good times beckon at Chotto Matte – a vast Frith Street rendezvous that takes Japanese-Peruvian fusion (aka Nikkei cuisine) and really cranks up the volume. On the ground floor is an enormous bar (a seething mass of suits and glamour pusses, drinking cocktails against a vivid manga-style mural), while the upstairs restaurant serves up new-style sushi, tostaditas, robata-grilled bits and tempura.
Like its sister restaurant Barrica, this is a place where you get proper tapas-sized dishes and can really get stuck into the menu. Copita sidesteps the usual clichés in favour of less familiar ideas such as smoked anchovies with pork crackling – no wonder it’s popular with the post-work crowd and can get fairly cacophonous. Thankfully, service is always fast and friendly, making this a valuable find in the heart of Soho.
Generous tacos served with lashings of old-school hospitality is the deal at Corazón – an unassuming, cosy and sincere taqueria custom-built for Soho’s hungry hordes. Head to the bar and counter for cocktails and nibbles; sit in the main space for a full-on nosh – perhaps crab tostadas followed by a masa cake stuffed with pig’s head and bone marrow. Gentle prices, genial service.
All things to all people at all hours – whatever the Soho occasion, chances are that the Dean Street Townhouse will fit the bill. Come here for a leisurely breakfast, elevenses with the morning papers, a brisk business lunch (mince and potatoes, venison hotpot), afternoon tea, a pre-theatre quickie or a romantic dinner for two – and if that dinner gets uncontrollably romantic, there are rooms upstairs. In short, it’s a perfect fit for the neighbourhood.
Escape Carnaby’s touristy throngs at this bubbly rendezvous from the Salt Yard group, where most punters sit elbow-to elbow at long communal tables. Everyone’s here for the hybrid Spanish/Italian tapas menu, which promises acorn-fed porcine treats galore, alongside artisan cheeses and creative morsels such as duck breast with greengage, coco beans and caramelised endive. Iberian wines and sociable staff ensure an upbeat, uptown vibe.
Out of the same stable as Salt Yard, Dehesa and Opera Tavern, Ember Yard builds on the strengths of its forebears, using Italian as well as Spanish tapas-style dishes and techniques as inspiration. What sets Ember Yard apart from its siblings is an even greater emphasis on the grill – if you’ve ever eaten in the Basque country (or even, er, Dalston), you’ll know what we mean. Get up close and smoky by sitting near the glowing coals.
Whether you’re already hooked on the (not so cheap) thrills of super-premium Kobe beef – or simply want to try it for size – this bijou Japanese eatery should do the trick. Inside, it looks the business (dig the ornate typographic chandelier), while the menu offers a range of elegant dishes best sampled via the full omakase menu. Lunchtime bento boxes also keep things serene ’n’ clean.
The counter seating and stools at this pared-back branch of Fernandez & Wells may not encourage lingering, but there are few better drop-ins for a coffee in Soho. This place bustles throughout the day, staff are polite and eager to please, and their caffeine fixes are absolutely spot-on. If you’re peckish, they do a great selection of inventive sandwiches and tempting homemade cakes too.
This Sri Lankan stunner may have a chilled aesthetic, with its vintage/modern interiors, no-bookings policy and focus on street-food dishes. However, it’s from the team behind Gymkhana, Bao and Bubbledogs, so bet your bottom rupee that a slick experience awaits. The queue set-up is dignified and the food is worth the wait: the eponymous savoury pancakes are crisp and chewy in all the right places, the karis are full of flavour, and starters such as goat roti are unmissable. But no dessert menu? Sacrilege!
A longboard outside the door talks up the breezy surfing vibe at this addition to the surging poké roadshow – an airy spot with a clean Asiatic look and a menu of Hawaiian-style raw fish salad bowls. Choose one of the ready-mades or build-your-own from the colourful pick ’n’ mix assembly line. Seating is limited, but Honi is just fine for a grab-and-go lunch or an early-evening refresher.
With a steamy charcoal grill in its centre and a menu offering a mish mash of Asian creations, Inko Nito on Broadwick Street is the laid-back Japanese fusion restaurant you need in your life. Breadcrumb fried chicken comes with a yoghurt and peanut dip, and the signature ‘nigaki’ is sushi’s answer to the open sandwich.
In case you’ve been out of touch, poké is the latest craze – an on-trend alternative to high-carb sandwiches and expense-account sushi in the shape of virtuously healthy Hawaiian-inspired raw fish salad bowls. The Island chain is one of the frontrunners, offering a build-your-own conveyor-belt system in a tiny interior that marries a South Pacific beach-shack vibe with a heavy R&B soundtrack.
There’s no stopping the Ivy’s bandwagon at the moment, so it was only a matter of time before it pitched camp in Soho. This Broadwick Street brasserie is a colourful cosmopolitan prospect, a shoo-in for business lunchers, shoppers, families, theatregoers and everyone in between. Expect an all-day menu of crowd-pleasing Ivy classics and elevated ‘dinner party’ cooking – plus just about any beverage you care to name.
