Formally THE gritty sex pit of London, famed for its backdoor parties and sideshow debauchery, this city enclave may have swallowed a little too much mouthwash in recent years, but it's still a murky mecca for the masses! Soho covers an area no more than one square mile in the heart of the West End, south of Oxford Street mayhem, east of Mayfair sensibility, west of Covent Garden theatrics and north of Leicester Square insanity - there is debate as to whether Chinatown falls within the Soho borders of curiosity, but with such a similar tapestry of colourful soul and hardened charm, who am I deny its automatic in with the cool kids?!
Hot totty, tourists, tramps and trendy tribes all flock to the streets of Soho in search of their own personal brand of hedonism. Artisan chocolate shops, elite private members clubs and Michelin starred restaurants all co-exist in complete harmony with the sex shops, fag stained historic boozers and pokey street cafes; similarly, vintage vinyl outlets, bespoke milliners and vibrant fabric emporiums clutter the same postcode with pumping gay clubs, pop up dive bars and ever popular no-bookings eateries. Roads close to pedestrians on occasional weekends, bijou festivals attract a specific kind of hipster (not to be confused with the Shoreditch toff, you understand!), and every night positively buzzes in a haze of cigarette smoke, noisy revellers, disorientated theatregoers and experimental diners. For the gin guzzling gluttonous foodie such as myself, Soho offers the perfect balance between salubrious quaffing, boisterous jubilation and insatiable scoffing (it's also close enough to my office to also be a shining beacon of après work frolicking).
Try as I might, not even I can keep up with the flood of new openings in this, the other square mile, especially while also trying to conquer Greater London; infact, one could spend a lifetime gallivanting and gorging around this metropolis without ever fully keeping up with the ever changing social scene. As I wade through my carefully considered hit list, ruthlessly avoiding all chain restaurants and homogenous conglomerates as I go, I arrive for the third time at Jackson & Rye on Wardour Street.
Opened way back now in December 2013, I have eased into this American inspired brasserie by way of a pitstop snack, breakfast grits and a proper dinner (not all on the same day or in that particular order, I hasten to add!). I fear it's about time then, that I weighed in with my thoughts, starting very sensibly, with breakfast.
GRITS! Need I say any more, except that they're sweet and only £4.50?!
OK, I guess I should also say that the Buttermilk Pancakes (£5.95) are suitably decadent while the range of eggs is enviable, paying perfect homage to the New York roots that inspired this particular brand of Manhattan speakeasy (incidentally, it's not just the menu that tells you a story, but also the interior that has been carefully executed by Martin Brudnizki, with a minimalist and masculine art deco vibe). Designed perfectly, with a huge glass window pane at street level allowing passers by to have a nosey, this brasserie is as equally inviting for breakfast as it is for light bites and bar snacks, but also dinner. Up front is a café style dining room, with a variety of twosome tables and comfy leather bar stools that really encourage people to sit. Out back and downstairs, you will find the larger more intimate brasserie dining rooms.
In my humble opinion, snacks and dinner cannot really be written about as one here because the appetizers, sides and extras here are far superior to the mains. Now, the grill is good, but when standing next to the likes of Pan Fried Scallops (£8.95), Truffled Mac & Cheese (£6.95), Ham Hock & Pea Terrine (£5.95) and Crunchy Chorizo Prawns (£7.50), nothing else can quite compete. I want to stop there, but I just can't! The Grilled Shrimp & Grits (£7.25) are outstanding enough to warrant subtle dribbling, the Cajun Spiced Sweet Potato Fries (£3.95) are sublime simplicity in a bowl, and the Truffle Arancini (£3.95) sits on the most superb parmesan cream cheese.
It really doesn't help me that I'm starving as I write this...
Love Soho! Eat Soho!
PS. Jackson & Rye opened in Richmond in October 2014, so if the West End is not west enough for you, why not head to TW9.