NFT London Soho (Central)

Soho (Central)

By day, the turning out of London's new favourite caffeine kick -- the flat white courtesy of the Aussies -- is relentless at LJ and Milk Bar. All the better to fuel the night's activities: This is still the heart of the red light district, but it's no longer such a sordid affair. Berwick Street is still loved for its record shops and market, and Madame JoJo's doesn't miss a trick.




         



On Our Radar:

Posted By:  Claire Storrow
Photo:  Claire Storrow

The Palomar
"Shall we go in?" we looked at each other doubtfully. It was 6:15pm on a Thursday night and the dining bar at The Palomar was already rammed. I almost abandoned the idea because I hate this "stand-at-the-bar-while-you-wait" culture which is so common now (you can book tables at The Palomar but it takes months to get one). We stood scrunched up against the wall agreeing that if we got through the first drink and there were still no seats available, we would go somewhere else. But within about 20 minutes, we were shown to our places - a front row seat in the theatre that is the open kitchen at The Palomar. And honestly, listening to and watching the banter amongst the chefs is worth the wait alone, every so often, the head chef singing along with Elvis playing on the sound system, slightly discordantly, but with such chutzpah you can't not smile. You can't not smile when you taste the food either--the humble butternut squash risotto was elevated to another level, the octo-hummous was compelling, and the onglet steak (with latkes, fried egg and bone marrow) sublime. I was slightly disappointed by the shakshukit (deconstructed kebab) as it was quite oily and heavy but perhaps the bar had been raised too high as I also found the halva cream brownie relatively underwhelming. Dinner wasn't cheap at £57 each but that included two cocktails apiece and service. I will definitely return and wait patiently for my seat at the bar.



Posted By:  Claire Storrow
Photo:  Claire Storrow

Spuntino
"I need a Martini". "I know just the place". Leading me by the hand through the neon of old Soho, He brought me to a tiny, nameless bar. "I tried every cocktail on the menu last night, we can get something to eat too." My eyes narrowed, "Is this Spuntino?" "Yeah, you know it?" Do I? This is the latest venture from the owners of the much-feted Polpo restaurant with the emphasis on no reservations and unfussy yet delicious fare. The staff are genuinely friendly (it was with them that he'd been drinking the night before) and I thought there was a lack of attitude until we inadvertently stepped out of line (literally; the entrance signified the end of the queue) and were told we'd lost our place nay, were accused of jumping the queue. After explaining that we'd still wait our turn, that we were simply standing in a different space so we could breathe, the Maitre D' (I assume) relented. Unnecessary. I had the pulled pork and apple Slider, He, the ground beef with bone marrow. I was drooling. The side of fries seemed like a polite frippery; the mac and cheese more than made up for it. If you just want a Martini and don't have expectations you may be pleasantly surprised but don't go out of your way.



Posted By:  mike whyte
Photo:  mike whyte

Gerry's
Having passed this shop literally thousands of times on my way through Soho, it took till Christmas to actually increase my curiosity enough to step over the threshold. The reason? Christmas shopping for my family. Why here? Well, good question--try minus temperatures and the very British habit of joining a queue... I was certainly glad I did, seeing the vast array of alcohol of all strengths, colours, bottle shapes, logos and reputations led me to believe I had just entered an adults version of a candy store. I'm not condoning alcoholism here, as this isn't cheap booze, but for connoisseurs it really is a treasure trove. The vast array in the window doesn't even begin to give you an idea of what is inside--and the helpful staff really know their stuff, so you are sure to find what you need. I left the shop, if you're interested, with a rather nice bottle of rum--so Xmas went smoothly for me, but should you want a gift for family member or loved ones, don't just think of the Winter season, as these tipples, sourced from around the globe, will probably put you in someone's good books any time of the year.