Home of the best prawn tempura hand roll in the city, this Winnett Street sushi joint is so humble, you could walk past it and never realise it was there. When marking up the dishes you’d like on the paper menu, don’t hold back; as well as those hand rolls, there are street food snacks, sushi and sashimi.
This sequel to the Ben Chapman’s original Thai barbecue joint Smoking Goat is a slam dunk. Sit up at the stainless-steel counter and watch the chefs stoke and tame the fires to produce authentic-tasting northern Thai dishes, most baked in clay pots over Thai tao (charcoal barbecues). It’s pure theatre for food lovers, and the resulting dishes boast memorably intense flavours – from the dry spice rubs used on the fresher-than-fresh fish, to the lashings of ginger and spice in the beef short-rib curry.
Evoking the more traditional feel of a Japanese udon-ya, this casual eatery wouldn’t be out of place in Tokyo. A blond wood counter dominates the long narrow space (chefs on one side, diners on the other), but it still feels spacious and airy. Koya classics such as udon with mushrooms and walnut miso (kinoko) are available here, as is breakfast – try the ‘English breakfast’ udon in earthy broth topped with fried egg, bacon and shiitake mushrooms. Friendly staff also play their part.
A spin-off from the original shipping-container pop-up in Brixton (now closed), Kricket’s Soho site adds a stylish, sophisticated vibe to its short menu of brilliantly conceived Anglo-Indian small plates. We love the buttery garlicky crab, the generously portioned kid goat raan dotted with pomegranate seeds and the delicately aromatic cardamom-infused kheer (rice pudding). Spiced-up cocktails and masala chai also cut the mustard.
Though its food certainly passes muster, it’s this restaurant’s concept that earns it bucket-list status (you won’t hear us saying that very often). Hidden behind/beneath its sex-shop façade, La Bodega Negra continues to befuddle first-timers – especially as the ‘shop assistants’ play along even after you’ve worked up the courage to enter. The dining room is so dark, sultry and downright Mexican that you half-expect Salma Hayek to sashay past. Order some cocktails, ignore the prices and let the good times roll.
Easier (and less embarrassing) to locate than its sibling around the block, but boasting a similarly happening vibe, this popular haunt from restaurateur Will Ricker is painstakingly decorated to achieve the effect of a hip Mexican taqueria, with colourful posters on the walls, chequered floor tiles and happy-go-lucky tunes on a loop. The shareable, snacky dishes on the menu are hardly exotic – the likes of guacamole, quesadillas and fajitas dominate – but they’re nicely prepared and a great foil to the general experience.
It had to happen, didn’t it? We’ve had gourmet burgers, gourmet hot dogs and gourmet fried chicken. Now it's the kebab's turn. And the kebabs here are beautiful. They have an almost Scandinavian look, being served ‘open sandwich’-style, the contents painstakingly arranged over a thin, house-made flatbread. It almost seems a pity to roll them up. Fillings change with the seasons, with preserved, charred and fermented ingredients adding to the Nordic vibe.
Three quarters of a century after opening its deli, Soho’s Lina Stores has launched this restaurant proper. Go hard on the pasta: think al dente pici (hand-rolled, worm-like), gnudi (ricotta and semolina dumplings) and lumache (shells). There’s a trattoria-esque downstairs area but the best seats are at the street-level counter.
This offshoot of the Borough Market original has atmosphere by the bucket load – and you can expect a properly effusive Spanish welcome too. Food-wise, Lobos is all about meat – or, more specifically, prime cuts of Ibérico pig, which might turn up as croquetas, meatballs, grills or sliders (with anchovy mayo and pickled cabbage). There are also plenty of non-porcine tapas on offer.
Venue says A meat and tapas menu curated with the carnivore in mind. Excellent service to boot and a good measure of rock ‘n’ roll.
Pastaio on Ganton Street is like the Italian version of a large ramen joint (only serving pasta). The music is loud, there’s an open kitchen billowing steam and row upon row of communal tables. It’s all about the pasta, with lashings of butter and parmesan. Go for sage-topped parcels stuffed with pork and nice chewy bucatini.
Brindisa began as an importer of quality Spanish ingredients in the late 1980s, but its founders later segued into hospitality, launching the first of their small chain of tapas restaurants in Borough Market in 2004. This branch is the first to shift focus from tapas to cooked meats – roasts, grills, and slow-cooked braises – in a modern take on the Spanish asador. The handsome, low-lit dining room features colourful Moorish floor tiles, copper light fittings, and a central marble-topped bar-cum-kitchen.
Japanese home-cooking from the people behind Kanada-Ya, this clean little restaurant is dishing up simple plates at affordable prices. Nothing’s compromised to suit a Western palate: take the transparent ‘tofu custard’, dotted with spring onions and crowned with a bird’s nest of ginger. But there are classics here too, like panko -breaded pork with tonkatsu sauce.
Venue says Machiya is an all-day restaurant and bar serving simple home-style cooking alongside unique patisserie inspired by the food halls of Japan.
