Once London's seedy sex district, known for its peep shows, brothels and adult stores, Soho is now the capital's entertainment centre, complete with
media companies, restaurants and theatres. But relics of its past, dirty alleyways and small 24 hour cafes, have retained Soho's alternative soul. It's here, surrounded by the luxe buildings of Mayfair, tourist-haven Westminster, and the office district of Holborn, that a grittier city can be seen, experienced and adored.
The Coffee Rush
Mornings in Soho are a chaotic mix of council workers mopping up from last night's revelries, breakfast meetings, office coffee runs and the steady stream of early bird tourists. In need of a caffeine fix or a spot to grab wifi and banana bread? We’d always recommend stopping Milk Bar on Bateman Street, Soho Grind on Beak Street, TAP on Wardour or Timberyard on Noel Street. With such a plethora of great artesian coffee spots it’d be a crime to even set foot in the Costa.
If you looking for a leisurely breakfast spot, with pals or colleagues, book yourself a table at Dean Street Townhouse and take your coffee and granola without the rush of a bustling coffee shop. It’s one of the prettiest terraces in Soho as well so pray for a sunny day to enjoy your OJ out doors.
Shopping & Culture
You haven’t truly seen Soho without a walk down Berwick Street, just leave your favourite shoes at home for this sticky adventure. It’s not just the market stalls that deserve your attention here though, keep an eye out for the fabric stores, comic book havens and even the gritty alleyway at the end harbouring all sorts of naughty shops – strictly adults only.
Carnaby Street is the more mainstream shopping district of Soho, including brands with a bit of edge that find a home here, away from the mainstream Oxford Circus.
While technically just outside the Soho borders, a stroll down Denmark Street is every musicians obligatory pilgrimage, with legendary spaces that recorded The Rolling Stones and The Sex Pistols still standing.
Soho is king of small plates and there’s no end to experiencing this delightful counter culture and tapas with its boundaries. Head over to Kricket to watch the chefs pump out innovative twists on traditional Indian cuisine, which are a million miles away from your typical curry takeaway (fresh, flavoursome and a lamb dish which effortlessly dissolves in the mouth) as well as surprisingly delicious cocktails to compliment all that spice and texture. Grab a stool, and over-order. Streets away, the long steel counter at Kiln is the only thing separating you from Thai barbeque goodness and as Time Out aptly described "There’s action and cheffery and drama at every swivel of your stool."
Need some noodle deliciousness in your life? Koya on Frith Street is where it’s at, with bowls of hot udon to warm you through and plates of tempura to keep you satisfied. Go simple with pork and miso or work your way down the list to keep things interesting. Over on Broadwick Street, Yauatcha is renowned for its all-day dim-sum (try the scallop and edamame crystal dumplings), exotic teas and delicate east-meets-west desserts.
If you find yourself in Soho at 5pm there’s only two choices and luckily they’re opposite each other on Old Compton Street. Grab yourself Martinis and oysters at Swift or bottle-ready Negronis from Bar Termini. If you’re got time on your side and lunch left in your belly, both are strongly recommended.
There was a time more recently that Soho was sadly bereft of great cocktail spots but 2016 was the year this all changed and now we’re all spoilt for choice, which makes avoiding the tacky places all the easier. Perched above Social Eating House is its speakeasy – The Blind Pig, always pouring fun yet balanced drinks.
Within the famed Kingly Court you’ll find both the stunning Disrepute, ready to welcome all your scandals and top you up with Champagne cocktails, and the wartime train carriage that is Cahoots. If whisky is your dram of choice then Milroy’s vault on Greek Street is a rustic candle-lit basement filled with tasty Scotch and bourbon tipples worth a lengthy visit. And if its summer or you’re made of sturdy stuff then Aqua’s (Argyll Street) rooftop terrace is legendary.
When the original Barrafina on Frith Street closed it doors - Soho lost a true culinary light. Luckily it has opened again on Dean Street and has remained true to its beautiful Spanish style. The only spot to sit is at the bar - which means you're best off to come in twos and marvel at the opulent food being prepared in front of you. Come early for first sitting at 5.30pm or be prepared to queue.
For a touch of Parisian style grab a spot at Blanchette on D’Arblay Street for sumptuous sharing plates that hit the bistro spot with perfection. Social Eating House on Poland Street has some more classically British plates, executed with Jason Atherton’s famed panache and if you trust Jay Rayner (who doesn’t) then you’ll stock up on the jar to share at the start of the menu; “it's the sort of stuff you get on your knuckles as you dig in un-self-consciously, so that you leave oily stains across the paper menu.”
Dining with carnivores? Blacklock on Great Windmill Street is all about chops, chops and more chops, all sitting on beautiful porous bread that soaks up that delicious meaty goodness. Save room, you have been warned. If you’re in the mood for something lighter Eat Tokyo have the freshest of sashimi, healthy pours of plum wine and a price tag that doesn’t scream central London.
What type of late night reveller are you? For the punks, the rockers, the misfits and those who just want to smash shots in relative anonymity then Crobar on Manette Street is open to 3am and is everyone’s favourite type of rock house party. If it’s Soho’s sexy side you’re looking to party with, and your wallet is deep or you know someone’s whose is, you’ll want to try to impress to doorman at The Box. It’s billed as a theatre of varieties… but what happens there stays there. Not for the faint of heart.
Feel like dancing with a Margarita in your hand? Tequila’s mecca Pink Chihuahua beneath El Camion is also open till 3am and you’re practically guaranteed the night of your life here. Bring your hangover back here for lunch tomorrow and they’ll cure anything with their delicious tacos and quesadillas.