Koya

Why go here:

For authentic Japanese udon noodles

What it looks like:

Its styled like a Japanese cafe with the long wooden sharing tables, white walls with wall hangings comprising mainly of the regular menu and daily specials written on scrolls and an open kitchen. Last time I went, I observed that a lot of my fellow diners were Japanese which I took as a sign for the food being authentic. The cafe only has 25 seats though and doesn’t take reservations, so expect to queue for a while.

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The food:

Having waited in the queue for more than half an hour, we were starving so went straight for the udon. There are cold or hot udon noodles which are served in hot or cold broths. I ordered the Kinoka Atsu-Atsu (hot udon in hot broth) which came in a mushroom and walnut miso flavoured broth. The udon was served with in a clear broth loaded with fresh, crispy mushrooms. The walnut miso was provided as a thick paste in a little bowl on the side, so one can add it in as per their taste. The paste was warm, earthy and sweet and the ground walnut had a pleasant, distinctive taste. I added in all the paste to my broth and was hoping there was more since I couldn’t taste the walnut as strongly anymore. Alas, there was no more and so, I had to make do with some chilli soy sauce instead. Here’s a tip- don’t eat the paste on its own before adding it to your noodles, because then you’ll always find the flavour to be too mild in this diluted form.

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The dish was filling and yummy nonethless and felt not too rich. It was almost like a healthier version of ramen for me. The noodles were also thicker and prepared more al-dente. I also ordered some Japanese tea which was nicer than the standard Green tea served in Chinese eateries and came in a cute little kettle.

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My friend opted for the Kitsune udon dish that was filled with fresh, sweet tofu and zesty spring onion.

Koya also serves an English Breakfast Udon with eggs, bacon and mushrooms- one for the morning people.

Verdict:

Koya focuses on only one thing and excels in it. Prices are cheap for Soho and the portion sizes are big. You do feel like you’ve been transported to Tokyo when dining here. Noodle lovers- get yourselves to Koya.

Bocca di Lupo

Why go here:

To try Modern Italian dishes inspired by different regions of Italy. Also, this restaurant is consistently ranked as one of London’s best Italian restaurants.

What it looks like:

Situated right in the heart of Soho, the restaurant has seating at the marble bar which is perfect for people watching if you’re by the windows or you can choose to sit in the formal dining area with an all wooden decor and lots of paintings of food all around.

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The food:

The dishes are supposed to made of ingredients sourced either from Italy or prepared in-house such as with the breads, sausages, pastas and pickles. All the dishes come in small or large sizes so you can choose to have a tapas style or a standard 3 course meal. We opted for the tapas style because there were too many dishes that we liked the look of on the menu.

We started with the Radish, Celeriac, Pomegranate and Pecorino salad, the signature dish of the restaurant and rightly so. The paper-thin slices of celeriac and radish were crunchy and sweet and the lashings of truffle dressing really made this salad into an indulgent dish. The pecorino cheese slabs added to the bite and enhanced the flavour of the truffle further.

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Next we had the White Polenta and Brown Shrimps cooked in brown butter and lemon. This simple sounding dish was surprisingly delectable and probably my favourite dish of the meal. The polenta was silky smooth and the sweet, crispy and buttery shrimps made an unbeatable combo with it.

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The Guinea Fowl with grilled panzanella, peas, beans and rocket came in a tasty, garlic-y sauce made with the juices of the grilled fowl, tomatoes and wine.

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From the seafood section, we opted for the Skate fish in crazy water. The fish was white, meaty and fresh and had only one bone down the middle and was partenered with a tomato broth with chunky onions, capers, olives and leeks, which was very rustic and toothsome.

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To finish, we ordered the Caffe Alla Nocciola- a sweetened, Hazelnut-flavoured, utterly creamy coffee which was brought to us on the house!

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Verdict:

Every dish at Bocca di Lupo is of superb quality, with authentic & freshly-sourced or in-house ingredients and very enjoyable. It goes to show that Italian cuisine stretches so much beyond linguines and lasagne. This place is a must try for all foodies out there that like Italian- this is modern Italian at its best.

Terroirs

Why go here:

For rustic French tapas and for organic wines.

What it looks like:

The restaurant looks like they partially renovated a wine cellar- low ceilings, wooden beams and bare brick walls in one part of the dining area are contrasted with the ‘faux-kitchen’ like decor on the other side consisting of pretty papered walls, miniature portraits and decorative cupboards displaying random cooking equipment.

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The food:

I started off with the Brawn & Gribiche Sauce on toast. Portions were very large considering these were ‘small plates’. Brawn is a sort of terrine made with flesh from the head of a calf or pig. The terrine was flavoured with pepper and onions and the rich meat was well-balanced by the mustard-y, gribiche sauce with capers and the crunchy, fresh shredded radichio on top.

