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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.
Specialising can sometimes be little more than a gimmick, a way of saying ‘look at me!’ to trend-chasing food groupies. Balls & Company is in a different league. This is a proper restaurant, with a highly skilled chef, that happens to specialise in meatballs. Or, more accurately, balls, as they’re not all meat. Chef-owner Bonny Porter was a finalist in Australian ‘MasterChef’ in 2012. So it’s probably not surprising that her take on meatballs is international in outlook. And there's an outstanding cocktail bar, Company Below, in the basement.
Alan Yau's Turkish pizza place is on two levels. Sit on the ground floor if you want pizza action, as the chefs lunge in and out of the the huge pizza oven with their wooden peels; head for the first floor if you’d like more space. near Piccadilly Circus. The excellent pizza would not be out of place in Istanbul, but Babaji also covers many Turkish signature dishes. For anyone making a night of it, there’s even a list of good Turkish wines.
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.
Accept it: there will be a queue. Bookings aren’t taken and hopeful diners can expect to wait at least an hour, any evening of the week. Yet seldom does anyone leave Barrafina disappointed. The place is part restaurant, part theatre. Nibbles and drinks are served as you wait – service is excellent. The chefs, stars of their stage, shout out orders, grill, fry and plate up their creations. Barrafina’s menu is studded with Mallorcan and Catalan tapas dishes. And wines by the glass showcase some of Spain’s best modern winemaking.
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 night, or afternoon – especially if you’re by the window. It’s the perfect perch from which to watch favourite actresses swan into the clamorous and less atmospheric rear dining room. The menu is a slightly confusing mix of small and large plates to share and, amid the noise, it can be unclear what you think you’ve ordered and at what point it might arrive. To drink, there’s an enticing selection of cocktails and an impressive all-Italian wine list.
Venue says: “Dine with us and enjoy live music! Our swinging house bands play six nights a week from 9.30pm (9pm on Sundays).”
Restaurateurs Chris Corbin and Jeremy King, creators of the Wolseley and the Delaunay, have struck gold with this grand art deco basement brasserie. It’s a huge set-up and attracts a mix of tourists, office types and couples. Affordable French staples are the big draw and set menus start at under a tenner for two courses. There can be hits and misses, in cooking and service, but on the whole this is a good place when you want a touch of glamour without paying glamorous prices. The house wine, priced at bargain basement rates, provides great value.
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.
Venue says: “Nikkei cuisine is all about quality, ingredients and flavours. We care where food comes from and how it is produced.”
If you're looking for a good time, head to Soho. No, not for anywhere lit by a red light, but for a night at Chotto Matte. This vast Frith Street newcomer takes Japanese-Peruvian fusion (or Nikkei) and really cranks up the volume. On the ground floor is an enormous bar, which on our visit was a seething mass of suits and glamourpusses, all drinking cocktails against a vivid manga-style mural; for the restaurant, go up a floor.
Find more amazing restaurants in London
The ultimate guide to the best restaurants in London from zeitgeist-defining celebrity haunts, the best new restaurants in London, Michelin star restaurants with starched linen napkins and restaurants serving cheap eats where you’ll have to eat with your fingers. What they all have in common is that they serve some of the best dishes in London at fair prices, with service befitting the setting. In short, if you’re looking for a great meal, you’ve come to the right place.
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While Middle Eastern food is more than having a moment, there are few specifically Palestinian spots in London. But lo! Here is Soho’s Tabun Kitchen, owned by film producer Hanan Kattan, taking its name from a biblical clay oven and dishing up spiritually nourishing Palestinian home cooking. For a place to eat soul food, the room – a narrow space with stark white walls and clean lines – feels a bit clinical. Focus is drawn to a counter filled with takeaway wraps, behind which chefs in whites pull ‘manaeesh’ (aka, Palestinian pizzas) from a modern steel version of the tabun, complete with flickering embers. Both room and menu better suit lunchtime visits from small groups who don’t mind tearing and sharing. Our lamb pizza, though, was a tad weak, and over-sweet with cinnamon. Instead, plough through crunchy falafel with an uplifting and interesting sumac core, tender strips of musakhan chicken with sweet caramelised onion and the delicately smoked aubergine dip. Mint tea was an ideal accompaniment, but a pomegranate bellini made with flat fizzy wine did little to lift the mood. Sweet staff helped, though. Tabun Kitchen is a welcome spot for a feel-good takeaway or quick pit-stop.
Venue says: “We're on Deliveroo! Why not try our manaeesh 'Palestinian pizza'? Fresh out the oven topped with spinach and sumac, lamb tahini and more!”