Soho – London has in the past had a reputation as a bohemian, slightly seedy area, where you might venture to watch some theatre or look cool on Carnaby Street before scurrying back to more salubrious surrounds. Yet the times they are a-changing and Soho is now a cool destination for Australians visiting London to experience some wonderful theatre, great restaurants and clubs and to soak up the real British atmosphere. I recently spent a week living in the heart of Soho and am here to share my story and give you some great tips to enhance your time in this hip and happening part of town.
We had walked around Soho for a few days before doing our first ever walking tour. Our guide, Nick from Strawberry Tours, took us on a two hour walk past historical landmarks like The Palladium, a famous concert hall where Beatlemania started, through to the iconic bar, Bag of Nails, where Jimi Hendrix played his first gig in London. Our guide filled us in on the history of the area showing us where Mozart and John Logie Baird’s homes were, as well as telling stories about some of the famous clubs found here, like The Windmill Club. Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe were spotted here back in the day. Places we had walked past every day now developed fascinating stories through doing this tour. The tour ended in Soho’s bustling Chinatown where Nick told us about restaurant people go to because it is known for its dreadful service. Go figure! I would thoroughly recommend a walking tour to get a real feel for and to enjoy some insider knowledge of the Soho area.
Eating out in Soho
Soho is home to some of London’s best and most innovative restaurants. Our best meal of the trip was to be found at neighbourhood favourite- Bocca Di Lupo on Archer Street right across from our apartment. This is modern Italian at its best and sitting up at the chef’s table is probably one of the best shows in town. Good food, treated lovingly, is their signature here and it seems to be busy all day and night. Pop across the road to Gelupo for some of the best ice cream and gelato you’ve ever tasted. Our tips-espresso, pistachio and the popular ricotta and sour cherry. We were surprised to see lines of tourists spilling onto the street until after midnight looking for their ice cream fix.
Visiting Mash-London is another treat, for this primarily steak restaurant showcases a range of steaks from around the world in beautiful Art Deco surrounds. Other restaurants to try are the Mediterranean-Palomar, Kricket and Café Monico. For lunch the friendly bistro Shampers has a French feel, great service and excellent wine list.
If it’s High Tea you’re after look no further than Ham Yard in the Ham Yard Hotel. The setting here is exquisitely quirky and the staff probably the friendliest in London. There’s no better place to be in Soho on a sunny afternoon. For old world ambience the ornate Savini Restaurant next to the Criterion Theatre caters to the theatre crowd or can provide a stunning high tea in spectacular surrounds. If you have a hankering for any cuisine in the world, you’ll find it here in Soho.
For London Theatre, in Soho, you are spoiled for choice. The top theatre shows in London are all here within walking distance. We saw the hilarious ‘A Comedy About A Bank Robbery’ at our favourite Criterion Theatre. ‘Les Miserables’ was playing on the corner and ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’ was at the end of our street. ‘Aladdin’ or ‘Matilda’ are must sees if you’re here with the family. Looking for last minute tickets? Head to the ticket box inside the Criterion Theatre on Piccadilly Circus – for great deals often combined with a great value pre – show dinner.
Soho is within easy walking distance to the British Museum, National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery and all are worth visiting if you have the time.
We did need to buy another suitcase. Every shop from the high end shops like Albam and Zara’s upmarket brother Massimo Dutti are in Soho. Lingerie shop – Agent Provocateur through to staples like The Gap, Zara and Diesel can also be found here. Explore one of the most beautiful, historical and quirky shops – Liberty London or visit Noel Gallagher’s Pretty Green on Carnaby Street for your alternative fashion. Quaint and unique boutiques can be found in the back streets, as well as hip vintage fashion.
Bars and Clubs
Be prepared to wait in line outside Archer Street, one of the most popular clubs in London. For a fun time visit Cahoots in Kingly Court: a bar which is a reproduction of a World War II Tube Station. The fit out is amazing and the cocktails, setting and ambience are unique. Great bars are on every corner in Soho. For cheap pints head to Glassblower, an historic pub set over two floors of a former glassblowers’ workhouse.
For a taste of London – the quirky, avant garde and just plain fun look no further than bustling Soho. It is a unique and fascinating place to stay or just to take a look around in on your next trip to London. Keep your eyes peeled for celebrities, locals told me Bill Nighy, Orlando Bloom, Emma Watson and Ricky Gervais are often seen around Soho. I kept my eyes peeled but only spotted one of the ‘Ladies of London’ amidst plenty of tourists and locals. Paddington Bear said, “In London everyone is different, and that means anyone can fit in.” Soho with its colourful characters and bohemian past is certainly the epitome of this quote.