Hidden behind stained glass windows on bustling Dean Street, Quo Vadis is more grown up than many of the edgy institutions that populate that populate Soho these days. The tables are clothed, the walls are papered (nary an exposed brick in sight), and (hallelujah) they take reservations. It’s hardly the surprising the place has a classic feel since its been around forever in one guise or another. In fact, Karl Marx lived in the building back in the day, though hard-pressed to guess it now, what with the members-only cocktail bar upstairs and flapper-chic vibe going on in the restaurant below. Very chichi, very enjoyable, so not Marx. Not that the place is style over substance. The food – a daily-changing array of modern British dishes – is blooming marvelous and refreshingly unpretentious.
Richard Caring, the man behind Jackson & Rye, is pretty much ubiquitous on the London restaurant scene. His holdings range from Strada to The Ivy. Both very different, both very successful. Enter Jackson & Rye; completely different. Thoroughly enjoyable. The food’s instantly recognisable, but still a departure from what you might find elsewhere in London. It’s real down south American stuff with an east coast vibe; buttermilk fried chicken, shrimp and grits and steak and eggs. Then there’s the bar, stacked high with whiskies and ryes and with guest American draft beers on tap. Squint a little and you can pretend you’re in Hawksmoor, but with a much smaller price tag at the end of the evening.
Perched at the top of Tottenham Court Road’s Centre Point, Paramount offers dinner with a view in a skyscraper situated, literally, in the centre of London. A long, metal bar, parquet floor and leather furniture keeps the place swish, but the place doesn’t get the same tourist footfall as sky-high restaurants in places like the Shard. The food doesn’t have quite the same wow factor as the view, but lubricated with a few cocktails still makes a great accompaniment. Take a date, take your rents or take your colleagues, they’re all sure to be impressed.
This isn’t the trendiest of the ramen spots to pop up of late, but, what it lacks in “cool” credentials it more than makes up for with giant bowls of steaming ramen. We don’t particularly see that an hour-and-a-half-long wait to eat in a “hot spot” necessarily improves flavours anyway. Shoryu now has two branches, one in Soho and one just off Piccadilly circus, both with pleasant, but functional cantine-style interiors and big menus filled with a huge variety of tasty tonkotsus (a thick pork bone broth with serious flavour) and lighter, cold noodle dishes. There are even gluten-free and veggie options. There are no reservations, but turn-over is fast, so the wait should never be too long and the food is ideal for any of London’s long, cold, rainy evenings. Even better, the Soho branch is open ’til 3am Thursday to Saturday to satisfy any late-night ramen cravings.
Dark, noisy and inevitably rammed, this bolthole in Soho serves the best value steak you’ll get in London. A slab of meat will set you back the princely sum of ten quid, throw in another couple of pounds and you’ll get a side of fries/Aubergine parmigiana/fresh greens. Oh yeah, and you get to eat it all with a mini meat cleaver. Tables are for sharing so expect to jostle elbows with your next-door neighbours. It’s all friendly though, especially because most people are already well lubricated from a healthy wait for a table in the downstairs bar. Sneak back down for a donut for dessert; guaranteed to have you leaving happy.
B-Soho isn’t a subtle kinda place – it’s loud and proud and gloriously simple. Take decently authentic Neapolitan pizzas, add a healthy dose of booze to whet the appetite and you’re pretty much there. The place is always buzzing which makes it great for big groups (it takes reservations, hallelujah). Walk through the packed bar and venture down into the exposed-brick basement for what will be anything but a quiet night. The crowd is young, fun and ready to party. Good thing the food makes an excellent stomach liner, since the booze flows freely. The pizzas are still worth trying, even without such practical motivations though. Chewy, charred crusts, tangy passata and creamy mozzarella grace the menu here. It’s not the most authentic you’ll get in London but it’s coming up pretty close. Don’t bother with salads or starters which are largely average and save your calories for the booze – and plenty of it.
This noodle shop on Dean Street is attempting to bring the ramen revolution to London, and it’s doing rather a good job. The narrow corridor space is filled with izakaya-style wooden benches and tables with a noodle bar dominating one side. Exposed brickworks and birdcage lampshades bring in a little edge. Still, so far so standard. What is standout, however, is the food. There’s not much on the menu at Tonkotsu, but just walking in the door and taking a whiff should tell you that the this ramen joint cooks some seriously flavoursome broth. Add to that piles of perfect home-made ramen and you have the ideal spot to escape the miserable London weather. Non-pork eaters beware, it’s the veggie option or nothing, but we’re sure that also tastes great. We did have one little pet peeve – we think it’s a bit cheeky to charge for a garlic shot, but equally accept that unless like us you like to turbocharge your food with the stuff, you probably won’t be too bothered by that little expense. The sides aren’t half bad either; in fact the chicken karaage is pretty unmissable. You won’t be leaving hungry then.
For all the amazing places to go in Soho, there are also innumerable shitty little streets that it’s easy to get stuck wandering around in a miserable culinary limbo. Clockjack Oven is on one of these streets, like a shiny little foody oasis. With a menu of chicken and, er, chicken, it’s bang on trend. Not that we hold that against it. Sometimes a good bit of rotisserie is just what the doctor ordered, and at these prices the medicine goes down a treat. The place itself is cosy in a Nordic, minimalist way, and there’s something comforting about the rows of chicken rotating hypnotically on their spits, ready to be plumped on a plate for you. Enjoy with chips, on a salad or in a bun, and all for under a tenner.
This chain of posh steak houses just keeps growing, with its latest offering just off Regents Street branching out from the winning formula of meat, meat and more meat to include a little bit of surf with that turf (still not suitable for veggies then). The place is massive but still packs out so book in advance. Expect the usual plush leather booths and ‘30s vibe as well as mean drinks to wash down all that food. The end result is “just perfect.” That’s a resounding endorsement then.
Given the slew of new burger joints busting out all over, all the ramen enthusiasts may have jumped the gun a bit heralding London’s ramen revolution. But even if the burger still reigns supreme on the London food scene, we’re willing to make room for a little ramen in our lives. And judging by the queue snaking out the door of Bone Daddies on a recent visit, we’re not the only ones. Yes, this is a no reservation place (what do you expect these days?) and yes, it’s cold outside, but it’s worth the wait, and the great, steaming-hot bowls of ramen will have you warmed up in no time. Don’t go expecting intimacy, you’ll get packed onto long sharing tables or squeezed round the bar that snakes the outside of the room. It’s a cosy, down-and-dirty, elbows out kinda a place, with loud music, slurpy comfort food and very happy clientele. Get the soft shell crab to start and crush a shed-load of garlic into your noodles when they come. Not great if you’re on a date, but good for the soul.