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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.
Alan Yau’s Turkish pizza (aka ‘pide’) place is set over two levels. Sit on the ground floor if you want pizza action, with the chefs working the huge pizza oven with their wooden peels; head for the first floor if you’d like more space. The excellent pizzas wouldn’t be out of place in Istanbul, but Babaji also covers many Turkish signature dishes. For anyone making a night of it, there’s also 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.
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.
Venue says: “Simply the best burger and lobster in town!”
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.
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!
The best pitstops and takeaways in Soho
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.
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?
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.
Cakes, coffee, takeaway sandwiches and groceries make Gelupo a handy lunch spot all year round – although this cool evocation of Sicily opposite Bocca di Lupo is better known for its luscious artisan gelati and sorbets. Flavours run with the seasons, but we reckon that classics such as Black Forest cherry and chocolate are the best. Late opening makes it a handy hole-up for night owls too.
Venue says: “Build your poke bowl your way. Try tuna, salmon, octopus or tofu!”
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.
Queuing for a bowl of mashed-up chickpeas might seem a bit bonkers, but this indie pulse peddler is a real godsend for Soho’s office and media types. As the original of a mini chain, it features big windows and communal tables for those who want to linger over their flavoursome jazzed-up dips, warm wholemeal pittas and sides (smoky BBQ aubergine, say). Speedy service, big portions, low prices.
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.
The quick-fix option at this smart outpost of a Milanese bakery chain requires pitching up at the long marble counters, where seating is at a premium and the takeaway trade is brisk. Cakes, pastries and breads are the mainstays, but it’s worth paying a bit extra for slices of pizza, zingy fresh salads and other seasonal treats. Be warned: it’s self-service and pretty chaotic at peak times.
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.
Ignore the weird name and head straight for the outstanding vegan ice cream at this kooky specialist in all things dairy-free, gluten free, egg-free and suchlike. We suggest rounding up a group of mates and licking your way through the line-up of weird and wonderful flavours – anyone for beetroot and chocolate? Yorica’s dairy-free fro-yo and shakes are perfectly ok, but that’s not really the point.
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.