Soho is London’s most famous area for eating and drinking. It’s also its least reliable, because there’s no limit to options around here. You’ve got everything from legendary handmade udon, to twelve million handmade pasta options that may or may not leave you disappointed, to London’s most famous fish sandwich. You can’t run out of options around Soho, good, bad, or so-so. But we’re only interested in the former, as we’re sure you are too. So think of this list as a step one for restaurants in Soho, old and new, that you should be eating in.
The superlative-laden (many of them from us, yes) wine bar and restaurant’s second location is right in, or rather on the edge of the thick of it on Greek Street. Despite no official bar area, the sibling spot continues to retain the magical sounds of chatter and clinking glasses, alongside the reassuring glug of glasses being refilled. Add in the Hungarian-leaning menu, featuring duck liver stuffed choux buns, and a shared plate of roast chicken, morels and vin jaune you’ll have lurid dreams about, and you have the perfect early-evening to before-bedtime venue.
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, and things can be hectic here, but the seats you want are the ones at the bar where you can watch the chefs do their thing. Those you can only book for the first sitting, otherwise you’ll be joining a queue, but it’s well worth the wait.
Few London pubs are as well known as The French House in Soho: this place is a classic and the food very much follows suit. While the downstairs of this drinking institution is still kept to mostly that, if you walk up the creaking stairs you’ll find a red-walled, yellow-lit dining room. This place is made for consumption. Specifically terrine, steak frites, chocolate mousse, and, of course, wine. You’ll be leaning over the table and stage whispering conversations before you know it.
Al dente handmade pasta, a vermouth menu, and a sexy basement that feels distinctly Soho. What more could you want from an Italian restaurant in central? If you’re thinking, ‘actually I’d quite like a giant 48-hour fermented dough pizza please’, then you’re in luck because this trattoria on Brewer Street has got those too. Open for over a decade and owned by three brothers, this place is a proper charmer and has got something for everyone with gluten free pasta options, £10 pizza, and a cocktail bar that’s perfect for having a couple of negronis before deciding whether this person is worthy of sharing Nonna Mantovani’s tiramisu. Just don’t skip the beef ragu, it’s excellent.
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 the best udon in London. It’s a great place to come for a Japanese-style brunch, to eat at the bar with a friend or two, or even 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.
Bocca di Lupo is an Italian restaurant that still hits all the right notes, over a decade 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.
Soho is still capable of producing excellent restaurants doing interesting things. Mr Ji is an excellent example of that. The Taiwanese restaurant on Old Compton Street screams cocktails thanks to its neon-lit close-quarters bar space. It also screams chicken, not at you as you decline a third rice martini, but via its poultry-focused menu. The PSC (poached soy chicken) is the standout dish, so moist that your hands may turn prune-ish just looking at it, while the deep-fried hearts and, cubic prawn toast are also essential.
If you’re the kind of person who loves first editions and candlelit romance, 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.
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.
Hoppers is a modern Sri Lankan restaurant done Soho-style - it’s exciting, laid-back and fun. 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 when they’re not taking reservations, but Hoppers is definitely worth planning an evening around.
A yakitori counter, with its open flames, twirling skewers, and unceasing provision of food on stick - is a completely thrilling place to be. And Humble Chicken is a very good one. Of the many skewers, it’s the injury-prone and the pornographic that are essential, like soft knee and cartilage, or inner thigh. Unlike an Arsenal midfielder, there’s nothing dodgy about the achilles here, nor the offal - every part of the bird is cooked to juicy and slightly-charred perfection - and each yakitori is topped with something different: lemon ponzu, spicy miso, and more. There are a few bigger plates too, as well as a small section of stuff from the sea, and ice-cold Asahi on tap.
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. If you haven't managed to make a reservation, 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.
Bao has become a local legend both for its pork buns and for the lines needed to get in, which are 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.
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 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.
Kiln is one of the best places to eat Thai food in London, and certainly in central London. 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 as busy 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.
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.
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.
The good news is that the Kingly Street branch of Dishoom is pretty big, and they’ve scrapped the no reservations policy. But the bad news is that you’re in Soho, so if you haven’t planned ahead you’re looking at a long-ish 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.
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. And the adjoining Bar Americain is a good spot for a late-night cocktail or aperitif before hitting the main room.