Soho Neighbourhood Guide
Read about the real Soho through the eyes of a local Londoner
Any Londoner will vouch for it – Soho is the ultimate neighbourhood of eccentricity, vibrancy and excitement. This famous area of London proudly holds a longstanding reputation for being the capital’s entertainment and pleasure district, ever since it became host to a series of popular brothels, cafes and film stars back in the day. We like to think of it as the original Amsterdam. Although Soho may not be as wild as it used to be, it would definitely give your grandad a run for his money on historical anecdotes.
To name only a few, Jimi Hendrix played his last performance in the renowned Ronnie Scott's Jazz Bar and Karl Marx drafted his Communist Manifesto in a room above the Red Lion on Great Windmill Street – more commonly now known to underage drinkers as B@1 bar. With all of Soho’s bars, clubs, galleries, museums - you name it, we’d go as far to say that some of the best attractions in London are crammed into this tiny infamous district. So, for this reason we’re able to offer you a wealth of places to visit in this Soho guide, should you fancy a stroll through the renowned part of town.
Soho For Foodies
If you’re a foodie, then you won’t be let down by what Soho has to offer. There’s as much choice as there is royal scandal. In fact, there’s so much it’s difficult to know what to suggest to you first. If you’re into kitsch dining then you’ll need to visit the notorious area known as ‘Chinatown’.
"If you’re into kitsch dining then you’ll need to visit the notorious area known as ‘Chinatown’."
Despite its apparent garishness or what some would call poor décor taste with its gold and red adorned streets, Chinatown has become a popular area for people to visit looking for some authentic Chinese cuisine. You’ll be spoilt for choice though so don’t settle for just any Chinese – now listen up. If you’re big into your dim sum then it’s no surprise that Dumpling Legend is the place to go. They’ve rightly earnt their reputation as being quite literally dumpling legends, so if you’re into the Chinese starter, take note.
Still hungry? Well walk a little bit further into Soho and take a trip to Black Lock – sorry vegetarians, this one isn’t suitable for you so look away now. Known to locals as the ‘basement cavern for chops and cocktails’ this restaurant offers some of the best carnivorous food in London. Think chips soaked in meat dripping, barbequed butter and different slabs of meat literally stacked on top of each other on a bed of flatbread soaking up all those juices. Didn’t think you liked pig’s cheek? Well you will after a visit here. We’d recommend you go for the ‘all in’ option where you’ll get a taste of all the menu’s highlights. On top of your meat feast, there’s cocktails-a-plenty with a select list of classics for only a fiver. Be prepared to leave this place with your jeans button unzipped and stock up on orange juice to cure the morning hangover. Worth noting that this place doesn’t take reservations, so perhaps put your name down on the waiting list and pop round the corner to the Ham Yard Hotel for a luxury G&T before you delve into a meaty black hole.
Our Favourite Eateries
"Whilst you wait for your soft shell crab tacos and frijoles, definitely try their whisky sour cocktail - they’re possibly the best in London - and finish with a bang with their Dulce De Leche churros."
If you think you’d prefer something a little less indulgent and a bit more luxury, head over to La Bodega Negra for some high end Mexican food and possible celeb spotting. To passers by it appears to be a seedy sex shop lit up by bright neon lights, but to those clued up the erotic entrance is in fact the only way you can enter the restaurant. Not one for the prudish maybe? Upon first encounter, it’s as if Noel Fielding runs the place. As you descend down the stairs into the dark basement you’ll be welcomed by quirky cardboard décor and trendy hipster staff as they lead you to your table for the night. The longer you look around the restaurant, the more you’ll fall in love. It’s a cosy ambient eatery with the ability to draw you back time and time again. Our top advice if go you? Whilst you wait for your soft shell crab tacos and frijoles, definitely try their whisky sour cocktail - they’re possibly the best in London - and finish with a bang with their Dulce De Leche churros. In the unlikely event that none of the above restaurants suit – don’t fret. Other top notch recommendations in the area would be PixPintxos, Dishoom & Franco Manca for some alternative cuisine options.
Soho Late At Night
If you’re feeling full now, how about a late night trip to the famous Ronnie Scott's on Frith Street. A home from home to many world class Jazz musicians like Miles Davis and Jamie Cullum. Rumour has it the Kray twins had a strong association with the club back in the 60s when it was a hangout for musicians to jam, costing only a tenner on the door. Now it’s a wee bit more expensive but is definitely less rife with mobsters. It’s a hangout for the slick, arty and musically talented.
