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.
Note that I haven’t included restaurants that are bookable for lunch but not at all for dinner. 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 formed restaurant attached to the eponymous private members club. Chef Jeremy Lee’s food is lush 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.
Duck Soup — 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 …
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.
The French House — Neil Borthwick is the latest class act to take on the tiny room above the French House pub. Contemporary / timeless European menu — terrines, rillettes, calve’s brains, probably some ricotta on toast with confit garlic, bream with braised fennel. That sort of thing. Monday-Friday lunch, Tuesday-Thursday evenings.
Polpetto — Berwick St Italian restaurant in state of flux. Recently relaunched with a new chef, but she’s gone. Still, I think reasonable to expect seasonal, modern Italian food in a charming, bijou setting. As with Polpo, a limited number of seats available to reserve, so fairly easy with reasonable notice, harder on a whim (though that doesn’t mean you couldn’t eat there, just will need to turn up and possibly wait).
Lina Stores — Pretty good, simple fresh pasta from an old (albeit $$ reinvigorated) Soho brand. You can book for early or late dinner (5:30pm or 9:30pm), which is useful to know.
Darjeeling Express — Not your average Indian restaurant. In fact it’s unique: home-style, utterly delicious and memorably-spiced food, cooked by an all-female team. Owner Asma Khan’s spirit runs deep through the flavours and your experience. Fairly chocker as it stands, but once she appears on Netflix’s Chef’s Table in 2019, the ‘bookable’ nature of this restaurant might well be ‘long-term bookable’ only.
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.
Xu — The team behind the (not bookable) Bao’s classy and creative take on Taiwanese teahouse and restaurant. Technically not in Soho as it’s on the southern side of Shaftesbury Avenue, but one of my favourites for a top quality central London meal. So there.
BaoziInn Romilly St — BaoziInn announced itself on the former BaShan site in a flurry of #invite instagram posts this year. What was once mostly Hunanese, is now all day Cantonese dim sum menu, with northern Chinese notes (across both dim sum and large dishes. Colourful, good hit of heat, and generally getting positive remarks.
Bar Shu — I think, though, that I still prefer Bar Shu over the road, which is more focused on a classic interpretation of broth and oil based Sichuanese cuisine. Go for 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. Also go in a group of four or more so you can enjoy a variety of dishes.
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.
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.
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.
Le Bab — Half of this enjoyable, easygoing ‘modern kebab’ restaurant is kept strictly for walk ins … but that means half of it is bookable! Clean and flavourful flatbreads, seasonal sides. Informal.
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. Picture 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. Plus tacos. Primal. Different. Adds up.
Corazon — Tacos that are pretty true to the Mexican way and among London’s best. 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.
Breddos — On Kingly St. Inventive, modern Taqueria as much influenced by American tacos as Mexican. Good sharing platters — from baby back ribs to catch of the day fish served with clever pickles and salsas. Can be brilliant, but also occasionally underwhelming.
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.
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. Strong on vegetarian and vegan fine dining.
Sophie’s Steakhouse — Big old room, this, with an impressive fire pit in the middle on which most of the food is cooked. Doesn’t get the plaudits / hype that other open flame places do, possibly because the menu’s a relatively plain vanilla steakhouse one, albeit slightly charred. Safe and decent value.
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 on last visit good quality.
Bob Bob Ricard — Yes, you can press a button for champagne. You can also sit in smile-inducing style and eat OK interpretations of smoked salmon dishes, flat fish cooked on the bone, chicken kievs and beef Wellington. Also caters keenly for vegans.
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‘.
Kiln – regional Thai flavours, British ingredients, charcoal. One of London’s best. And it’s bookable for 4 or more, though you’ll be downstairs, rather than the fireside counter.
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.
Breddos — as above. But worth noting you can book for fairly big parties.
Closed and removed: Shotgun; Vinoteca; Smoking Goat