You can’t move in Soho for buzzing restaurants. Correction. You can’t move for queues.
Soho has become the place to open a restaurant. It’s central, traditionally quirky and rammed with punters ready to splurge. Rents and premiums are eye-wateringly high, though, and many of the offerings are proto-chains or already private equity backed. One of the only way restaurants with soul can survive is to run a no-reservations policy. Which means that, provided there’s an appetite for what they do, there are always bums on seats and none of those bottom-line-busting no shows.
“But I want to know I’m going to eat tonight and I’m too old to queue” you cry. And I hear you. So listed below are Soho restaurants with seats that can be booked (and that I think are worth going to). Most also keep tables for walk-ins, so if you prefer to live life on the edge, consider them for that too.
By all means add a comment below if you think I’ve missed something. I’ve either not been there, forgotten it, or it’s not recommendation material …
Soho – bookable
Quo Vadis – small but perfectly re-formed restaurant attached to the eponymous private members club. Chef Jeremy Lee’s food is classy comfort fodder, his puddings particularly delectable. It’s proper and suits most occasions, whether you intend that to be quiet one, or a fluffer for an evening of debauchery.
Kricket – a contemporary take on Indian food. 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. But underground there’s room for parties of 4 to 14.
Bob Bob Ricard – yes, you can press a button for champagne. You can also sit in smile-inducing style and eat very well.
Andrew Edmunds – a Soho stalwart. Regularly named ‘most romantic restaurant in London’, but don’t let that put you off. This place does everything right – sophisticated comfort food using good seasonal produce, great interior, cute service, reasonable prices, and you can book! But only up to one week in advance.
Ducksoup – charming, deceptively simple food that puts flavour first, though natural wines and electric atmosphere come a close second and third. Feels like the archetypal no-bookings Soho restaurant and, sure, you can take your chances with the queue. But you can also call or email in advance …
Social Eating House – quality, contemporary food in slick surroundings. This Jason Atherton restaurant is a strong option if you’re looking to impress or celebrate somewhere central. Good bar upstairs too.
Temper – a lavish temple of live fire cooking. In the middle of the room is a quite extraordinary and bewildering fire pit, on which quality British meat is cooked to perfection. Superb ribs of beef, goat shoulder, pink lamb leg and more, all charred then hacked up and placed onto flat breads for you to gorge on. Primal. Different. Somewhere to splash out. Wine and cocktails lists are considered, starters are tacos.
Corazon – on that taco theme, though perhaps truer to the Mexican way. In a calming, relatively serene room (though you could let margaritas and mezcal change that), chow down on house made corn tortillas generously filled with the usual carnitas, adobo rubbed barbecoa lamb and baja fish, but also a cracking king prawn and shrimp ‘guv’nor’ and relatively innovative vegetarian options too. Don’t miss out on the lime and cheese powered sweetcorn esquites side dish.
Vinoteca – try this for something a little more everyday; there’s nothing wrong with being middle of the road if you do it well. Like onglet and chips, roast brill with seasonal greens, and good quality but wallet friendly wine from the box or bottle.
Gauthier – looking for table cloths, classic French cooking and the muted tones of Sade? You would be in completely the wrong postcode, were it not for Gauthier. For special occasions or just a grown-up meal.
Ember Yard – Spanish and Italian influenced small plates. Think well sourced charcuterie and cheese, and then a range of items charred over fire. Tasty and classy, great wines. Not cheap, but quality.
Yauatcha – Refined, precise, quality dim sum alongside crowd pleasing Cantonese hot dishes. You can eat for much less a few hundred metres further south in Chinatown, but this is more reliable.
Bashan – Quality authentic Hunanese (so, spicy) food on Romilly Street. The Soho townhouse it sits in is deceptively sprawling, which may explain its ability to take reservations. Pickled beans with minced pork, dry-fried lamb and pork dishes, Chairman Mao’s pork belly, steamed fragrant fish are all winners. You can order more obscure offaly bits too.
Bar Shu – I think, though, that I possibly prefer Bashan’s sibling Bar Shu, which focuses on the similarly spicy but more broth and oil based Sichuanese cuisine. So as well as the dishes mentioned above, chilli and sesame doused cold appetisers and big pots of hot oil, chilli, Sichuan peppercorns and the odd bit of chicken or fish or offal are presented. Best to go in groups of four or more so you can enjoy a variety of dishes.
Brasserie Zedel – basic, confusingly cheap French bistro fare in a grand and bustling setting. The entrance is right on the edge of this list’s area (at the Piccadilly end), but this basement restaurant is so big, I assume it’s actually the footprint for all of Soho. Excellent, thrifty option.
Bocca di Lupo – helped to kick-start an improvement in Soho’s restaurants, and is still a good option for Italian style small plates. It sneaks onto this list on account of the ability to make pre and post theatre bookings (reservations are taken for before 6pm and after 10pm). Bill adds up.
Nopi – Ottolenghi joint. Middle Eastern-ish. Flavoursome and dainty. Dining with Mum or an out of towner? They’ll love it. Also: London’s best loos.
Blanchette – French-ish. Small plates, bijou and, quite unexpectedly, bookable. You can have a private table pre 6:30, communal after that.
Shackfuyu – ‘western-style Japanese food’. Basically, ribs, wings, miso, shiso, pickles, cocktails and French toast with matcha soft serve ice cream. Finger food, instagram friendly, a lot of fun, and unbeknownst to many, you can book.
Bookable if you’re in a group
For ones, twos, threes and probably fours, you’ll need to queue with the hoi polloi. But if you’ve more friends than that, and you’re organised, these excellent places take bookings. More on them in ‘Soho – Worth the queue‘.
Smoking Goat – Thai flavours, British ingredients, charcoal. Bookable for 6 or more.
Kiln – regional Thai flavours, British ingredients, charcoal. Bookable for 4 or more.
Dishoom – reliable, atmospheric modern Indian. Busy. Bookable for 6 or more.
Blacklock – chops. The £20 all-in is a really strong group option. Bookable for 6 or more.
Pizza Pilgrims – pizza, obvs. It’s good, informal, fun and inexpensive. Plus their Dean Street site does two bookings a night for tables of 8 or more (to about 12, I think), at 7pm and 9pm. Party time.