Depending on the Londoner you ask, Soho’s “renaissance” has been simmering for anywhere from 20 years (so say the thirtysomething media professionals who frequent it now) to 60 years (so say the jazz artists, writers, and others who pulled it up from the triple-X iniquity in which it spent the first half of the 20th century). But in the past couple of years, the simmer has reached a rolling boil, as some of Britain’s most venerated chefs and savviest restaurateurs have set up shop in a few square blocks of W1. Read on for the cream of the crop.
Wright Brothers Soho Oyster House
The sister establishment to Borough Market’s favored oyster bar opened in November and is a bigger, sleeker, and cannier affair than its sawdusty sibling. It’s spread across multiple levels, with several bars and extensive table seating; subway tiles and brass candlesticks gleam with the patina of expensive design. The menu focuses on fruits de mer and English staples (smoked mackerel; Cornish crab with brown bread; fish pie), which are executed nearly flawlessly. In few places does breaded fried calamari achieve such subtle flavor. Some 30 very affordable wines and a formidable gin selection round out the picture. 13 Kingly St.; 44-20/7434-3611; dinner for two $95.
Chef Alexis Gauthier commandeered this Georgian town-house site (formerly Richard Corrigan’s Lindsay House), laid on the heavy linen and ornate silver in its white, light dining rooms, and opened last spring as a proper, starchy French restaurant, with a Michelin star and a minimum three courses, served in one sitting nightly. But his sublimely fresh meat and produce combine thrillingly, with an emphasis on delightful surf-and-turf pairings: quail is married to smoked eel under a light cèpe sauce, while pearly Dover sole finds depth in a meat-and-citrus jus. 21 Romilly St.; 44-20/7494-3111; dinner for two $112.
Bocca di Lupo
With an open, brightly lit industrial kitchen ringed by a generous bar lined with tall leather stools (still the hottest seats), Bocca di Lupo has drawn dense, boisterous crowds since it opened more than two years ago. Chef Jacob Kenedy turns out stridently flavorful twists on Italian classics. Musts include the shaved-radish and celeriac salad tossed with pomegranate, pecorino flakes, and truffle oil; and the crunchy-crisp, outrageously fatty suckling pig on a bed of bitter-salty-perfect sautéed cime di rapa. (Gelupo, right across the road, is Kenedy’s new gelateria; its offerings are similarly delicious, with flavors that change daily.) 12 Archer St.; 44-20/7734-2223; dinner for two $110.
Chef Mark Hix’s cachet transcends location—he could open a snow-cone stand in Basingstoke and the masses would come—but his Brewer Street boîte is at the nexus of the Soho action. In a former sushi bar (out with the lacquered screens, in with the Home Counties whitewash), an amiable staff that’s erudite in all things locavore brandishes trays of Whitstable Native oysters and cuts of Langley Chase organic lamb for your approval. Even the fish fingers have a provenance worth extolling. Dishes read a bit precious on the menu, but arrive as simply prepared perfection. And yes, that’s Tracy Emin in the corner. 66-70 Brewer St.; 44-20/7292-3518; dinner for two $110.
Polpo and Polpetto
“Soho is a real neighborhood,” Russell Norman says, “and I’m in the business of neighborhood restaurants.” He is now, anyway; the ex–operations director of Caprice Holdings restaurant group (the Ivy; J Sheekey; Le Caprice) opened Polpo in 2009—a paean to tin-ceilinged, filament-bulb-lit Lower East Side hipsterdom that is never less than wall-to-wall with fans. The menu is succinct and printed on your paper place mat; the cicchetti—crostini of asparagus-Taleggio-prosciutto; apricot-studded rabbit terrine—come cheap and delicious, courtesy of an alarmingly cool waitstaff (you’re not actually on the Lower East Side, mates, so give us a smile). Polpetto is Polpo in miniature: 12 tables housed above the storied French House pub, on Dean Street. Whichever you choose, order yourself a quartino of Barbera d’Alba and settle in for the inevitable, but utterly worthwhile, wait. Polpo: 41 Beak St.; 44-20/7734-4479; dinner for two $45. Polpetto: 49 Dean St.; 44-20/7734-1969; dinner for two $45.
Maria Shollenbarger is the deputy editor of the Financial Times’ How To Spend It.