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Pie’s London: Soho

January 24, 2012

In my previous post on this short series called Pie’s London, inspired by a request from one of my readers, I gave you a little tour of Covent Garden. I’m now going to give you a flavour of Soho.

I’m the Don of cheap eats and in Old Compton Street there are plenty. The one I go to again and again is The Stockpot, a small chain of restaurants covering central London. The food is hearty, with old school treats like bangers and mash, but there are also such delights as roasted pork belly and Pan Fried Trout Provencal. The various flavoured crumbles sitting in a pool of custard are to die for and overall, it’s really good value for money. The wine’s not great, so skip the alcohol and go to a pub or bar instead. It’s a small niggle in an otherwise great little place, and you’ll still have a good time.

The Stockpot restaurant, Soho

I made a detour into Frith Street to look for my other favourite place to eat in this area. It’s a few doors down from Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, on the opposite side of the road. What I found broke my heart. Ladies and gentlemen: please observe a moment’s silence, for Café Emm.

Cafe Emm, Soho, closed

For five years I made my bi-annual visit to this café. I would bring friends along who loved it as much as I did. The food was mainly British, with a few dishes from other nations. The warm welcome and good service made this place special for me. On only my second visit, I was treated like an old friend who’d been going there for years. You could’ve had that experience, dear reader, but it’s not meant to be. A Peruvian restaurant will be taking its place, apparently. R.I.P. Café Emm. I’ll never forget you.

Back in Old Compton Street, you can pop into Patisserie Valerie if you fancy a cake of beauty and quality. There are branches in Piccadilly, Marylebone, Covent Garden and Spitalfields in East London, to name a few, but I think this is the original.

Patisserie Valerie, Soho

I’ve never been to the Admiral Duncan. It’s on Old Compton Street, which has become the centre of the gay community. The pub became infamous in 1999 because it was the target of a Neo-Nazi hate campaign. In previous weeks, a man had set off nail bombs in Brick Lane (because it’s full of Asians, innit) and Brixton (black people? Enriching our country with their culture? How dare they!). There were injuries, but up to that point no deaths – until the pub was bombed. He hit terrorism gold. Well, actually, he didn’t. Because the people he killed, a young mum-to-be and two of her friends, one, the best man at her wedding, were white and heterosexual: not his intended target. Her husband was one of the 70 who were badly injured. The man was caught, tried and sent to jail and the Admiral Duncan became a symbol of defiance for those who were around at the time of this terror campaign, to live freely and safely, regardless of race, religion, or sexual orientation. That’s what London’s about and that’s why it features here.

Admiral Duncan pub, Soho

Give it a go, by all means, but if you find the beer piss poor and the patrons surly, don’t come running to me!

At the end of Old Compton Street is a wine and spirit store called Gerry’s. It sells almost every alcoholic drink known to man, especially spirits, from around the world. If it’s not in the shop, they can get it in for you. You can spend a day just looking at the bottles in the windows, like you would for clothes, gadgets and vinyl records – back in the day.

Exterior of Gerry's wines and spirits, Soho

Gerry's wines and spirits, Soho. Vodka range

Gerry's wines and spirits, Soho. General spirit range

There are lots of streets in Soho that contain many delights. Dean Street has The Soho Theatre, which puts on good and sometimes challenging shows. Brewer Street has shops like The Vintage Mag Store, Soho Vice and Soho Original Books. As well as stocking books in the usual genres, concentrating on the arts, the basement of Soho Original Books, where the sex is, contains such enlightening fare as The Big Book Of Breasts – in 3D!

Vintage Mag Shop, Soho

Vintage Mag Shop

Soho Vice shop, Soho

Soho Vice

Soho Bookshop, Soho

Soho Bookshop

Take a little walk through Walker’s Court with its sex shops and you’ll come out the other side to Berwick Street. There’s an original fruit and veg market most days and individual shops like record stores, fabric shops and dry cleaners. They may look a little shabby in places, but they have the warmth of a community. Enjoy this street before the big boys like Starbucks take over and kill it stone dead.

Berwick Street market, Soho

Music Video Exchange shop, Berwick street, Soho

Dry Cleaners, Berwick street, Soho

Borovick fabric shop, Berwick street, Soho

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my take on a small part of Soho. Final stop coming up: Piccadilly.

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9 comments

  1. I’m on a small screen right now, but it looks like the orange bottle says breakfast vodka. If this is true, may I come for a visit?


    • It’s marmalade breakfast vodka, Oma. Can you believe it? There’s also naked apple vodka from the same company, third bottle to the right of the marmalade one. How wonderfully Soho. As a vodka lover, I’d be gagging to try these out as soon as possible. That’ll be you and me under the table, then!


      • I’ll join you both under the table. A marmalade breakfast vodka! How lovely for dunking your toast.


  2. So many great photos of such a great part of town here Pie! How exciting to see the fabulous Stockpot STILL GOING! One of my favourite places ever. The food was always so good, so basic and so cheap. I love that it never pretended to be anything other than what it was. Sorry to hear about poor Emm’s.

    Still missing the coffee from Pat Val’s . . .


    • You’re so right about Stockpot. It really has no pretence. You get what you see and you see what you get. An amazingly cheap eat for the West End of London. I don’t drink coffee, so I’m unlikely to try it at Patisserie Valerie, but if it really is that good, I’ll take your word for it.


  3. Thanks, Pie, for another great post. I’m getting such an interesting list of places to visit.

    Big Book of Breasts, huh? In 3-D? Now that’s a definite must-visit. I seem to remember a previous post about some special ice cream — could there be a connection?

    I’m disappointed, too, about the demise of Cafe Emm — that’s exactly the kind of place I would have loved. But the Stock Pot sounds wonderful.

    Do you have any pubs to recommend in Soho?


    • You remembered the breast milk ice cream? That’s impressive. But there again, it’s not something you’re likely to forget!

      I’ve tried a couple of pubs around there, but I cannot remember the names of them for the life of me. I may have visited them on nights where we’ve fallen into the pubs and fallen out again without knowing where we’d been!


  4. I used to love Cafe Emm and came across your page while searching to see if it was still there. I suspected it might not be but was still sad to have the fact confirmed. I used to go there at least twice a month every month between 1995 and 2001 when I moved out of London to Hertfordshire, now I’m right out in Northants. I remember the owners had a cottage you could rent down in Dorset or somewhere too. Very friendly family run place and I had many good nights there.

    Only ever went to the Stockpot once and unfortunately I had chicken which gave me such a bad case of food poisoning I was puking my guts up on the actual tube train before it even reached Covent Garden, I still feel so guilty about how awful that must have been for everyone else in the carraige! So now for me even seeing this picture off the place years later makes me feel queasy! I’m sure it’s fine though and I was just unlucky. I’m vegan now so don’t have to worry about these things!


    • Hello Geoff. Thanks for making a comment on my blog. It’s good to know there’s someone else out there who had a good experience at Cafe Emm. As for Stockpot, I’ve only ever had good times there, so I’m sorry to hear you were ill the one time you ate there. It may be worth knowing that the London you know and loved is slowly disappearing, including your beloved Stockpot (although there’s still one on the King’s Road, apparently). Your comment is giving me the impetus to resume my blog and write about these disappearing shops/clubs/restaurants. You’re more than welcome to revisit this blog whenever you’re at a loose end.



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