Or, 'Lou (and Helena) loves food (and tattoos)'.
It seems its been a while since I did a 'Focus on...' !
The other day I went to meet a friend on Wardour Street. I had got off at the wrong tube stop and found myself having to walk down the length of what seemed to be the longest road in London. However, I did notice that it was absolutely rammed with cool shops and interesting looking eateries.
I’m a big, big fan of the Soho area and spend quite a lot of my time (and money) there so I thought I would return for a food research day- I took my dear friend Helena along to explore it with me.
We started at the end of the street on the junction of Old Compton Street. Opposite us was Byron at the Intrepid Fox. This is always a source of great amusement for me as I remember spending many evenings of my teen years back when it was a cramped and sweaty metal bar, and not a slick handburger joint- all stripped back brick walls and naked lights. At the end of the day, the warmth that glows through the windows is tempting and somewhat A Christmas Carol-esque. I squint in bemusement for a while before moving on down.
Right down this end of the road is Satsuma. Think Wagamama, but without a chain on every road. With similar Japanese canteen-layout, the dishes are large and tasty. But the highlight is the cold plum wine. It's sweet, delicious and very drinkable!
Next in line is Vitao, at number 74. Being a fan of balanced food and nutrition, I've always been interested in eating here. 'The first restaurant in the UK to create and provide genuinely healthy food and drink', Vitao serves vegan organic food with the emphasis on it's health and nutritional properties. Buffet style bowls line the back wall, piled with Chickpea Curry, Seaweed Lasagne and Fungus Stew.
Okay, it looks better than it tastes. I assume from the fact it is not only only bustling, but still open, it tastes pretty good too.
Another 'first' is London's first Hummus Bar, Hummus Bros. Something else I love the sound of! The glass fronted restaurant displays happy customers propped on stools scooping hummus in bowls with pieces of pitta. Hummus comes at about £5 with pitta bread and a basic selection of sides of mushroom, garlic, beef or chicken. There are also a few Middle Eastern salad options.
Also on the right side of the road is thai restaurant Busaba Eathai, which I have heard good mutterings about. The restaurant is large and wood panelled, from the tables to the walls. The attractive large lights are low hung and create a warm, inviting atmosphere, both ethnic and chic. Have you noticed how easily swayed I am by the aesthetic yet..?
Cross the road now for the left hand offerings of the street and you will soon reach Princi's, one of the highlights of Wardour Street. There is no one I know who doesn't have good things to say about Princi's- and I would like to thank Stephen for recommending it to me, and Rodrigo for taking me there for my first little Italian Princi's cake. The Italian bakery is a unique food stop. Large and buzzing, it is dark and low lit, no matter what time of day you go. The walls are marble and again glass fronted, glittering below the numerous lights. On one wall, water trickles from taps into a trough, dappling light across the ceiling and walls. Everything glistens. Always busy, the rows of marble topped tables and benches are usually full and you will find yourself elbow to elbow, jostling with other diners. There are also a few free standing heavy duty granite posts for those who are happy to stand and eat (I am no such person.)
Helena and I rested are tired feet with an espresso and one of their little cakes. It was a nightmare picking one from the rows and rows of traditional Italian puddings, mostly pastry based and creamy. We went for the strawberry and custard style tart (I'm sure there is an Italian name for it that makes it sound less like a Co-op frozen desert...) that stood out in their glossy redness against the creamy chocolate dusted tirimisu and flaky pastry.
There is a great view of the open plan kitchen where the bakers slave over the gorgeous looking pizza slices and savoury pastires that are displayed alongside the sweets. The table is littered on either side of me with plates of gorgonzola and spinach cannelloni and salads. They also have a suprisingly reasonable selection of cocktails for £6.50.
Just up from Princi's is the Hummingbird Bakery. A second branch of the Notting Hill store, it sucks you in with its window display of glittering, pastel cupcakes. Inside are hundreds of cupcakes and giant, layered, cream covered red velvet cakes. Rumour has it, they're more style than substance, but it's worth dropping in just for an oggle, as thy do look utterly delectable, at least.
Further down the street is Pho, a gorgeous looking restaurant with beach hut faded white wood walls, serving a selection of Vitnamese streetfood, including lemongrass chicken noodles and hot and sour prawn soup. Next door is Imli, a suprisingly chic Indian tapas bar of similar vein. The menu is traditional but interesting- not just Kormas and Tikka Masalas here. Instead, try the stuffed paneer or amritsari- battered fish as well as more typical options of saag aloo and tarkar daal.
Newly opened is Octarian, another 'first'. The restaurant is an intruiging concept- the new fast food restaurant claims to create healthy meals that are good for the environment. Every item of the vegetarian menu is carefully sourced and prepared to create minimum impact on the environment.
If the zelous aims of the chain actually put you off, then try and put on a brave face. It's worth overlooking the carbon footrpint measure (alongside the calorie count) and orange uniforms for their reasonably priced soups. The wraps and flatbread all look grudgingly good, too. The best bit was the snacks- The spinach tart really is very yummy and well done and the battered butternut squash slices made me suddenly a lot more concerned about climate change... Though I still think the prices are a little steep!
Soho is far too abundant to fit into one post. Wardour Street alone is rich in unique restaurant's cafes and bars. But I can't resist adding a few of the highlights of the nearby streets. If you're in the area, take a little detour to St Anne's Court, tucked down a side road, halfway down Wardour Street. Here you will find Fernandez and Well's, a cafe stockd with lovely fresh looking foccacia and sandwiches in varying sizes. I hear they have "the best plum chutney ever tasted." Worth looking into!
Berwick Street is the home of one of my current favourite coffee shops (you will be hearing more of this soon), and it goes by the name of Foxcroft and Ginger. It's a great looking place, and exactly what you want from your favourite caffiene pit-stop (big battered sofas, plump carved chairs) as well as a few lovely extras (leather pummel horses and mismatched old China teacups). It's a great place to hide away and sink into the sofa, and if my coffee-quaffing New York accomplice approves, then it must be alright. And I haven't even got onto their sandwiches...
Pure Ink, Berwick Street
... Have fun!