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For main course, I opted for one of the ‘Plats du Jour’ i.e. one of the day’s specialities the Christian Parra Boudin Noir with braised parsley roots, carrots and kale. Boudin Noir is a French Black Pudding except the Christian Parra variety is supposed to be one of the most in demand due to its richer taste. There is no casing like in traditional sausages and it is chunky instead of having the fine, pudding like texture. The dish was truly decadent and was so much tastier than I expected it to be. This really is nothing like your breakfast black pudding. I highly recommend trying it.

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The wine list here was like a fat encyclopaedia with wines sourced from small artisan growers in France, Spain, Italy and more. We ordered a white from the Burgundy section and while I’m no expert on wines, the white we ordered was easily one of the most palatable and fragrant wines I’ve had.

Service was polite but a little aloof and in spite of the waitress not being too busy, we had to try quite hard to get her attention and remind her to refill our water glasses.

Verdict:

This new kid on the block has been getting all the attention of French food and wine lovers for a reason. Affordable, large portion-ed rustic French dishes made of unique ingredients mostly sourced from France and an extensive array of organic wines make this place well worth the hype.

Wolseley

Why go here:

There is a book about Breakfast at The Wolseley that’s sold thousands of copies worldwide. Wolseley is a bit of a British phenomenon.

What it looks like:

Housed in the grand European Tradition Hotel, Wolseley describes itself as a cafe restaurant but it really is far removed from your standard road side cafe. As you step in, it is hard not to be amazed by the grandeur of the dining hall. The high ceilings decked with crystal chandeliers, the black-gold-creme colour scheme, the spiral, gilded stairways and the marbled flooring all add to the classy look of the venue.

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Combine this with the waiters in their bell-boy uniforms, the 24 hour bar serving more than 13 types of Champagne and handsome guards standing by the gate to welcome you in and you have the ideal celebrity breakfast joint.

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The food:

We chose to go for some of Wolseley’s specials from the famous all-day menu. We were tempted to order the Beluga caviar with blinis and cream but the price tag of more than 250 pounds seemed a bit high and we settled for the significantly better valued Chopped Liver dish and the Jonah’s Toasted Chocolate Sandwich.

The Chopped Liver was zesty and buttery and fluffy too. It was served with crackers, gherkins and a garnish of slivered chives, onions and thyme.

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The Chocolate Sandwich was unlike anything I’d ever had before. It was apparently invented by Wolseley’s chef Jonah for his son. It consisted of freshly made chocolate brioche slices that were oozing with a rich velvety chocolate sauce, all served with a dollop of creme fraiche. The sandwich was so big that my friend and I, in spite of being major chocoholics, struggled to finish it all.

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My friend also ordered a latte which came with a shot of sparkling water. Not being accustomed to drinking authentic Italian Expresso, we didn’t realise that you’re supposed to drink it before drinking the coffee and spent the entire meal what to do with it and ended up washing the spoon in it. Utter fail.

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Verdict:

Breakfast at the Wolseley feels like an indulgence. Their simple menu has dishes cooked to perfection and the stylish, decadent venue and your celeb fellow diners make breakfast more of a celebration than just a meal. For all you chocoholics out there, don’t forget to order the Jonah’s Toasted Chocolate Sandwich

Chotto Matte

Why go here:

For fusion Japanese and Peruvian food. What a unique combination!

What it looks like:

Stepping into Chotto Matte feels almost like stepping into a VIP club. The glossy black floor, the funky wall art, the disco ball like bulbs and the stylish diners all add to this high-end club like feel to the place.

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A special mention for the toilets- most interesting of any London hotel or restaurant I’ve ever been to. You are led to the toilets through a corridor with fluorescent lights projecting artwork onto the walls. Once inside, the cubicles themselves have all shiny, black doors but more importantly, are extremely heavy! I almost got stuck in the cubicle but was able to push after five, painfully long minutes of extremely wrestling with the door knob and panicking.

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The food:

The dishes are all small plates – some primarily Japanese or Peruvian and some combining the two. Since we’d had Japanese as well as Peruvian on their own before, we decided to order the fusion dishes, i.e. those of Nikkei cuisine. We started with the Tostaditas- small tacos but with a confluence of Japanese and Latin American toppings. First up was the Tuna Tostadita- with Tuna sashimi, jalapeno, coriander and wasabi. It was pretty amazing to see how all these different ingredients had been packed on top of one of little taco and also how well the flavours worked together.