Nopi’s chef-owner is Yotam Ottolenghi, who struck culinary gold with his game-changing Ottolenghi cafés. This is a more formal, more grown-up take on proceedings that shares the same look and ethos – right down to the inventive fusion of Middle Eastern cuisine with bold forays into the Mediterranean and Asia. Nopi isn’t the greatest bargain in town, and two-hour table slots are strictly enforced – but the wide-ranging wine list has some excellent (if pricey) selections to wash down the decent food.
Introduced to London by Alan Yau and Rocco Princi in 2008, this smart outpost of a Milanese bakery chain remains a popular all-day option. It’s a good-looking room, and the food is varied enough to keep diners coming back for more: as well as cakes, pastries and breads, there’s a choice of filled focaccia, hot dishes, slices of pizza and lots of attractive salads. Prices are higher than average, but it’s all quality, seasonal stuff. The bakery is (somewhat chaotic) counter service, while the adjoining pizzeria offers table service and a marginally calmer atmosphere.
With a big chunk of its original dining room hived off to accommodate Barrafina, this Soho veteran seems to have lost some of its vim and vigour – in fact, the petite space now feels a bit like a members’ club. It’s also pricey, although we still recommend it as a contender for business lunches or sociable catch-ups – especially if you’re partial to smoked eel sarnies, hefty pies and reinvented British dishes such as rack of lamb with green sauce. ‘Satisfying but safe’ sums it up.
You know what they say: practice makes perfect. And Harry Edmeades, aka Señor Ceviche, has had plenty of practice. In 2012, after a stint at Lima’s renowned ceviche restaurant El Mercado, the 25-year-old British chef came back to London and started Don Ceviche, a pop-up with just five ceviches (raw fish cured in citrus juice). Then he spent another two years perfecting and expanding the menu before launching this ‘proper’ restaurant.
Like Bone Daddies and Flesh & Buns before it, Ross Shonhan’s Shackfuyu is another self-styled rock ’n’ roll take on modern Japanese cuisine. Originally billed as a long-term pop-up, it’s now gone permanent and that’s great news all round. There’s nothing on the menu we don’t fancy – from crisp tostadas topped with melt-in-the-mouth yellowtail sashimi and a slick of guacamole to a flagship dish of juicy beef picanha, cooked in the pizza oven inherited from the site’s previous occupant and served with spicy kimchee and zingy pink pickled onions.
If you like fun food, then do the Shuang Shuang – this stylish Chinese hotpot specialist ticks all the boxes when it comes to playing with your dinner. First, you don a plastic bib; next, you choose a broth; then, you mix your own dip. After that, you go crazy plucking filling ingredients from the revolving belt, in ironic Yo! Sushi style. The many filling options – from scallops to fish balls, luncheon meat and tripe – also make Shuang Shuang a refreshing antidote to one-dish menus.
Venue says Latest of our hot pot signature series with Somsaa collaboration. Kiao tiew ruea, or simply pork boat noodle. £10.50 for the set menu.
Jason Atherton’s Michelin-starred Soho enclave is one of his more frenetic outposts – a sprawling dining room with a mirrored ceiling, bare concrete, Victoriana and a menu of reimagined modern cooking delivered by a profoundly skilled brigade. Sharing jars, steaks and sundaes sit alongside pitch-perfect dishes such as baked hake with hispi cabbage, crab, Tokyo turnip and saffron. Savvy Soho drinkers use a separate entrance to access the Blind Pig cocktail bar upstairs.
Fun-loving music, good-time vibes and smokin’ hunks of meat sizzling over the fiery coals – that’s the instantly addictive deal at this windowless basement dive dreamed up by chef Neil Rankin (of Smokehouse fame). Impossibly juicy meat-and-flatbread combos keep it simple, while assorted tacos play fast and loose with their exotic fillings – we drooled over the soy-cured beef. Delirious puds, meanwhile, are guaranteed to finish you off.
If you like Bao and its fabulous Taiwanese buns, you’ll also take a shine to Xu – a smart vintage-style restaurant from the same team. A love letter to 1930s Taipei, it marries ceiling fans and dark wood panelling with black-tie service and a menu of subtly nuanced regional cooking – don’t miss the chilli egg-drop crab or the beef short-rib with pancakes. Tea is also treated with proper respect.
Venue says The team behind Bao bring you Xu, a Teahouse & Restaurant reminiscent of the original social clubs and luxury dining rooms of 1930's Taipei!
Head down an old Soho passageway to find this dinky self-styled purveyor of ‘Beirut street food’ – a jam-packed lunchtime haunt popular for its takeaway wraps: try the spicy suzuk sausage version with some Arabic bread, olives and torshi (pickles) on the side. Otherwise, sit at one of faux-rustic tables and graze from the all-day mezze menu with some refreshing mint tea or pomegranate juice
Michelin-starred Yauatcha comes on like some gussied-up Taipei teahouse offering all-day grazing, superior dim sum, petit gateaux and teas of exceptional quality and value. At the same time, the lighting and seating embody the atmosphere of a congenially vibrant ‘chatter shop’ – akin to traditional Hong Kong dim sum palaces during the early hours of the morning.
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