Planning on hitting the shops this weekend? You’ll want to take a few hours out to escape the crowds. It’s a tall order trying to find a cool, quiet spot around Oxford Circus, among the hordes of chain restaurants and takeaway joints, but with a bit of searching, you’ll find plenty of places to relax and refuel. From pick-me-up ramen joints to quirky cocktail haunts, here are some of our favourites…
WHERE TO EAT
A purveyor of posh kebabs, Le Bab is London’s answer to gourmet Middle Eastern grub. Tucked away in the charming courtyard of Kingly Court – where there are heaps of other food joints to choose from as well – this Soho hotspot serves up a mean selection of seriously beautiful kebabs. They’re served open sandwich-style on thin, homemade flatbreads, and topped with a range of locally sourced meat and seasonal veg. Choose from small plates of braised lamb shoulder, beef shin and onion bhajis with smoked chilli mayo; charcoal grilled cod cheek with lemon hummous, wild garlic and Szechuan pepper; and Lokma doughnut with spiced chicken liver parfait. Kebabs come in the form of corn fed chicken shish; Herdwich lamb adana; and 15-hour free range pork shawarma.
Top Floor, Kingly Court, Carnaby Street W1B 5PW
Combining the very best British seasonal ingredients with the authentic flavours, aromas and spices of India, Kricket is a tasty, casual approach to east-meets-west dining. Dishes are designed to be shared and change depending on the season. During the summer, tuck into Keralan fried chicken with curry leaf mayonnaise and pickled mouli; Lasooni scallop with goan sausage, poha and seaweed; and Gana’s pork cheek coorg with pickled fennel and peanut.
12 Denman Street W1D 7HH
Bao has developed a cult following thanks to its neat little menu of steamed milk buns. Each soft, fluffy bun comes brimming with tasty Taiwanese meats, fish or crunchy veg. Their flagship restaurant on Lexington Street is always packed, with a queue that stretches down the street – be warned: if you’re hungry you might not be able to handle the wait – but once you’re in and devouring those fluffy buns, you’ll know it was well worth waiting for.
53 Lexington Street W1F 9AS
This quaint, Parisian-style bistro serves up a French menu of small sharing plates. Each dish is a modern take on classic French cooking, using simple ingredients and a bold hit of flavour. If you’re stopping for lunch, they do a great pre-theatre/set lunch menu, both of which are fantastic value. Dishes include duck rillettes with toasted sourdough and pickled rhubarb; fillet of trout with mussels, peas, broad beans and truffled vinaigrette; and grilled pork belly with roasted heritage beetroots and tarragon sabayon. Tuck into two courses for just £15 or £19.50 for three. Available from Monday to Friday between 12pm – 3pm and 5pm – 6pm; Saturday and Sunday: 12pm – 6pm. Or if you fancy something simple, they knock up a pretty impressive croque monsieur.
9 D'Arblay Street W1F 8DR
Bocca di Lupo
Showcasing the very best in Italian food, this slick Soho hangout is a perennial favourite amongst the stars of the stage, with everyone from Sir Ian McKellen, Josh Hartnett and James MacAvoy to Ralph Fiennes and Miranda Richardson popping in to sample its traditional Italian fare. To really immerse yourself in Bocca di Lupo’s live theatre, a space at the bar is what you need. Grab one of the leather stools and watch the sharing plates being assembled.
12 Archer Street W1D 7BB
This rockabilly-themed ramen restaurant serves up moreish 20-hour bone broths, but it’s far from your average noodle joint. These wholesome bowls are packed with flavour and come with a glut of gutsy toppings. The most popular? The rather humorously named cock scratchings – that’s fried, crispy chicken skin crumbs – to give their signature soft noodles an extra crunch. Beware though; Bone Daddies’ Soho spot is always busy, so be prepared to wait in line before bagging a spot.
31 Peter Street W1F 0AR
Dishoom has become a bit of a London institution amongst Indian food lovers – there are venues all over the capital stretching from King’s Cross to Covent Garden – and each one is always packed. The Soho branch is tucked away in the courtyard of Kingly Court, and whilst you can’t book in advance for fewer than six people, if you arrive early enough, you should be able to get a table. Delights on the street food-style menu include chilli cheese toast, gunpowder potatoes and succulent minced lamb kebabs, for which you’ll be happy enough to wait.
22 Kingly Street W1B 5QP
Soak up Ember Yard’s buzzing atmosphere with a few small plates of cheese and charcuterie, washed down with a glass or two of their signature Italian and Spanish wines.
60 Berwick Street W1F 8SU
The Ivy Soho Brasserie
Offering all-day, modern British dining in an elegant setting, The Ivy Soho Brasserie is the perfect pit stop for a quick lunch or early supper. Artworks inspired by William Blake – Broadwick Street’s most famous resident – adorn the walls. Meanwhile, the classic and contemporary menu can take you from brunch to dinner, offering favourites such as eggs Benedict, prawn cocktail, steak tartare, moules frites and grilled whole lobster with parsley and garlic butter. Head there for a laid-back lunch after hitting the shops or for a few cocktails to kick start your Saturday night.