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Our second one was the Tomato and Kumquat Tostadita with coriander and chive oil, which was as colorful and as fun a mouthful as the first one.

Our next dishes were from the Nikkei BBQ section- the Pollo den miso and the Maize Huancaina. The Miso chicken came with a yellow chilli salsa and a fine slaw of carrot and daikon, which is a mild sweet-sharp Japanese radish. The Maize was cooked in coriander and garlic butter and served with a yummy cheesy dip.

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Our favourite dish, however, was the Barriguita de chanchito, which consisted of tender pork belly barbecued with Peruvian chilli peppers and garnished with a pear and tomato salsa. The pork was soft and superbly crisp-skinned and the marinade was absolutely gob-smacking.

We also ordered some Yuca Frita, i.e. bowl of Cassava chips served with  a smoked panca (Peruvian pepper) dip. These were some of the chunkiest and largest chips I’d ever had, not to mention very tasty, since Cassava is sweeter and more flavourful than potatoes. This is a good side because the rest of the dishes are pretty small.

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Verdict:

Nikkei cuisine is colorful and fun and very delicious. The extensive menu together with the unique dishes and the snazzy vibes of Chotto Matte, makes eating here a must-have dining experience.

Rum Kitchen

Why go here:

If you feel like eating at a Caribbean beach hut.

What it looks like:

It looks like a wooden shack with colorful lights, cheerful posters and a reggae soundtrack. There’s definitely that vibe that you’re out on a holiday in the Caribbean.

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The food:

You can try all sorts of Caribbean classics and fun all-rum cocktails (hint’s in the name) at this Soho eatery. I went all out and ordered the Double Jerk Chicken Burger which comes partnered with a scotch bonnet-flavoured mayo. The chicken was spicy and juicy and the skin was caramelised to just the right level. The sweet brioche buns and the fresh tomatoes offered a good balance to the heat of the chicken.

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My friend ordered the Jerk and Ting Chicken stack which is a better option for those with a lower tolerance for chillies since the rice, peas and slaw served in the dish help offset the spicy scotch bonnet better.

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The cocktails were nice and refreshing but were pretty generic in my opinion. I would have expected to more Caribbean themed, tropical cocktails on the menu but the found it to be lacking on the adventurous and experimental side of things.

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Verdict:

Go here with friends, order the jerk chicken and tuck in, if needed with your hands. This really is some finger licking good chicken!

Polpo

Why go here:

It is one of its kind in London- a Bacaro, which is supposed to be a ‘humble’ restaurant serving good Italian and Venetian plates and great wines, all for reasonable prices. Simply put, it is a tiny Italian tapas and wine bar that aims to serve affordable, delicious food.

What it looks like:

There are a few different branches of Polpo. The one I visited is situated in the heart of Soho. The restaurant has bare brick walls, minimal lighting and unpolished wooden furniture. There are two bars- one next to the dining room upstairs and a bigger one downstairs with cosy seating, where you’ll find the diners awaiting their tables and sitting, sipping on wines.

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We did find the bars to be understaffed though and the only girl serving the downstairs bar was also getting calling to wait tables, which meant that I had to wait for more than a good half an hour for my drink and when I finally did get to place my order, I found that they had run out of the wine I wanted. The dining experience was thankfully much better.

The food:

For starters, we ordered the Chopped Liver Crostini and the Jerusalem Artichoke, Pecorino and Truffle Oil Bruschetta. The chopped liver was warm and smoky but the bruschetta is what stole my heart. Slabs of pecorino cheese and uniformly sliced artichoke slices with lashings of truffle oil make every mouthful of this dish heavenly.

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For mains, I tried the Cod Cheeks with Lentils and Salsa Verde.The cod cheeks were well cooked yet not tough and the lentils added to the texture but the salsa verde was lacking from the dish. There was too little of the salsa to taste, which was a shame because it was very fragrant and spicy and would have complemented the otherwise, mild and simple lentils and cod dish quite well.

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My friend ordered the pork belly which was crispy skinned and juicy inside and the combination with the hazelnuts really did add to the texture and the taste, although the dish did feel a little dry at times and could have done with some more sauce drizzled on the pork belly.

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Dessert was a flourless chocolate and hazelnut cake. I wish I could find the recipe for it. It was like eating a massive Nutella-flavoured brownie. It was dense and luscious and packed with chopped hazelnuts.

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Verdict:

One of the best valued eateries in Soho and with a regularly changing menu of Venetian dishes. I suggest ordering several dishes and sharing. Remember to order the Jerusalem Artichoke Bruschetta and the Flourless Hazelnut cake- you’re unlikely to find equivalent dishes anywhere else!

