NEIGHBOURHOOD TOURS IS OUR NEW SERIES WHERE ONE OF OUR TEAM MEMBERS WALKS US THROUGH THEIR FAVOURITE NEIGHBOURHOOD IN LONDON.
Jimmy is the special project lead and brand scout for Sessions, affectionately known as “resident flirt / inhouse stalker” depending on who you ask. He has lived in Soho pretty much on and off since he was 17. The area is responsible for his eclectic education and has equipped him with an interesting set of life skills. He has Soho to be grateful for his foray into hospitality - starting off with managing and scouting for a start-up Street Food Market on Rupert Street alongside the numerous restaurants that tolerated an enthusiastic but inexperienced twenty something year old in their kitchens.
WHICH NEIGHBOURHOOD ARE YOU TAKING US ROUND?
BEST PLACE FOR COFFEE?
The coffee is pretty average and is pricey to be clear, but WHAT A VENUE! You're basically paying rent to people watch and people watch you shall! The venue is like stepping back in time - 1949 to be precise, very little has changed since, from the formica table tops, Rocky Marciano on the wall and even the old school till. If walls could speak I suspect this venue would produce a rollercoaster of a saga as it has survived every wave of change that has hit the area, from the Italians and Maltese Mafia who once controlled the area, to the swinging 60's, the Mods and thriving local rag trade to the record stores, boutiques and most recently hipsters. A GEM!
You can eat here but you don't really want to...go for a black espresso, macchiato orrrr a digestif.
GO TO ORDER?
Doppio Espresso, Cigarette and in a past life it was customary to have an "ammazzacaffe" or "coffee killer" in the form of Amaro / Fernet Branca. Highly Recommend smuggling in a Cannoli from Lina Stores!
Bar Italia is an iconic, historic café that was opened in the 1940s by Lou and Caterina Polledri. Three generations on, it is still run by the same family. Inside, it seems that little has changed since those early days. Although Bar Italia is famous now, it is modest about its heritage. What is so special about Bar Italia is the coffee. It is open nearly all day – from 7.00am until 5.00am, closing for just a couple of hours and reopening to serve breakfast for anyone up early or still celebrating from the night before in Soho...
21 Frith Street
BEST PLACE FOR BREAKFAST?
Please refer to Coffee & Cigarette. Brunos on the corner of Peter street and Wardour street is one of the last surviving "caffs" in the area and the epicentre of soho locals in the morning, the dynamic of old barrow boys (market traders), drug dealers and "supreme kids" is a thing of beauty. Think full english, fry ups, spaghetti and chicken milanese....and to top it all off, Christmas dinner throughout December.
However, my all time favourite place for breakfast would be C&R Cafe which opens at 12 for a Malaysian Brunch!
It's always packed day and night, feels like you could be in a canteen in the bottom of a Hawker market in Kuala Lumpur! The waitresses are also fond of being very vocal on my weight fluctuations in the past and have on more than one occasions recommended that my girlfriends "get a new man."
GO TO ORDER?
Nasi Lemak - Malaysias favourite breakfast. A medley of rice cooked in coconut and pandan leaf, a mild curry, boiled eggs, peanuts, dried anchovies, cucumber and sambol. A side of Roti - JUICY BOY SUMMER! Iced Milo to slurp down and then if you have room, Bah Kuh Teh which is a palate cleanser and without a doubt one of the most underrated of all the broths - overlooked by Laksa and Phos but in my opinion one of the most fragrant broths out there - heavy on pepper, cinnamon and Angelica root! Genuinely a game changer! It basically translates to Pork Herbal Tea and you drink it after a heavy meal. There's pork ribs in it but you eat it for the broth. GAINS
A note from Jay Rayner on this place: "I've eaten appalling versions and good versions, over-sweetened ones and dishes which are nothing of the sort, but which contain some thickened, vaguely spiced coconut-based sauce to excuse the abuse of the name. The one served here, at C&R Café, goes straight to the top of my laksa list. It's a little sweet, but not so that your teeth ache. There is fire and softness and a big slap of umami. And all for £6.50. It should be available from the NHS on prescription."
4-5 Rupert Court
BEST SPOT FOR LUNCH?
In an area like Soho it's SO hard to narrow this down to one spot. I consistently return to Berenjak, Kiln & Koya.
Koya is a place that I feel is welcoming to solo diners, my ideal scenario is rainy day, book in hand, you walk through the Japanese drape things on the entrance, squeeze between people on the counter and commit to the task at hand - ie UDON!
GO TO ORDER?