A Secret Late-Night Tip…
"When the queue to Ronnie’s is looking too long, cross over to the opposite side of Frith Street and head to an underrated bar known as Garlic & Shots. “Garlic and shots?” We hear you say. Yep, vodka shots here are served with a hint of garlic"
Don’t worry if you never passed grade one piano as you can also choose to sit back and enjoy the music. There’s the option to dine whilst you watch their early shows but we say why not be adventurous and go to the ‘late late show’ which starts at 11pm. You’ll still catch the main artists perform and will be scatting the cool crowd until the early hours of the morning. Don’t expect to just walk in though – anything in the main downstairs area is ticketed and rarely not sold out. In essence – if your name's not on the list, you ain’t getting in mate. If you aren’t one to plan your evenings, you could try and wind your way into the upstairs jazz bar holding a smaller capacity of just 140 people. This upper floor hosts the lesser known bands typically aimed for passers-by willing to queue to get a taste of Ronnie Scotts.
Fancy a twerk? Then head to Old Compton street, where London’s gay community hang out in some serious dancing hotspots. Only visit if you’re open minded, and have a stumble in the tightly packed sex shops and gay bars. One of the more famous locations is G.A.Y bar where you can still be straight and have an awesome time. Musically it’s probably not the place to go if you’re looking for some serious DJ sets, but if you’re into a bit of light-hearted-body-moving-fun accompanied by chart toppers, then you’ll want to stop off here. If however you think you’d prefer watching the fun rather than taking part, Soho’s Old Compton street still has something to offer you. The Prince Edward Theatre founded in 1929 on the upper East end of the street has been home to smash hit musicals like Mamma Mia & Mary Poppins. In more recent times the theatre has now moved on to showing Disney’s Aladdin directed and choreographed by award-winning Casey Nicholaw who is known for The Book Of Mormon and Dreamgirls. With around 350 costumes made with over 2 million Swarovski crystals, a genuine flying carpet and a cast of 100, how can you turn that down?
If you’re not so much a night owl and are looking to do something in the day, Soho is home to one of London’s oldest street markets on Berwick Street. Dating way back to 1778, the street has always been filled with traditional fruit and veg sellers Monday to Saturday, so if you’re staying in the area why not test the local produce and grab some food to take home and cook up a storm. Feeling lazy? The market isn’t stuck in the 18th century. There’s also more contemporary finds like Freebird Burritos and Miro Salads. Our favourite houwever would be RaviOllie, whose ravioli pasta is painfully good – envisage buttery, garlicky heaven. Visit this Soho neighbourhood market between 8am to 6pm - and don’t rock up on a Sunday, it's closed!
Any resident of the Soho neighbourhood will also be sure to recommend a trip to Soho square. In a city where it’s difficult to decipher where buildings start and end, green spaces are a haven to the Londoner. For this reason, Soho square has become a rest place for the daily workers escaping their city jobs in the hope of a relaxing lunch break and escaping the mass shoppers queuing outside Primark to buy their £3 jeans. On the corner you’ll find Pizza Pilgrims, a small and popular chain run by two young guys who went on a pilgrimage around Italy to find the best ingredients to make the perfect pizza. Think buffalo mozzarella, rocket and chilli oil all on a doughy crust for only a few quid. We recommend getting there in the early afternoon to avoid the queue and grabbing your takeaway box to sit in the square – chow down on this high quality ingredient food and simply people-watch. The Soho neighbourhood never fails to amaze with its eccentric characters wandering through.
Galleries in Soho
Galleries in Soho are also in abundance if you’re wanting to soak up some culture. Pootle on over to The Photographers' Gallery on Ramillies street and take in the incredible photography on display. Past exhibitions have included the likes of Andy Warhol and David Lynch. With tickets costing less than five pounds and the gallery being open seven days a week, there really is no excuse not to take a visit. It’s not just photography on offer though in the Soho neighbourhood. Riflemaker an original gun makers shop back in the 18th century (and one of the oldest public buildings in London), is now a trendy location for viewing inspiring work from up and coming artists. Check with the front of house to see what’s on whilst you’re in the area, as you might just catch some live poetry or interesting discussions.
Soho for Kids
Travelling with kids can be tedious at times, especially if heightened by the intensity of a bustling city. If this sounds familiar, then take a trip to Ripley's Believe It Or Not and let the kids lose themselves in a world of curiosities. Quite often an underplayed museum due to it’s outwardly tacky entrance where staff welcome you dressed up as explorers, there is actually a lot of cool stuff to check out here. It displays a bizarre catalogue of artefacts and unusual finds discovered by Robert Ripley – a collector of the weird and wonderful who first travelled the world in the 1920’s. The kids will keep themselves entertained for hours here with sightings of genuine dinosaur eggs and taxidermy of 5 legged animals. It’s not all about the children though – even the adult kids can enjoy a mooch around Ripley's. We think the highlights of the exhibition are the shrunken Amazonian heads. We’re told that the Jivaro tribes of South America would seize the heads of fallen enemies, remove the skin and shrink them to the size of a fist. A true rare site and something you shouldn’t miss when visiting London.
Photo Credits Mario Sanchez Prada