It’s only three months old but is already doing a roaring trade among stiff competition, and their success is growing. Whaam Banh Mi is on the Piccadilly side of Soho on Great Windmill Street, and aims to bring fresh, punchy Vietnamese street food to the lunchtime masses.
It’s pretty noticeable that food and drink options and standards have rocketed in recent years. There’s untold choice on the high street, luxury venues are more accessible in the age of discounts and if you’re heading to any festivals this summer – or any market, riverside or warehouse pretty much – you’ll have a plethora of gourmet options to satisfy your growling hunger.
I’m apparently an eighth Lebanese, so I’ve always figured that’s why I enjoy a bit of Lebanese food. Lucky for me then, that Comptoir Libanais is handily round the corner from my new office. Billed as a Lebanese canteen, Comptoir Libanais is the brainchild of owner Tony Kitous, who aims to bring fresh, healthy Middle Eastern cuisine to the Western world. He has a few venues but this is the Soho one, on Broadwick Street.
This is a mini-post just to highlight somewhere good – Central & Co on Great Marlborough Street is a pleasant surprise I’ve discovered since beginning a new job on Carnaby Street 30 seconds down the road. You can’t really get more central so it’s a good spot for meeting people then wondering off around Soho.
First things first – these are perhaps the worst food photos on the internet. I’m not sure what happened – it was fairly dark, I was on my third (delicious) yuzu margarita and I was rushing due to the usual time pressure when you have two hungry friends chomping at the bit whilst staring at a table of delicious delicacies… but still, my apologies.
You may or may not be aware that it’s currently London’s first ever Pisco Sour Week, a city-wide celebration of (arguably) Peru’s most delectable export. The week-long festival follows in the footsteps of the National Pisco Sour day, which is celebrated throughout Peru on the first Saturday of February.
For the uninitiated, Pisco is a clear, unaged Peruvian brandy made from grapes, and the classic Pisco Sour combines it with lime, sugar, egg white and bitters. It was first developed in Lima in the early 1920s as an alternative to the classic Whisky Sour, and has since swept the US and Europe with its tangy, frothy charms and is gaining popularity in spades – Soho’s Chotto Matte makes upwards of 500 of them per week, eclipsing mojito sales.
I headed to Chotto Matte for a little lesson in all things Pisco, and indulged in a masterclass with excellent Bar Manager Fabiano. Draped in an authentic poncho, I whipped up the classic sour, as well as a pineapple and coconut version. My favourite was the Jasmine Tea Sour, made with home-infused jasmine Pisco, which had a subtle flowery aftertaste that still packed the punch of the original. They are all on the menu at Chotto Matte and should be sampled by everyone who enjoys a cocktail. You might as well order some snacks too – the Nikkei (Peruvian and Japanese) dishes are extremely tasty.
Also involved in the festivities is the beautiful Coya in Mayfair, and they’ve just launched their new Pisco flight to celebrate. Consisting of raspberry & thyme, rhubarb and Williams’s pear flavours, the selection is delicious and a great way to sample the various possible incarnations of the spirit. You can try the flight for £15. Combined with their heavenly food and service, Coya is the place for a slightly posher Pisco experience.
Lima Floral, Senor Ceviche, Tito’s, Tierra Peru and Pachamama are all part of the festival and you can pick up a wristband at any of them that will get you £5 Pisco Sours all week, so there’s no excuse to miss out.
Pisco Sour Week continues until Sunday 8th February, there’s no website but search #LPSW for more info.
*A version of this post first appeared on the fabulous Foodepedia
Reservations only? No queuing round the block in the rain for a soggy £14 lobster roll? Yes please. Old Tom & English in Soho’s Wardour Street is the brainchild of brother and sister team Costas and Maria Constantinou (of the Arts Theatre Club), who have opened their latest project to focus on ‘unpretentious British food and vintage cocktails’. I’m not sure how unpretentious it is to enter via ringing a doorbell, but so what, it’s fun.
The name references the 18th century British ‘Old Tom’ gin recipe, as well as being a nod to Soho’s colourful history – apparently ‘Tom’ is a bygone term for a prostitute, for whom all the little nooks and crannies are named. We were shown to a little area called Cora, who I’m sure was a lovely lady. The décor is 60s but sumptuous and expensive, and makes you feel like perhaps Don Draper or James Bond might just be relaxing around the corner…?
Dinner comes in the form of several tapas-style dishes that are meant for sharing, although you probably won’t want to. The food is elevated to something special by the little touches that accompany each dish. Our confit smoked guinea fowl was so smoky, with such rich, gamey meat that nothing would have complimented it more than the anchovy butter it came with.
Crispy braised pig’s cheeks were sitting on a tart apple and fennel sauce, and the tiny cubes of goat’s cheese sprinkled over the scallops and courgette puree brought an unexpected sharp element that added a point of difference from your usual scallop combination, if you tend to go for that sort of thing. Triple cooked chips, almost universally a pleasure, were even more delightful dunked in the little bowl of mustard mayo. Battered seabass, and eggs and mushrooms on toast all excellent also.
Although not normally a dessert fiend, I dived in with unusual enthusiasm. Banana cake was light and not too banana-y, and whiskey cream made it feel extra naughty. Chocolate cake was rich and fudgy, and the hero for me.
The top-notch food, excellent service and luxurious furnishings makes the place feel expensive, and it’s a lovely spot to know about if you’re looking to impress, don’t want to queue or just fancy a bloody good dinner.
A version of this post first appeared on Foodepedia
*We were guests of Old Tom & English
Although I didn’t realise until I walked in, this was my second visit to Jackson & Rye on Soho’s Wardour Street. I attended a networking breakfast there a few months ago and from what I remember (I’m not great in the mornings) it was fabulous, so I was more than keen to go back for dinner.
From the team behind Grillshack and backed by Richard Caring of the Ivy, Carluccio’s, Scott’s and J Sheekey among others, Jackson & Rye is loud, lively and exactly what you’d expect from an American themed restaurant in Soho on a Friday night – in a good way.
Roast lamb rump on courgettes and tomatoes was tender and packed with herby flavour. Rump steak was delicious if slightly past the requested medium, and chips were thin and the ideal combination of crispy and fluffy that you come to expect from anywhere better than McDonald’s. I ordered creamed grits with sweetcorn on a whim, and thank God – they were smooth, creamy, salty and sweet, the perfect partner for roasted meat. I was expecting something sloppy and vaguely porridge-like, so they were a lovely surprise and something I’m very keen to have again, and soon.
We also threw in half a lobster as a side dish, why not, January’s crap and you need all the little joys you can get! It was juicy and delicious as you’d hope, simply grilled with lemon.
Not a huge fan of dessert usually but this was big hunks of charred marshmallow with blood orange sorbet and hot chocolate sauce to pour over the top (main pic) – wow, it was light, rich and fruity all at the same time, and just totally gorgeous.
The American Merlot (when in Rome) was far too delicious – this combined with the daft proximity of the next tables meant I was extremely close to clearing all their dishes with my backside on leaving, and I was forced to apologise both before and after. No complaints about the wine, but perhaps they could allow another few inches between tables for privacy, dignity and the fact that we struggled to get all our plates on it at the same time. Obviously space is at a premium in Soho and they want to cram in as many covers as possible, but it does give an air of the assembly line.
Overall dinner at Jackson & Rye is fun, hearty and delicious, with a great menu, plentiful booze options and lovely staff. Definitely worth another visit, although go with a group for a bigger table.