City Social

Why go here:

For a sophisticated, luxurious dining experience with stunning views of the City.

What it looks like:

Overlooking the Gherkin and housed high up on the 24th Floor of Tower 42, the old Natwest Tower, the restaurant is an embodiment of sophistication. Leather booths, spotlights being shone on tables and overlooking London’s landmark skyscrapers.

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The bathrooms were particularly cool, with dressing mirrors and comfy stools set right by the all glass wall panels, so that you can enjoy the panoramic views while touching up your makeup!

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The food:

The dishes here are mostly works of art- in terms of ingredients, techniques and presentation. The Chestnut Tagliatelle with smoked chestnuts and butternut squash came with a silky sage-infused with veloute. The tagliatelle was the softest, most flavourful I’d ever had.

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The seafood linguine was dished with an abundance of fresh seafood and their tongue tantalising juices formed a beautifully fragrant sauce.

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The ‘Navnon’ of lamb was a bit surprising since I had expected a big bowl of lamb casserole with seasonal vegetables. Instead, I was served a juicy lamb fillet with a drizzle of mint sauce and caramelised shallots, all topped with a crispy bacon crumb.

You have to get the desserts here. Every single item on the desserts menu looked great but based on recommendations from the waitress, we went for the Peanut , Banana and Chocolate ‘Old-fashioned’ and the Lemon & Vanilla Tart. The Old -fashioned came with an utterly scrumptious peanut butter parfait and a rich dark, chocolate ganache and freshly made banana ice cream.

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The lemon and vanilla tart was sweet and not too tangy and the fennel in the accompanying yoghurt sorbet had an unusual flavour but complemented the lemon tart well.

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Service was also very attentive with our glasses and bread baskets getting topped up seamlessly.

Verdict:

You should go to City Social if you’re looking to try food that looks like masterpieces of art and is of Michelin star quality, while enjoying spectacular views of London in superbly luxurious settings.

Bellaria

Why go here:

Authentic Italian food in a candlelit underground cellar in the centre of London.

What it looks like:

Located in the West-End, the restaurant had two floors- a street level standard cafe-style eatery and the basement level cellar. The latter comprises of stone walls, candles, low ceilings and an extensive wine collection. You can see why it’s popular amongst couples.

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The food:

We started with the crepes filled with ricotta cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and porchini mushrooms served with a red pepper coulis. The crepes were soft and the filling was gooey and delicious.

For mains, I had the tortellini with roast pumpkin, ricotta and nutmeg in a butter and sage sauce, all topped with pomegranate seeds and rocket. The tortellini was freshly made and the combination of pumpkin & sage was warm and earthy.

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The tiramisu we ordered was the only disappointing aspect of the meal. The biscuit base was a bit soggy and the only strawberry used for the presentation was a bit too large and had slipped off the top, causing the tiramisu’s shape to be a bit distorted.

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Verdict:

This place is good if you wish to try fresh, authentic handmade pastas. Worth going to for a date – the dimly-lit cellar is ideal for couples that are into the whole ‘quiet-and-segregated-in-an-underground-tunnel-with-food-n-booze’ kind of thing.

Yauatcha

Why go here:

It’s the only Michelin starred Dimsum restaurant in London and sister restaurant to the sexy, Michelin-starred Chinese, Hakkasan.

What it looks like:

A Taipei tea house that has been styled into a sleek bar and restaurant with deep blue spotlights producing a starry-sky like ceiling, frosted glass walls and a giant fish tank used to separate the dining area from the kitchen.

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The models of sheep, adorning the bar and corners of the dining area, did seem a little random initially but we realised eventually that this was because the restaurant gets styled each year in line with the Chinese calendar and year 2015 happens to be the Year of the Sheep.

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The food:

We started with drinks at the bar. I tried the Lalu which was made with Belvedere Vodka, Oolong Tea, Lychee and Lemongrass. The drink was very refreshing and you could taste every single component.

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Getting onto food, we started with Pork and Prawn Shui Mai and Char Siu Cheung Fun.

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The dishes were both carefully prepared and very delicious but my favourite was the dish I had next – the Pork Wontons.

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These were sweet and spicy and were served in a bowl of tangy garlic and peanut sauce.  The roast Duck and Pumpkin Puffs with Pine nuts, one of Yauatcha’s signature dishes, were also very delish- the pastry was sweet and crispy and the filling of warm, roast duck and crispy pine nuts had great texture and flavour.

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Verdict:

While Hakkasan may remain my favourite of these Michelin-starred sisters due to the more extensive and experimental menu offered, Yauatcha is a must try in every right because the Dimsums here are beautifully crafted and some of the most delectable ones you can find anywhere in the country.