Assortment of Tempura - their prawns are a thing of beauty and I take far to much pleasure in watching the fryer station! Next up is an assortment of small dishes, umeboshi plums, cider braised pork belly, donburi rice bowls with side of miso soup and then of course you have to order a form of udon - I'm still trying to work my way through the menu!
The udon, which is their speciality, you have to tick off one by one. The types of udon work out perfect for each season, in the essence that they can come in hot and cold broth and noodle each with their specific style, taste and flavour. Lamb Cumin Miso (cold udon and hot broth) is unreal as well as the Smoked Mackerel which is cold udon and cold sauce.
Koya Soho doesn’t take reservations. As a result, there is a queue down the street, even on a Monday. Steaming bowls of Koya’s famous udon are delivered from across the counter. It’s safe to say the noodles are the focus here, making up about 95% of the dish. The noodles are brilliantly pillowy, having been made fresh that day. The broth, meanwhile, is laced with delicate, intermingling flavours, some so subtle they might have been imagined.
50 Frith Street
BEST PLACE FOR A BIT OF DINNER?
Again really difficult to narrow down. If it's a special occasion it's Escargot for dinosaur era French. Barrafina is always consistent. Bocca Di Lupo is my safe place and Andrew Edmunds is a cute date night spot - cue Lady and the Tramp. For more chilled out I'd say Randall & Aubin.
When it comes to seafood, for the most part I prefer places that specialise in it. Randal is always a VIBE! There's a little ice box in the window displaying the catch of the day. I was once offered a live lobster for £10 by a local "street character" who I can only assume helped himself when walking past the aforementioned ice display. I've also taken my granny there on many occasions when she was in the UK, ever since the original Manzis closed, Randal was the go to!
GO TO ORDER?
Bouillabaisse is banging but I'm a garlic king prawn and pommes frites kinda guy! its so simple and beautoful - dont mess around and just go for this one.
Launched in 1996 on Brewer Street in Soho, Randall & Aubin has been delighting foodies, fans and celebrities for the past twenty years - all of whom come looking for an outstanding meal and a fabulous time beneath the glittering disco ball. Serving some of the best seafood in London, menus are created and overseen by Head Chef Ed Baines, who is passionate about serving delicious food created from authentic and superb quality ingredients, beautifully presented, all in a warm, inviting setting. Keep an eye out for the daily changing specials, which make the most of the fresh fish they get delivered direct from Brixham and Peterhead!
16 Brewer Street
BEST PLACE FOR A DRINK?
I find myself a little less committed to the local drinking establishments than I did in my twenties, but the Blue Posts on Berwick street has been the epicentre of the community for as long as I can remember. Market boys, Agency workers all the cool kids can be found hanging around outside until closing time!
Another personal fave would have to be the French House - Breton cidre and half pints! The french make half pints and cigarettes look sexy and there's something about drinking in a place that runaway Huguenots plotted revolution... It also happened to be the birthplace of the now infamous St John Restaurant!
GO TO ORDER?
Nowadays - Guiness 00
Visit yourself the Blue Posts yourself:
A fun and friendly old school boozer in the heart of Soho. Pictures of the 1930s star Jessie Matthews line the walls, as she was born on Berwick Street, a few yards away from the pub.
22 Berwick Street
Every Chinatown establishment brings something to the table, be it the regional nuances or positioning and price point. Once regarded as the rudest restaurant in the UK, Wong Kei has stood the test of time, they're still rude - beautifully so, and while I would not recommend the roast meats, pretty much anything on rice is a great shout! Real Hong Kong Canteen vibes, personally faves are the Cantonese Brisket on rice or the Pork Chop Rice! Cash Only and loads of attitude.
Side Note: Whenever you're in chinatown I would suggest a trip to Lo's Noodle Factory to cook at home! Hidden down an alleyway parallel to the main Gerrard st strip, is this hole in the wall that supplies most of chinatown with fresh rice noodles daily. I've been coming here long before I lived in the area when a primary school friends mum of Cantonese origin introduced me to Cheung Fun for breakfast! At £1 a bag, highly recommend alongside the fresh Ho Fun and Char Siu Buns!
Wong Kei was once known for the rudeness of its staff, who would shout "Sit down with them!" or "Go upstairs!" to arriving patrons, insult customers who asked for a knife and fork, and chase those who failed to leave a sufficient tip. Wong Kei is one of London’s great time capsules. A reminder that cash can still be king and that great service does not always need a smile. An always-welcome restaurant for the solo diner wanting to slurp on wonton noodle soup, the downstairs canteen is Chinatown’s great sanctuary.
41-43 Wardour Street