Are you visiting London for the first time and don't know where to go for a good meal? Or are you on a lunch break and need a quick, inexpensive bite? I found a couple of restaurants for whatever it is you're looking for. Here are some places to start.
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Whether it's meeting friends after work, going out on a Friday night with my hubby, shopping and needing a quick bite, or looking for the newest trending dessert place, all roads lead back to Soho. Soho is filled with little back roads that have quaint, undiscovered new shops or the most hyped restaurants with lines out the door, or a beautiful dessert shop to satiate your sweet tooth.
With such variety, it can get overwhelming to figure out what's good and what's not worth your time. If I haven't mentioned this already in previous posts, I'll tell you a huge tip I wish someone told me from Day 1 of living in London:
Online reviews in London are COMPLETELY UNRELIABLE. We solely depend on them in the States to find a good business. Do not rely on them for finding delicious food in London. It is not just my opinion. It is a complete consensus for every expat I met in London whether they've been here for 3 months or 10 years. It's not the online review platform's fault. It's more of a user error due to the reviewers providing inaccurate information.
You're in London on vacation and what I just told you comes as a complete shock and now you don't know what to do about the list of must-try restaurants you created for the last month based purely on online reviews. Do not fret. Let me point you in the right direction.
I had a dinner date with a friend last night and decided to try this popular shop called Bao Soho. It's the same place in the Borough Market, if you were wondering. The shop is quite small, but the seating is strategically placed to maximize the number of occupants. So don't turn away when you see the crowd of people inside.
They will find you and your friend space when it's time either on the bench around the kitchen counter or a small table for four. We had a 30 minute wait, so we put our names in the queue and walked around the quaint, beautiful streets of Soho.
I know what you're thinking. The pictures make you want to reach into the screen and take a bite. It tasted even better than it looks. If I can look back at my pictures and enjoy the memory of the flavors and textures of food, there's no doubt that it was THAT good.
The melt-in-your-mouth braised pork with the crispy crust and spicy dipping sauce, the savoriness of the rice, the tenderness of the 40-day dry aged beef rump, and the delicious balance of chewy and soft textures of each of the baos we ordered.
For my vegan friends, there is a Daikon Bao, Mapo Aubergine Chi Shiang Rice, and other scrumptious dishes you must try! If you don't try this place for yourself, you're missing out. No wonder the queue was a 30-minute wait on a Thursday night! Put this on your previously-online-review-based-must-try list that I saved you from earlier.
On The Bab
A trendy cafe-style eatery that serves bao buns as one of their many options of Korean cuisine menu is On The Bab. "Bab" translates to "rice" or "food" in Korean. On The Bab focuses on serving Korean street food. If you're looking for the best bao buns in London, I have that covered in another post.
Bao buns are such a big food trend in London from Soho to Covent Garden to Shoreditch and more. Originally an authentic Chinese dish, it's a fluffy steamed pancake like dough that you use to wrap meat such as hoisin duck. I would go as far as to say a Chinese version of a taco.
On The Bab uses traditional bulgogi (marinated and grilled beef rib meat) as one of their six bao bun options. They also had fried chicken. Who doesn't want fried chicken in their bao bun? The crunchy, crispy, heavy chicken balanced by a light and fluffy bun is a perfect combination. Also, given the choice, who doesn't want fried chicken period?
These were probably the largest bao buns I have ever seen! They were each easily larger than the size of my fist. Which meant that an order of two bao buns at the price of £9 was a full meal for me. Besides the fluffy marshmallow-like buns, the bulgogi was spot-on in flavor and tenderness. But the highlight of this dish has to be the toppings.
These bao buns were topped with pickled kimchi that had an extra refreshing vinegar seasoning along with a french-dressing-style fresh coleslaw, which balanced out the fattiness of the meat. It truly is a full and balance meal - protein, carbohydrates, and vegetables.
They have four locations including this one in Soho, each shop providing a different vibe. The shop in Soho opened in 1988 and it was from there that the restaurant became successful and opened up into multiple towns.
Mildred's menu is primarily vegan and vegetarian and their website is very welcoming which drew me to want to visit. I ordered the teriyaki chick'n burger with plum teriyaki, shichimi mayo, kale, pickled red onion and carrot, on a brioche bun.
The fried chick'n was crispy and light. It didn't have that heavy greasy taste you often get with fried foods. The pickled vegetables were a great balance to the fried chick'n and slightly heavy shichimi mayo, but the mayo had dynamic flavor that added to the dish. A proper gourmet burger is finished with a delicious, light bun which this burger delivered. Of course, I won't steer you wrong with cheap eats and this one was £9.
The menu is filled with dishes influenced from various countries, but with the chef's own beautiful twist to each, including this bahn mi (basically, a vietnamese-style hoagie). Check it out if you get the chance. I'm going back for round two. And don't skip on the dessert like the caramel cookie cheesecake made with a biscoff crumb and blackberry coulis drizzled on top.
Despite Dishoom having five locations in London, not including the ones outside of London,, there's still always a queue wrapped around outside the door. That's always a great sign.
If you have a craving for Indian food, why not try some delicious Mumbai-style cuisine? Despite a queue that can be close to an hour long, you're only physically waiting outside until you can step into the restaurant (not the entire hour).
Once in the restaurant, you continue to be in a virtual queue while sipping drinks at the tables by the bar. A server will come and take your drink orders so you don't have to keep waiting in queue after queue outside and inside the restaurant. It's pretty great customer service in this respect.
If you want to try a little of each dish, it's best to come with a big group of people so you can share the dishes. Amongst my group of friends, the "grills" and "biryani" dishes were the most popular including chicken tikka, gunpowder potatoes, Sheekh kabab, and Awadhi lamb biryani.
If you have any dietary restrictions, make sure you tell the server. Dishoom has multiple versions of their menu for all dietary restrictions including dairy-free and nut-free menus. I found that to be impressive.
When you're in Soho and you ask someone where to find udon, a Japanese comfort food, many people know to go to Koya Soho. It has an authentic Japanese small eatery look and feel, where the seats are placed only around the kitchen along a long continuous bar and not as separate tables. It's comfortable to come with a just a friend or two and also on your own for a quick lunch. If you want to find the best udon in London, take a look at my other post.
You know every customer is there to do some serious eating as strangers sit shoulder to shoulder nearly touching in these tight spaces. There's no such thing as personal space here, which makes you feel like you're back in Asia in a food stall. If you want a quick bite to grab on a cold rainy day, this place is a good idea.
I ordered the Kitsune (sweet tofu and spring onions) with tamago (poached egg). The broth was clean, well seasoned, but a bit more soy sauce based than dashi based. The tamago was poached perfectly where it was fully cooked yet very delicate. I put it right into my udon and cut it with my spoon like it was pudding .
Cây Tre Soho
Now, if you're looking for a quick bite of Vietnamese pho noodles, I've got you covered with Cây Tre. Cay Tre's menu is primarily of Vietnamese street food that's quick and easy to eat, but of course, tasty.
The menu has your traditional pho, spring rolls, summer rolls, rice dishes, and rice vermicelli dishes. But there are also some dishes that vary from the norm such as curry and stew entrees. The entrees average to about £11 each, which make it very affordable for a quick bite.
The beef pho dish tasted familiar with all of the necessary toppings such as cilantro, green onions, bean sprouts, mint, and a lemon wedge.