Sophie Dening, Editer’s resident gastronomy expert, explains why Frith Street and Dean Street are piping hot right now with all their buzzy, informal new restaurants.
I used to work at Harper’s Bazaar – I was a young lass and it was lots of fun. One of the things I loved about it was working in Soho, and I’ve been finding myself lurking around there again a lot lately, especially Dean Street, Frith Street and Greek Street.
The three parallel roads that drop south from Soho Square were always goers, with institutions such as Bar Italia and the French House pub, but right now they are completely essential if you’re into restaurants. They are crammed with new, informal, creative places to eat -the kind I can’t stay away from.
Here are some of Sophie’s favourites…
41 Dean Street, London W1, (020 7287 4999; ducksoupsoho.tumblr.com)
Kind of Parisian, very Soho, Ducksoup is to formal fine dining what Cat Power is to Der Rosenkavalier. It’s a drop-in bistrot with counter seats and tables, bookable at lunch, mobbed in the evenings. Expect good, simple, europhile food, natural wines, and warm sounds from the vinyl turntable.
Dean St Townhouse
69–71 Dean Street, London W1 (020 7434 1775; www.deanstreettownhouse.com)
A newish member of Soho House group, and something of an instant classic, for which any excuse will do: power breakfast, gossipy lunch, afternoon tea, birthday dinner… That’s not to mention cocktails at pretty much any hour of the day (10am? Ask for the Bloody Mary menu). It’s good-looking, with expertly curated art and a clubby feel – and faintly, agreeably louche.
49 Dean Street, London W1 (020 7734 1969; polpetto.co.uk)
The second in Russell Norman’s string of restaurant pearls, Polpetto occupies the hallowed first-floor spot over the French House pub where Fergus Henderson cooked pre-St John. Florence Knight’s excellent cooking is inspired by simple, seasonal Venetian cuisine, so you might eat chestnut maltagliati, or pork in milk. There’s only room for two dozen diners, but reservations are taken.
Upstairs at the French House
49 Frith Street, London W1 (020 7434 4463; www.koya.co.uk)
John Devitt’s just-so, cheap-chic Japanese does the best udon noodles in London, no contest. This is clean cuisine – warming in winter, light in summer. The cold noodles in hot broth with prawn and vegetable tempura are our top tip; look out for daily special such as monkfish liver miso hotpot, slow-cooked short ribs or tofu dumplings with girolle mushrooms.
28 Greek Street, London W1 (020 7437 6007; www.maisonbertaux.com)
Over on Greek Street, 150-year-old Maison Bertaux is the only place in Soho to buy eclairs, green marzipan ‘figs’ and gorgeous bespoke birthday or wedding cakes (including towering French croquembouches). It’s a lovely place to sit with a book and a cuppa, too, with all its down-at-heel, insouciant chic.
Wait, there’s more…
Also on Dean Street, QuoVadis restaurant and members’ club has recently leapt onto London diners’ must-go lists, owing to its new chef, the brilliant Jeremy Lee, delicious wines and cocktails, and a perfect sense of affordable glamour. At the other end of the scale, but just as good in its own way, is Mooli’s on Frith Street, a top-quality fast-food joint selling freshly made roti wraps of Goan pork, Keralan beef or scrambled paneer cheese.
On Old Compton Street, make stop-offs at Gerry’s for virtually any alcoholic beverage you can think of, including cachaça, Aperol and absinthe; the Vintage House for wine (and just because it’s got a beautiful shop sign); Camisa Fratelli for Italian deli goodies and a slice of old-school Soho; and the Algerian Coffee House for headily fragrant air and coffee-geek essentials. There’s also a new Sunspel store, for fine menswear staples, and a couple of international newsagents selling all the esoteric fashion titles.