We know calling something cool automatically makes it less cool, but we don’t care. Because there’s something cool about sitting on a counter. Whether it’s on your own, or with someone you don’t want direct eye contact with, getting a front row seat is a mood. It’s fun, it’s entertaining, and it automatically makes you the chef’s unspoken favourite.
Soho is one of the best places to experience a counter seat in London, and these 10 spots are where you should be looking.
At Berenjak, there is only one place in which you can sit opposite a slowly revolving, glistening, hunk of meat on a stick, and that’s the counter. This corridor-shaped Persian spot on Romilly Street is an excellent place to know about in Soho. Not least because sitting up at the counter means that you get their freshly made taftoon bread hot from the oven, as well as their kababs and dips as well. Plus, there’s always that hypnotic shawarma to gaze at.
To us, any mention of the counter at The Palomar is pretty much code for a great evening. Thanks to its excellent kubaneh bread, intimate feel, and constant buzz, you usually have to put your name down for the bar and come back later. But any waiting will feel entirely worth it once you’re a couple of ‘It Won’t Kill-Ya’ cocktails in, and the servers are coaching you through the best of the menu. Trust us, you’ll feel peak party no matter which night of the week it is.
Bocca is one of London’s best Italian restaurants, so an impromptu meal for more than one is usually impossible. But it’s relatively easy to walk in and grab a solo seat at the bar in the middle of the action. If you don’t want a main, they serve the majority of their regional Italian menu in starter/tasting size portions. Regardless, there should be a pasta in front of you, and probably also the langoustines.
Sitting at the counter of this yakitori bar, watching the flames be fanned, having a procession of parts presented to you is an exciting, theatrical type of eating. Looking around the counter, you’ll see that everyone else in front row seats, be it solo diners, daters or delighted trios of Asahi-cheersing friends, is feeding off of this hustle and bustle. This isn’t unique. Soho is hardly lacking in energy or restaurants, but it is easier said than done. Sticking everything in your mouth here, on the other hand, is just plain easy.
Barrafina is a brilliant tapas restaurant that makes some of the best Spanish food around. You sit at a very expensive-looking marble bar to watch your very expensive food being prepared. Whatever occasion it is - a ‘casual’ date, or bringing friends from out of town - a dinner here will knock it out of the park. There’s a very good chance there’ll be a queue, but make like the regulars and order a glass of cava and some of their fantastic bar snacks while you wait.
Sitting at the bar of this Italian restaurant on Golden Square with a bowl of silk handkerchiefs in walnut butter is a recipe for a good meal. From the counter you can watch as one chef boils up some beef shin ravioli, whilst the other preps a panna cotta. It’s basically like you’re cooking, but with none of the stress, and more time to drink merlot. Why wouldn’t you want to come here and have someone else cook for you, especially when half the mains are just under a tenner?
Koya is a small Japanese bar in Soho that feels like it was made specifically for solo diners to slurp through some very good curry miso udon on the counter for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. In fact, their fried egg, bacon, and shiitake-porridge breakfast is one of the best things here. It’s walk-in only, which translates to: ideal for one person and a bowl of udon.
Honestly if anyone ever asked us what our favourite hobby is we’d smile and say “eating affordable handmade pasta, obviously”. Is that a hobby? Well, that’s irrelevant. The point is that Lina Stores serves some decent fresh pasta and looks like a Wes Anderson daydream. The counter here is not only very cute, but there’s more pastel mint green going on than in a toothpaste advert. We’d recommend sticking to a strict two-person rule here. And more importantly, getting two portions of the truffle and ricotta agnolotti.
If cheeseburger tacos, smoked bone marrow, and barbecue duck sounds like the kind of thing you’d be into, then Temper is where you should be. This meat-filled spot has it all, and on top of that it has a 6-metre-long central firepit that you can get a front row seat to. It’s great for a catch-up date with any friend who will perk up while reading a menu with dishes like ’aged beef nachos or ‘sweet and sour pork ribs,’ but it’s nice enough for actual dates too, so long as the person you’re with isn’t squeamish. Or vegan.
There are just ten seats at this basement spot under The Blue Posts. It’s quite intimate, so be prepared to get friendly with the chef who’ll be cooking everything right in front of your face. The food is southern European, and you can expect a five course situation with things like freshly caught fish and hearty pastas.