Here’s a familiar scenario - you’re meeting a few friends in town for dinner and drinks, but haven’t a bloody clue where to go. Throw in one of the most confusing street systems, a plethora of choices, high expectations, and tons of Soho restaurants that don’t take bookings, what should be an awesome night can become frustrating very quickly. That’s where we come in - here’s where to go and what to order.
Darjeeling Express is an Indian restaurant that feels a bit like eating in someone’s home. And that’s not by accident: the owner ran supper clubs before opening this restaurant, and the kitchen is staffed by a crew of former home cooks. Incredible home cooks, too. You’ll eat excellent bowls of methi chicken curry and chargrilled prawns.
Dum Biryani lives up to its name: the biryanis here are spot-on. The vegetable and chicken versions are excellent, but the lamb shank one is the one to get. We like to get one biryani for every two people, while supplementing with the fantastic coconut king prawns and hot wings. You’ll eat in a laid-back basement room with Tupac and Kanye playing over the speakers, making it equally good for a fun weeknight dinner or to kick off a night of drinking.
When you walk into this little Japanese restaurant, you’ll feel like you walked out of Soho and into a backstreet restaurant in Kyoto. No matter that you’ve never been to Kyoto. It’s the kind of experience you knew had to exist in London, but could never quite find - the staff don’t speak loads of English and there are specials written in Japanese pinned above the counter. Order a pot of tea and a few sharing plates (the takoyaki and dumplings are excellent), or sit yourself down at the bar and order some sushi or a bowl of soba noodles that are up there with the best in town. Jugemu definitely isn’t a place for a rowdy catchup, but bring a mate who likes Japanese food, and you’ll love it here.
If you’re the kind of person who loves old books and took forever to get on Tinder, you’ll appreciate Andrew Edmunds. It’s an old-school Soho bolthole that takes romance seriously - you’ll eat by candlelight and order from a menu scrawled on a chalkboard. It’s obviously ideal for a date, but the food is actually really good too. The braised squid and dressed crab are excellent, and the goat’s curd with courgettes is a good vegetarian option.
Hoppers is a modern Sri Lankan restaurant done Soho-style - it’s exciting, laid-back and fun. We don’t know whether we’ve been to a Sri Lankan place before either, but it’ll be completely familiar to anyone who’s into curry and spice. The egg ‘hoppers’ (crispy pancakes) are awesome for mopping up curries - the bone marrow is incredible, and the black pork curry and devilled shrimp dish are class acts. It’s perfect for lunch, but it’s also worth the queue if you want to hit it up for dinner. The wait’s usually about 30-45 minutes, but Hoppers is definitely worth planning an evening around.
An Infatuation favourite, Palomar is the restaurant version of that livewire friend you know you’re always going to end up doing shots with. It’s loud and the atmosphere is pure energy, while the Israeli influenced food is very good - the Jerusalem mix and Shakshukit kebab are the ones you need on your table. You can book tables in advance, which lots of people do as things can be crazy here, but the seats you want are the ones at the bar where you can watch the cooks make your food and exchange some banter with the friendly bartenders. Those you can’t book for, but they’re well worth the wait.
Barrafina is a brilliant tapas restaurant that makes some of the best Spanish food anywhere in the world in very swish, upscale surroundings. You sit at a very expensive-looking marble bar to watch your very expensive food being prepared. Whatever occasion it is - a ‘casual’ date (that’s not really casual at all), bringing friends from out of town and so on - 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. If the company’s worth it, the time will fly by.
It’s cold and chucking it down outside, and your sad-looking crew wants noodles but you haven’t got a clue where to go. They’re looking to you to lead them into the promised land, like all the toys look at Woody in the Toy Story movies. Take them to Bone Daddies, one of the original and best London ramen restaurants that is basically a lot of fun in a very small space. The noodles are obviously the reason you’re here, but the sides are also excellent, including the deep fried prawns and glazed ribs. There’s occasionally a queue, but don’t worry as it usually moves quickly and you can line up inside where it’s warm. Paired to good service and an uptempo Japanese rockabilly vibe, it’s a modern-day classic in our book.
This Taiwanese small plates restaurant has become a local legend both for its hyped pork buns and also for the lines needed to get in, which have become a Soho landmark in their own right. We like the buns fine (the pork confit bao is the one to get), but some of the other dishes, like the Taiwanese-style fried chicken and beef with aged soy sauce, are actually the true must-orders. Also know that Bao is an in-and-out kind of place, so don’t bring a big group and don’t expect to linger. Opening times are at noon and 5.30pm, which is when the queues are generally a bit gentler. This place is worth the wait, but generally only a short one.
‘Going out for a Peruvian’ hasn’t quite caught on the way grabbing a curry or sushi has, but Ceviche does a brilliant job of convincing us that it could. Plan to order any of the ceviche dishes (slices of raw fish with a zingy marinade), as well as starters like pork tequeños (deep-fried pork wontons), followed by a round of pisco sours. It’s an all-round place that’s Perfect For sharing a few dishes and drinks with friends, and the dining room sounds like a Friday night, every night. Also bear in mind that this, along with its sister restaurant Casita Andina a few minutes away, are both excellent for both vegans and anyone with special dietary needs, which is basically everyone these days.
Nopi, Yotam Ottolenghi’s upscale restaurant, is Perfect For any time you need to impress someone but also not look like you’re trying too hard. It’s the restaurant equivalent of, ‘Oh, this old thing?’. The Middle Eastern/Mediterranean sharing plates lean towards being mostly vegetarian but are uniformly excellent, and are where the best action is. Get the courgette fritters or burrata with blood orange. It's an excellent spot for brunch in central, especially when you can’t face the queue for the Breakfast Club.
