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Jeremy Lee’s guide to Soho

Jeremy Lee’s guide to Soho

by Tom Shingler 07 July 2017

From Taiwanese buns and billowy croissants to Italian salumi and every kind of cookbook you could ever need, Soho has it all. We spent a day with Quo Vadis’ head chef as he took us on a whistlestop tour of his favourite haunts in the area.


Walk around Soho today, and one thing becomes immediately clear – there’s change afoot. Towering new buildings surrounded by scaffolding, entire streets being redeveloped, rents rising, old businesses closing; it’s a time of transition for one of central London’s most famous areas. While this is no doubt good news for property developers, many are lamenting the loss of community spirit and independent business – none more so than Jeremy Lee, the head chef of Soho’s own Quo Vadis.

It’s for that very reason that we spent a day with Jeremy walking the streets of Soho, documenting his favourite places to eat, drink and shop. There were many places we didn’t have time to visit – Koya, Hoppers, Bocca di Lupo and Bar Termini being the most notable exceptions – but it was refreshing to see that, despite the rising rents and threat of developers, many independent and historic businesses are still thriving in Soho. From century-old patisseries to contemporary Thai, it’s still a place teeming with good food and drink.

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‘Soho has changed dramatically over the years,’ says Jeremy. ‘The Soho I first came to had so many butchers, fishmongers, game merchants and knife shops, and now vast amounts have disappeared. I remember all the very funny sex shops where you’d go in to buy naughty magazines as a teenager and get laughed at by old codgers who’d seen it all before. It’s a great honour to do something like this as it gives you the chance to really reflect on Soho, and when you see all these building works you suddenly realise what threat a great many independent businesses are up against. It’s vital that we keep the heart and soul of the West End thriving and in good nick. What a lot of landlords fail to understand is that it’s these independents that make Soho interesting. As more and more businesses go elsewhere the workforce follows them – we want to nurture and cherish them as much as possible.’

Restaurants

Quo Vadis

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No tour of Soho would be complete without a stop at the legendary Quo Vadis. The quintessential seasonal British restaurant, you’ll find people in there at any time of day sipping on negronis, enjoying a light salad of beetroot and egg or enjoying Jeremy’s most famous dish, his smoked eel sandwich. All sorts of famous chefs (including Marco Pierre White) have been associated with the Quo Vadis name, but it really came into its own when Jeremy took over the kitchen in 2012, with owners Sam and Eddie Hart running the business. Just one look at the illustrated menu will tell you everything you need to know about the food on offer.

26–29 Dean Street. quovadissoho.co.uk

Andrew Edmunds

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Andrew Edmunds started in 1986, with no more than two hobs in the back room and no oven. Over the years it has grown into a full-blown – albeit still small – restaurant, serving seasonal British fare at very reasonable prices to a loyal customer base. The menu changes daily, but typical dishes include globe artichoke vinaigrette, brill with saffron and courgettes and nectarine and almond tart. The wine list is one of its biggest draws, offering fantastic value for money varieties, many of which are available by the glass.

Jeremy says: ‘A simple, lovely, charming old Soho stalwart that’s been around forever. It’s had to fight its fight but what Andrew’s done is amazing and it’s become something of a legend really. I’d come here for lunch or early supper to have a very civilised, quiet, convivial and congenial time with friends, and we’d work our way through the amazing wine list. In a time where natural wines and orange wines and all that malarkey are everywhere, it’s lovely to find a place like this that sticks to the old traditions.’

46 Lexington Street. andrewedmunds.com

Kiln

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A newcomer to the Soho dining scene, Kiln has quickly become a favourite in the area thanks to its authentic take on the street food of northern Thailand. The dishes are cooked over clay pots full of glowing charcoal, and the open kitchen means there’s plenty of culinary theatrics to watch as the chefs prepare your meal. Think fiery, fragrant curries and skewers of spicy meats.

Jeremy says: ‘The sister restaurant to Smoking Goat, Kiln recreates the flavours of northern Thailand in the middle of Soho. Everything is cooked over fire and the flavours are big, boisterous and very, very delicious.’