26-28 Broadwick Street W1F 8JB
Get a piece of the fiery action at self-taught chef Ben Chapman’s – of Smoking Goat fame – no-booking barbecue joint. Specialising in rural Thai cuisine, with barbecued meats and sizzling, spicy curries, this is a must-visit.
58 Brewer Street, Soho
One of our favourite pizza joints, if you’re looking for something quick and satisfying, you’ll be hard pushed to find anywhere better than Pizza Pilgrims. Serving up a heavy hit of deliciously addictive Napoli-inspired street food alongside zingy cocktails, pizzas are soft and chewy, Neapolitan style, with thick bases and scattered with on-trend toppings – think ’nduja, salsiccia and smoked chilli jam mascarpone. The calzone with Napoli salami, ricotta and mushroom, topped with tomato, fior di latte and parmesan is utterly divine.
11 Dean Street W1D 3RP & 11 Kingly Street W1B 5PW
Social Eating House
Another of Jason Atherton’s must-visit venues, Soho socialites flock in their droves to this trendy restaurant. The sultry dining room with mirrored ceilings and modern artworks is cool but not try-hard, and the sophisticated menu is sure to impress.
58 Poland Street W1F 7NR
Middle Eastern mezze at its finest. Yalla Yalla’s platters of Lebanese street food may come with a small price tag – you can grab a wrap and mezze lunch for £7.50 – but they certainly don’t compromise on flavour. Exotic delights include everything from spicy sujuk sausage, creamy houmous and smoky baba ganoush to crispy falafel wraps, hearty moussaka and charcoal grilled lamb skewers with tomato, pepper and sumac salad. Their flagship restaurant is in Soho, but there are various pop-ups scattered all over London, particularly during the summer when street food season hits.
1 Green's Court W1F 0HA
WHERE TO DRINK
68 & Boston
A slick spot for savvy wine drinkers and cocktail connoisseurs. There’s a wine bar downstairs and a cocktail bar above, with white tuxedo-clad waiters and silver trays serving as a nod to Paris’ café culture.
5 Greek Street W1D 4DD
Bar Termini does two things: coffee and cocktails. Coffee is overseen by Marco Arrigo, head of quality for Illy, and cocktails by Tony Conigliaro, the brains behind 69 Colebrook Row and Zetter Townhouse. A beverage lover’s dream it may be, but it’s a tiny spot – seating only 25 – in the heart of bustling Soho, so if you want to try one of their moreish Marsala Martinis, you might want to book in advance.
7 Old Compton Street W1D 5JE
A serious cocktail bar that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Aptly named after Prohibition’s illegal boozy underworld – ’blind pig’ was the nickname given to illicit drinking dens – Blind Pig forms part of Jason Atherton’s Social Eating House, but if you look beneath the vintage ‘Optician’ sign for the blindfolded hog doorknocker, you’ll be transported into a world of underground debauchery. Look forward to Thermo Nuclear Daquiris and Kindergarten Cups made from Skittles-infused vodka.
58 Poland Street W1F 7NR
Ham Yard Bar
You could spend days in Soho’s hipster Ham Yard hotel, but the bar’s the best part. With quirky-meets-trendy interiors and a delicious selection of small plates including slow roasted short rib, crispy mac and cheese with truffle, and rabbit sausage rolls with harissa mayonnaise, work your way through the menu and try a different tipple with each.
1 Ham Yard W1D 7DT
As one of Soho’s most popular cocktail haunts, the basement of HIX Soho is always packed, particularly on the weekends. The menu boasts an array of unusual drinks, based on true-Brit recipes from years gone by. Cocktails steal the show here, but the gin and scotch lists are both worth a look.
66-70 Brewer Street W1F 9UP
London Cocktail Club
Unsurprisingly, London Cocktail Club is the place to head if you’re in the mood for happy hour. Dimly lit with loud ‘90s music screaming from the speakers, the talented mixologists will create whatever you desire. And with a happy hour that plies punters with half-priced booze six days a week, you’re guaranteed a good night. Mondays are even better – they offer two cocktails for £12 all night, but we can’t guarantee you’ll feel as enthusiastic come Tuesday morning.
4 Great Portland Street W1W 8QJ
Milk & Honey
This seductive Soho hangout is tucked away on the corner of Poland Street, and often totally ignored by unsuspecting passers-by. Dark, sultry and with a laid-back party vibe, hole up late afternoon and work your way through the inventive cocktail list. The London Calling with gin, sherry, lemon and bitters and a Japanese Fizz with rum, cognac, peach, lemon and lime are a must.
61 Poland Street W1F 7NU
With great wine and a bustling vibe, it comes as no surprise that this French-style brasserie is usually busy, but it’s a great spot to grab a drink. Wine tasting is recommended, of course, but the food here is also excellent, so if you have a few hours to spare, tuck into dinner, too.
53-55 Beak Street W1F 9SH