It feels like there are loads of good places to eat in Soho. Certainly the number of people in the restaurants – and waiting outside them – suggests that to be the case.
To an extent it’s true. You can eat really well here, and theoretically it’s a great, central location to meet others whilst also feeling like you’re at the cutting edge. But it’s all to easy to be disappointed: not all the queues are justified.
The restaurants below are the ones I think worth waiting for. See ‘Soho – Bookable’ for a selection of places you can book.
Soho – worth the queue
Barrafina – the best tapas in London. Barrafina’s original Frith Street restaurant (there are now two others in Covent Garden) recently relocated to the ground floor of Quo Vadis club in Soho. If anything the new Soho site is better than before, with a long bar running parallel to the street, tempting you as you walk by. The menu and atmosphere are as before — quality bites and absolutely buzzing.
Copita – solid, sometimes inventive tapas and a bustling room. And large G&Ts. If you’re on a date and relaxed enough to go for a drink somewhere else first if necessary, this is a great option.
Taiwanese and Japanese
Bao – freelancers like me can take advantage of lunch seats being relatively available at 2pm. But at all other times, the Taiwanese steamed buns and innovative small plates are massively popular. You could easily queue for longer than you sit. Bloody good, though (blood pudding with soy cured egg yolk, supreme fried chicken, deep fried bun encasing horlicks ice cream).
Koya Bar – calming udon noodles. However busy or stressed you are, and however manic the streets, Koya Bar will leave you restored and relaxed. Do try the specials on the blackboard, which cross Japanese flavours and techniques with seasonal British produce. Otherwise, the buta miso hiya atsu is my personal happy place.
Hoppers – over a year old and no sign of the wait shortening. You can be here at 6pm and have a 45 minute wait to get a table for one, and 2 hour waits is the pretty standard response to “how long?”. But they’ll take your number and call you. So if you plan for a few drinks first it works, and the food on the Sri Lankan themed menu is often remarkable and probably worth even the longest wait.
Kricket – a contemporary, perhaps slightly anglicised take on Indian food leads to small, but vibrant plates packed with spice and tang. There’s much on the menu to love; from the comfort of kichri (like kedgeree, but not), through generous and rich butter crab, superb pork or duck leg kathi rolls (sausage rolls of your dreams), and pitch perfect bhel puri. Upstairs is walk-ins only — with plenty of room at both counter and in the banquettes. (If you don’t want to risk it, there’s bookable space for parties of 4 to 14 underground too).
Smoking Goat – one of my absolute favourites. There’s so much flavour to be found here. In part it’s the Thai influenced spicing and live fire cooking. But it’s also the quality of the meat and fish that they bring in. This restaurant is dark, atmospheric and top quality. If there’s a wait, they’ll take your number and call you back.
Kiln – a new sibling for Smoking Goat, the food here is perhaps a little more subtle and flavours influenced by regional Thai (granny) cooking. But it’s largely done on the same principle: Thai crossed with great British produce. Good design, good music, cracking wine. Winner.
British or European bistro and small plates
10 Greek Street – solid bistro with enticing menu, decent cooking and a strong list of natural wines. Always an electric vibe.
Bocca di Lupo – the old lady of small plates, though most of those also come in larger versions too. Italian influenced, quality produce, the menu is something you’ll salivate over and, frankly, take a while and a few drinks to work out what you want (or, more specifically, if there’s anything you don’t want). As such, it’s likely to dent your wallet.
Blacklock – I love this place. Found underground in an old brothel on windmill street, you get chops (lamb, pork, cow) piled on bread with a couple of sides for £20. Drinks and spunky service add a little more, and you could go premium on the meats. But the cheesy music is free. Blackjack provides one of the best value meals you’ll have in London, and it’s a lot of fun to boot.
Little Pitt – buns, bourbon and beer. The original Pitt Cue Co relocated to Liverpool Street midway through 2016. A few months later, its old site spawned a smoking replacement. Still a bit under the radar, it makes an informal and extremely tasty start or end to an evening in Soho.
Spuntino – from the team behind Polpo (the now mini chain which led the way with stripped back interiors, low lighting, small plates, big queues), this dive bar on Rupert Street remains an inherently cool place to sit with one hand on a negroni, the other floating over some deep fried stuffed olives, a slider, or some lobster mac ‘n’ cheese
The Palomar – reluctantly included here. I don’t love Palomar as much as pretty much everyone else, and it’s technically in Chinatown, not Soho. But if you fancy some exciting Middle-Eastern food in an always fun atmosphere, it’s (weirdly) much better to arrive early and hope for a space at the bar, than book ahead and sit in the rear room.