58 Brewer Street. kilnsoho.com

BAO

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Arguably one of the biggest food success stories in London over the past few years, BAO has restaurants in Fitzrovia and at Netil Market, but the Soho branch is the original and best. For around £5 you can get a freshly steamed Taiwanese bun, stuffed with all manner of delicious things, or one of the beautiful xiao chi, small plates of Taiwanese classics. Expect a queue out of the door during most days of the week.

Jeremy says: ‘When I’m working flat-out at Quo Vadis and thinking ‘if I have to see one more smoked eel sandwich I’ll die’, I head to BAO for a bun. They’re just magnificent. It’s been an amazing adventure watching the success the owners have had, growing into a mini empire and of course eating at their latest restaurant Xu, which is very, very good.’

53 Lexington Street. baolondon.com

Coffee, breakfast and ice cream

Maison Bertaux

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Since 1871, Maison Bertaux has been selling French pâtisserie of the absolutely highest calibre to discerning foodies in the centre of London. Sticking true to tradition, the cakes on offer make the most of fresh fruits and great big dollops of cream, while the croissants and pastries are regarded as the best in the city, if not the country. Despite its age it has only changed hands around three or four times, and the current owners ensure the reputation of the business is upheld to the highest standards.

Jeremy says: ‘The oldest French pâtisserie in the whole of the capital. I used to come here when I was just seventeen for a cake, before heading to The French House round the corner for a glass of vermouth. They make the most amazing almond croissants which are absolutely delicious, and the pain aux chocolat are the best in the West End, if not the capital. It’s somehow survived against all these horrible great big shops, owned by two sisters who have against all manner of odds kept the place open.’

28 Greek Street. maisonbertaux.com

Milkbar

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London is awash with artisan coffee shops these days, but only a few really go the extra mile – Milkbar is one of them. For the past ten years it has been taking beans from the Drop roastery in Stockholm and transforming them into perfectly crafted cups of coffee. The laidback, friendly Antipodean vibe means many stop off for a few hours to enjoy their drink, but takeout is also available. Be sure to check out its sister bar, Flat White, on Berwick Street.

Jeremy says: ‘An absolute Soho legend. I come here every day before work for a beautifully made flat white – a lovely morning ritual.’

3 Bateman Street. milkbarsoho.co.uk

Bar Italia

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Milkbar celebrates the more contemporary coffee culture of London, but for anyone wanting an authentic Italian experience should head to Bar Italia, which has been serving up espresso since 1949. It acted as the central hub for Soho’s Italian community, and is credited for being one of the catalysts for London’s love affair with coffee. Catch an Italian football game on the television and keep your eyes out for the many famous faces that head there for their caffeine fix.

Jeremy says: ‘In my eyes, Bar Italia is the godfather of Soho. Anyone doing anything in Soho drinks coffee here, at all hours of the day. It holds a very special place in everyone’s heart, and the remarkable neon sign outside is like a sort of beacon for all that is good.’

22 Frith Street. baritaliasoho.co.uk

Gelupo

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Opposite Bocca di Lupo, Jacob Kenedy’s famed Italian restaurant, lies Gelupo – his just as famous gelato shop. This is where you’ll find authentic, freshly made gelato with the dense, chewy texture it should have. It serves all the classic flavours you’d expect from a true gelateria, as well as more leftfield creations, often devised by some of London’s best chefs.

Jeremy says: ‘They’re the real deal – always have been. They do lovely things, like freezing vats of blood oranges so they can use them throughout the year. I was told many years ago that the best way to judge an ice cream shop was by the colour of its pistachio ice cream, and the nearer it is to mud the better. Gelupo’s version is a perfect example.’

7 Archer Street. gelupo.com

Delis and supermarkets

I Camisa & Son

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Soho has an undeniably Italian flair, and delis such as I Camisa & Son has been providing a taste of home to the community since the 1960s. Regional cheeses, a vast selection of salumi and the finest store cupboard staples are stacked high inside the little shop, and the Italian staff are more than happy to help you with anything you might need.

