Pie’s London: SohoJanuary 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my take on a small part of Soho. Final stop coming up: Piccadilly.