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 London’s most confusing street systems, a plethora of choices, high expectations, and tons of Soho restaurants that don’t take bookings, and 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.
An Infatuation favourite, The Palomar is the restaurant version of that live-wire 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 only book for the first sitting, otherwise you’ll be joining a queue, but it’s well worth the wait.
Manteca is the kind of place where you walk in and reinstall Bumble before your brown crab cacio e pepe even hits the table. Because this cool, low lit restaurant, is basically the perfect date night spot. That being said, as romantic as this pasta specialist spot is it’ll work just as well for a catch-up over some pappardelle and a couple of glasses of wine. Just be aware that, like all charmers, this place is popular, so book ahead if you want to eat at rush hour, which in Soho is anytime after 7pm.
Half your pals live in Hackney, the other half are dotted around the west. Suddenly a geographical conflict breaks out, until finally a compromise is reached. Next thing you know, you find yourself in Soho on a Wednesday night, surrounded by every Italian chain that’s ever offered a stuffed crust. Enter, Lina Stores. This spot on Greek Street, serves handmade pasta and grown up Italian dishes like aubergine polpettes. Upstairs, is all about counter dining, deli buys, and looks like it could very well be the set of a Wes Anderson romance. Think, The Royal Tortellini’s. But, downstairs has got that whole ‘chic bunker’ thing going on, and is perfect for groups. The best part? You can split a bottle of red, eat some tasty truffle and ricotta agnolotti, and leave only 20 quid lighter.
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.
If you’re looking for a chef’s table type experience in Soho, then look no further than Evelyn’s Table. This 15 seater counter restaurant is from the same folks as the Palomar, and in the basement of their pub The Blue Posts. If you care about fresh produce and the person cooking it, then you can’t do much better than the chef guiding you through what’s been caught that day, and how he’s going to cook it. Bring someone you really like, who’s really into restaurants.
We can’t think of anyone you shouldn’t go to Bancone with. Except maybe that mate who has sincerely given up carbohydrates due to that three mile fun run they’re doing in six months. But friends, colleagues, family, dates are all welcome - hell, bring your ex, you’ll look fantastic sat at the counter in the candlelight. The handmade pasta here is excellent and the best part is you can easily go all in and still have a pretty affordable meal.
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.
Casita Andina is from the same people as Andina, and it too serves modern takes on Peruvian dishes. It’s a really tasty, and kinda healthy, restaurant that fits for almost anything. A real casual, no brainer kind of place. Come for a couple of cocktails and stay for an entire meal. You won’t be disappointed.
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.
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.
Bocca di Lupo is an Italian restaurant that sill hits all the right notes, 10 years after first opening. There are amazing pastas, excellent grilled meat and seafood, and it 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.
This Taiwanese small plates restaurant has become a local legend both for its 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.
Long before every restaurant, home, and Tesco in London started telling you the name of your vegetable and what its favourite bedtime story was, 10 Greek Street was serving delicious food with the freshest possible ingredients. There’s nothing poncey or over the top going on here. It’s simply making great food with what’s good that day. The atmosphere is very neighbourhood-y, which is impressive in Soho. And once you come here once, you’ll be coming back for every occasion.
‘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.
When you’re wishing you could be somewhere other than Soho, but you’re stuck in Soho, Ducksoup is the place you should probably go. It’s a natural wine bar and restaurant just a few steps away from the Soho Theatre, but once you’re inside this tiny spot, you feel more like you’re in a backstreet in Hackney. It’s got a relaxed, personal touch which is a rare find in the West End, and the eclectic menu will have you wondering why you never whip up a plate of bobby beans with charred potato, walnuts and parsley when you’re sitting down with a glass of wine at home. This spot is perfect for when you want something busy and intimate, and it works as well for a casual date, as it does for when you need a bite to eat before a show, or when you’re after a £10 lunch (including a glass of wine).
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.
Freak Scene on Frith Street, serves Asian inspired dishes in a setting that feels a little like a submarine designed by MC Hammer. There’s hip hop nostalgia on the walls, Lil Wayne blasting from the speakers, and Japanese cartoons on the TV. And then there’s the food: both the black cod tacos and the chilli crab bomb (spicy crab meat in a wonton case) are not to be missed.
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.
Imitation is the greatest form of flattery. At least, that’s what they say. We certainly don’t think it when someone buys the same trainers as us. In this case, Pastaio is a Padella imitation that does all the right things. This isn’t a restaurant to spend a couple of hours in. It’s a canteen-style place you swing by, have a couple of pastas and a salad, and go on your merry way. The food is both tasty and well priced. And it is what you want most of the time, because who doesn’t like pasta?
40 Dean Street serves simple classic Italian food that makes us very happy. It’s a solid old school spot, and although the interior looks like it hasn’t changed since the 80s, it’s totally charming. You should come to eat the veal, some pasta, or a pizza, which are all reliably good. In fact, they’re more than good, they’re classics done the way classics are supposed to be done. It’s the perfect spot for a casual date, catching up with mates, or whenever you want to go to a place that feels like it’s at the other end of the scale to the edgy cuisine that’s become so popular in Soho. Also, assuming you remember what it’s called, you’ll have no problem remembering where it is.
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.
Maybe you’re the kind of person who gets a bit bored in a restaurant. Or maybe you’re the kind person who’s just really into Korean barbecue. In which case, Olle works well. This is a fun restaurant that’s perfect for groups, and anyone up for having a bit of a laugh. As well being able to grill all sorts of meat and fish at your table, the menu also features bibimbap, Korean pancakes, and other classics.
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. 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.
The logo for this spot on Broadwick street, bears an uncanny resemblance to Moomin. And, if someone told us that a cartoon hippo had invested in the Soho restaurant scene with Inko Nito, we’d believe them. Who else would serve the charred coconut soft serve of your dreams for a fiver, and reinvent everyone’s childhood nemesis, cauliflower, by grilling it in a parmesan and panko crunch? Yes, there’s something distinctly fun about Inko Nito. Grab a stool at their huge many-sided counter, get a glass of one of the on-tap cocktails, and feel free to get a bit silly, Moomin style.
There are a lot of legendary restaurants in Soho, but there’s only one legendary vegetarian restaurant here, and that’s Mildred’s. This place managed to make delicious food - everything from veggie pies to tofu jerk - stick in the 80s, when people seemingly existed on a diet of red meat and straight booze. It’s not the only branch these days, but we’ve got a soft spot for the original.
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 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.
If you find yourself wandering aimlessly around Soho, going back and forth between restaurants teeming with people, each serving food that looks decidedly like something that comes out of the office microwave, then just head to Shackfuyu before your head explodes. This Japanese-Korean hybrid serves really tasty, no nonsense food you want to eat. Think Korean chicken wings and short rib. It’s a good thought isn’t it?
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.
What’s that? You woke up simultaneously craving the juicy meat of an animal, and also needing to book somewhere to eat in Soho? We’ve got you covered with Blacklock. The steaks here are excellent, as are the roasts. Plus, there’s a special £5 cocktail menu, and the entire restaurant is in a former brothel. It’s everything you’ve been dreaming about.
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 as all 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 (there’s 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.
Yauatcha is a super flash Chinese restaurant thirty seconds from Carnaby Street. It’s a bit of a see-and-be-seen place. The kind of restaurant you’d be taken for work, or ask to go to for your 21st birthday. But that’s not a bad thing. The glitz and glamour extends to the food, and the dim sum is delicious. Also, you don’t want be missing out on their venison puffs.
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.
Whenever we have a free day to wander round London these days, we find ourselves 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.