Jeremy says: ‘One of the last bastions of Soho’s small Italian community, which really was at the forefront of London’s restaurant scene. There aren’t a great number of these independents left – it would be a great tragedy if Soho ended up looking like Terminal 5 at Heathrow, and it is great delis like Camisa that are preventing that from happening. It flies the flag for good, strong independent succour.’

61 Old Compton Street. facebook.com/cricamisa11

Lina Stores

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The second of Soho’s great Italian delis, family-run Lina Stores has to be one of the most beautiful shops in London. It sells everything you could possibly need for an authentic Italian feast, and the homemade ravioli are legendary. Stock up on olive oils, coffee, spirits, baked goods and even kitchenware – it’s a treasure trove of Italian produce.

Jeremy says: ‘I tend to go to Camisa for dried pasta, chickpea flour and sausages, but Lina is home to some of the most beautiful and amazing homemade pasta. It’s just gorgeous and does everything you want – even premixed bottles of Campari and soda. Would you rather visit a place like this or a Tesco Metro? Just saying!’

18 Brewer Street. linastores.co.uk

SeeWoo

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Chinese supermarkets always have an air of mystery about them, with aisles full of strange things that offer no clue as to how they should be cooked or eaten. SeeWoo is the grand daddy of them all; a huge supermarket over several floors selling every Asian ingredient imaginable. The selection of noodles alone is mind-boggling, and the kitchenware on offer is amazingly cheap. It’s the type of shop you can spend hours in, looking at what’s on offer and wondering what on earth they could be used for.

Jeremy says: ‘Under large green awnings is darling SeeWoo, which I love very much – a supermarket of the best kind. It’s full of fun and games, almost no one speaks any English and they think you’re completely mad for going in. But it’s the best place to buy things like plum vinegar and tripe and all manner of curious things. It’s something of a legend and it’s got a real charm to it.’

18–20 Lisle Street. seewoo.com

Clothes and books

Oliver Spencer

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Soho is home to plenty of high-end clothing boutiques, with designer names adorning the rails and the price tags to match. But Oliver Spencer has an air of timeless style to it, ignoring flash-in-the-pan fads and simply offering beautiful clothes of the very highest quality. It brings the feel of high-end tailoring into a more relaxed, modern environment, with fabrics from Britain and Italy.

‘I’ve been buying clothes from Oliver Spencer for years, and it’s situated in an area full of incredibly fun things to look at and buy. Shopping online is perfectly fine but it’s a function; when you want to get a feel for something you have to visit a bricks and mortar shop – and Oliver Spencer is where you’ll find some amazing clothes.’

81 Berwick Street. oliverspencer.co.uk

Cloth House

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If you’re the type of person who likes to make their own clothes, or are just in the market for a piece of fabric to create a tablecloth, Cloth House is the place to go. The small but perfectly formed shop is where you’ll find some of the most beautiful fabrics in London, suitable for all manner of projects at surprisingly good prices. The team work with small, independent textile traders and are environmentally conscious, too.

47 Berwick Street. clothhouse.com

Wardour News

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At first glance, Wardour News looks like any other newsagents, but a quick look in the shop window will tell you it’s much more than that. Specialising in art, fashion and food journals, it’s a library of the very best in magazine publishing today. They have everything you can think of, including hard to find journals from all over the world, and everything on offer just begs to be picked up and leafed through.

118–120 Wardour Street

Foyles

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It’s hard to miss Folyes’ flagship store in Soho – it’s a gargantuan bookshop with eight floors and more books than any other in the UK. But of course, the highlight for Jeremy is the cookbook section, which houses knowledgeable tomes on every single cuisine, technique and chef you could ever imagine. Pick one up, take a seat and get lost in beautiful photography and fascinating insights. There’s even a bookshelf dedicated to rare or old cookbooks from some of the world’s most famous authors.

107 Charing Cross Road. foyles.co.uk

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