The good news is that the Kingly Street branch of Dishoom is pretty big, but the bad news is that you’re in Soho, so you’re still looking at a wait for a table. It is, however, worth it. As one of the best places to eat Indian food in town, Dishoom is also a useful spot to keep in mind for brunch and cocktails, and there’s outdoor seating that’s Perfect For soaking up the Soho feels on that one day of summer.
Bocca di Lupo is an Italian restaurant in the way that J Lo is an entertainer - ridiculously hot ten years ago, still pretty hot today. It hits all the right notes - amazing pastas, excellent grilled meat and seafood - and ups the ante with regional dishes from across Italy that even your Italian friends would be hard pressed to say they’d tried. There are tables, but the bar is where you want to be sitting - it’s the best place to grab one of their very good wines and observe the upscale dining room. Call ahead if you can, as it gets ridiculously popular in the evenings.
Entering Brasserie Zédel is like walking down a flight of stairs into 1920s Paris. On any given night, this Art Deco dining hall is packed with people eating brasserie classics like steak au poivre and oysters with wine, while a swing band plays but not in an annoying way. But aside from the room and ambience, the most impressive thing about Brasserie Zédel is the price. For the setting, it’s very affordable, and you can get away with dinner and a drink for under twenty quid. It’s popular, alas, but you can avoid queueing if you book ahead. The adjoining Bar Americain is a good spot for a late-night cocktail or aperitif before hitting the main room.
They do things a particular way in Japan (basically, not by halves), and nowhere is this better demonstrated in London than at Koya Bar. It’s a delicious temple of noodles and soups and all manner of good things, and it legitimately can lay claim to having some of the best udon anywhere outside of Asia. It’s a great place to eat at the bar with a friend or two, for a Japanese-style brunch, or to even eat solo should you have an hour to yourself. Besides the noodles, order some of their sides - the pork belly will make you very happy, as will the Japanese-style fish and chips.
If Temper were a person, it would be Conor McGregor in a bespoke Brioni suit. It’s a modern barbecue restaurant that specialises in grilling massive joints of meat over an open fire that’s smack in the middle of the restaurant, but despite its outward machismo, it’s also a little sophisticated too. The room’s plush and comfortable, with a deep wine list and plenty of interesting things on the menu (get the prawn toast). All of the grilled meat comes with freshly made flatbreads, so make sure to hit up the don’t miss the grilled lamb, and get some umami ketchup to go with it as well. The cookie dough dessert will do you right too.
As far as Soho institutions go, it doesn’t get much more classic than Quo Vadis. It’s a great spot to escape the chaos of the street outside, and to eat excellent British food in a highly British environment. Unfortunately, since it recently downsized to just one room and bar, Quo Vadis has lost a crucial part of what made it so special. The service and food, however, remain exceptional, and you’ll be reminded of how good a simple soup or roast can be. We like to pay it a visit as an upmarket lunch spot from time to time, and it’s still worth dropping in for the legendary smoked eel sandwich and a glass of wine.
You’ve spent the afternoon trying to get from Carnaby to Cambridge Circus without getting hopelessly lost. You’re tired, and while your heart says ‘beer’, your stomach says ‘prawn toast’. What to do? First of all, probably consider what life choices led you to crave prawn toast and beer when you’re tired. Second, hit The Duck and Rice, where there’s a plush looking ‘pub’ downstairs with massive vats of Pilsner Urquell lying around for the freshest pours, and small plates of dim sum on the menu. Upstairs, there’s a sleek dining room serving upmarket takes on Cantonese dishes that’s good for group hangs and low-key dates, assuming you know other people that eat like you.
Kiln is one of the best places to eat Thai food in London, and certainly in central London. Is it authentic? Probably not. Is it good? Oh yeah. Everything’s cooked in an open kitchen in front of the ground-floor bar, so you can get an eyeful of action while you wait with a beer or cocktail. It can get busy as the best places in Soho do (get there early if you can), but we can emphatically say that the food’s worth it. A lot of it is sharing-style, so get a couple of drinks while ordering a few dishes to split. The lamb and cumin skewers and smoked sausage are very good, and the Burmese-style curry is indecently tasty. There are tables downstairs for 4-6 that you can book in advance if there are a few of you.
For going big in Soho, Bob Bob Ricard gets our vote every time. The restaurant’s been put together in such a way as to make the entire evening unforgettable, from the over-the-top Art Deco room and completely, unnecessarily opulent food, to all the moneyed-up Londoners and glamourpusses it attracts. The food’s memorable because we don’t often eat these French and British classics (a very good Beef Wellington, Boeuf Bourguignon) paired with upscale Russian dishes (SO MUCH CAVIAR), but it’s all very enjoyable and in the best possible taste. You will take a thousand selfies here, drunkenly bash the ‘press for champagne’ button at least a couple of times, and stumble out into the night all the better for it.
Just like your favourite friend with benefits, eating out in Soho is all about keeping it casual. If you’re looking for fancy fine dining, go to Mayfair. Having said that, Social Eating House is excellent for fine dining-style food in relaxed surroundings. What arrives on the plate might look more like visual art than something to eat, but once you pop it in your mouth, you’ll be happy.
Because we spend most of our time adulting these days, we don’t often have a free day to wander around London. But if we do, we’ll be heading straight to Wright Brothers for a session of afternoon drinking and oysters. Porter or bubbly, from 3-6pm every day (including weekends) their oysters are a quid apiece, which makes it a classy and surprisingly affordable way to drink the afternoon away, all while pretending you’re in control of your finances and that you don’t have a drinking problem. It’s also good for dates.