Posted By:  Julia Dennison
Photo:  Julia Dennison

El Camino
If you're an American, you approach Mexican food in the London like going on a date with someone out of your league: you don't get your hopes up. You've usually been let down too many times to allow the excitement to build. So when Ned Conran opened his second El Camino in Soho last year, we were sceptical. The burrito joint is laid out like a south of the border American diner, complete with a wide array of hot sauces adorning the shelves on the wall. The menu looked somewhat authentic, and the cocktails affordable, so it didn't take long to tempt us in. The menu is simple, and not overly complicated, looking pretty similar to the fast-food Tortillas and Chilangos of the world. The difference here is in the dips and sides. Go for the pulled pork burrito, and add the cheese on top to make it an enchilada (which also means it comes with rice and beans). But make sure you order copious amounts of chips and excellent guacamole made from perfectly ripe avocados, as well as the requisite margarita. While El Camino is not entirely an original concept, it sure beats the usual Leicester Square Tex-Mex fodder.



Posted By:  Michael Kasparis
Photo:  Michael Kasparis

Bar Bruno
Surrounded by sushi and sex, Bar Bruno is a beacon of tradition. It's been here for an age, for a start, and is the one place where stressed media types and off-duty hookers can meet and blend into the overwhelming Italianness of the atmosphere. There's a whole crew of amiable silver-streaked Italians; I've never figured out which one is Bruno but it doesn't seem to matter. It's a family affair. You know, a 'Family' affair. The food is heavy and cheap, like £5 for a huge plate of Arabiatta cheap, and the coffee is stronger than the poppers you can get from the sex shop across the road. Coming in the evening brings its own rewards: flooded with flamboyantly dressed clubbers, seedy raincoat types and other night-creatures, the banter reaches fever pitch. Hide in the corner with an escalope sandwich and drink it all in.



Posted By:  Claire Storrow
Photo:  Claire Storrow

Prince Charles Cinema
Apparently in harsh economic times, cinema ticket sales go up as people see a trip to the pictures as a mini luxury and a cheap night out that will keep them from spending their hard earned wages at the bar. Personally, I have always seen it as a bit of a luxury what with tickets nudging £10 on a Saturday night and the obligatory popcorn and cola costing a small fortune. Luckily we are blessed with the Prince of Wales Cinema granting us tickets for under a fiver and going as low as a stonking £1.50 for members. Yes, the movies on show have been out for a while but who wants to join the stampede to see the latest blockbuster? And the great thing is that if you really love a film you can pay a pittance to see it again. Even better, the staff put on fantastic double bills of old favourites such as The Goonies and The Lost Boys, and Bugsy Malone and The Blues Brothers. Could it get any better? Yes! They have Sing-a-long shows of classics like Hairspray and Rocky Horror Picture Show.



Posted By:  Julia Dennison
Photo:  Julia Dennison

I. Camisa & Son
There's a feeling inside I.Camisa on Old Compton Street that London evolves outside, but in here, nothing will ever change. This is certainly true for the lack of orderly queueing that goes on inside this Italian deli. It seems if you speak Italian, you get served first, if not, get stuffed. Speaking of stuffed, once you do get to the front, the abundance of items you'll recognise from your last trip to Italy is astounding. Fresh, home-made gnocchi stuffed with Gorgonzola, all kinda of prosciutto-like hams, sauces, cheeses, artichoke hearts, sausages; they pretty much have everything you need to become the next Jamie Oliver if you know how to use it. It's slightly intimidating, and the people working there don't seem too terribly approachable, but all's fair in love and boar sausages.



Posted By:  Julia Dennison
Photo:  Julia Dennison

Algerian Coffee Store
If you like coffee, you'll like it here. They take it very seriously and when I once made the mistake of asking for flavoured coffee the guy helping me did a kind of scoff and roll of the eyes. "Alright, alright," I said, "hit me with your best shot... of espresso," and he did and I never did anything so silly as to ask for adulterated coffee again. It's here where you'll find things like coffee beans digested and shat out by cats and tea picked by monkeys, but if you are just looking for normal Joe, they got it too. Just don't ask for anything remotely like a mocha-javva-frappaccino; you might get punched.




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