All-you-can-eat sushi in Soho

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Now that you’ve seen the words “all you can eat”, I bet you’re fired up and ready to go. Before you do, here’s the small print: the bill at Sushi Eatery must be paid in cash, you’ve got an hour and a half to be in and out and drinks are paid on top. Now off you go.

It’s the same premise here that you get with the sushi buffet at Sushimania, where you’re given a small card on which to score a tick beside the dishes you want. You can get up to six rounds of the sushi and sashimi dishes, and only one for the hot dishes (featuring tempura dishes, gyoza, calamari and noodles etc), so make your choices wisely – and fast, the clock is ticking.

When we visit on a Thursday evening the place is packed to full with mostly Asian clientele. The food is decent – perhaps not the freshest or the best you’ll taste – but a good way to sample a lot of different things. I tasted something called Japanese butterfish and enjoyed the tuna sashimi and salmon and avocado sushi, washed down with a cup of Japanese tea.

The portions are generous and we just about make it to the fourth round. I don’t think it’s possible to get through more than four rounds, but if you do, you deserve a pat on the back.

The menu is fairly extensive and obviously fish- and meat-heavy. If, like me, you like raw salmon you’ll be happy.

Service is brisk at this small restaurant, which is set over two floors. The seating downstairs consists of long communal tables sunken into the ground – you almost feel as if you’re sitting on the floor (soft cushions are provided) – and it is difficult to elegantly enter or exit the seats; you have been warned.

Sushi Eatery doesn’t accept reservations and the cover price is approximately £20 per person.

If you can’t quite move at the end, you’ve probably got your money’s worth. Good work.

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A colourful, feel-good vegetarian dinner at Casita Andina

Casita-Andina-soho

Friends and colleagues always swoon at the mention of Peruvian food, so Ceviche and Andina have been knocking around on my restaurant list for a while. I’ve never visited South America and have no knowledge of the cuisine, so I’m not sure what to expect as we arrive at Casita Andina in Soho. It’s a cute and homely little spot, which comes from the makers of both Ceviche and Andina.

We start with a Pisco sour – Peru’s national cocktail – to get us in the mood. Sweet and smooth, it sets us up nicely for what’s next.

To nibble on, we get aubergine fries (good), and avocado fritters dipped in chilli and anchovy salt (outstanding).

The mains are served tapas-style, so we pick a mixture of hot and cold vegetarian dishes. The stand-out is the vegan Puka Picante. It’s a warm beetroot sauce with potato chunks, smoked cheese and herbs. I don’t think the description quite sells it, but it is brilliant and moreish. I also sample the pan-fried hake, which is flaky and light.

Ceviche [raw fish marinated in citrus juices] is perhaps Peru’s most famous dish, and features prominently on the menu, but as my dining companion is vegetarian, we steer clear.

Vegetable-based dishes dressed up in various flavours and marinades soon arrive at our table. All are colourful and have a satisfying mouthfeel. The ceviche de alcachofa, which consists of artichokes, sweet potatoes and black radish in tiger’s milk, has a good kick. But we can’t stomach the gemmas de los Andes, with lettuce and cured radish. It’s an acquired taste.

I feel I may have missed a trick by not trying the real deal ceviche, so I decide I’ll come again.

Our meal comes to £65 for two – in all a nutritious and fresh tasting dinner from which you come away feeling good rather than guilty.

*Swoons*

Cook your own dinner at Hot Pot in Chinatown

Hot Pot

Credit: Rob Grieg

A new restaurant dedicated to the ancient Chinese communal dining activity known as ‘hot pot’ has opened in the heart of Chinatown.

The appropriately named Hot Pot, a Bangkok-based chain, has opened this first London outpost on Wardour Street.

Hot pot is a process of cooking ingredients in a boiling broth, then seasoning them with a dipping sauce – and best of all, you’re in charge of the cooking (see steps below).

Hot pot is thought to have originated in Mongolia 1,000 years ago, and is experienced at a slow pace, allowing groups of friends and family to cook together and socialise. It has gained vast popularity across Asia.

How to eat hot pot

1. Your chosen broth (five varieties available) is brought to your table. You can choose up to two broths per pan, so if you’re vegetarian and your friend isn’t, just ask for the split pan. Wait for the broth to boil on the burner that is on your table and adjust the temperature with the control button as you like. You will be given a paper bib – it’s wise to put it on because sometimes dropping stuff in or taking it out of the broth can create a little splash. A related note: the meal can get a little bit messy, so this probably isn’t the best place to go for a first date.

2. Head to the dipping station to make your own sauce/s to eat with your cooked ingredients. There are herbs, pastes, oils and seasonings, including oyster sauce, white soy and chopped garlic. I chose spring onions, garlic, soy, a chilli paste – and the barbecue sauce is a must.

3. Cook your chosen meat, noodles and vegetables in the broth (choose from 60 ingredients including lobster selected live from tanks, chicken, seabass, king prawns and tofu). The vegetable selection is especially good. Once they’re done, fish them out from the broth with the ladles provided, dip into your sauces then enjoy.

4. Your broth will become flavoured during your meal. When you find the flavour has developed, drink your enriched broth as soup.

Hot Pot

Credit: Rob Grieg

Price Hot Pot is £8 and ingredients range from £5 (Chinese cabbage) to £27.50 (Wagyu beef).

Before you go Ask to be seated upstairs (pictured above) if possible as it feels a little more spacious and fancier. There’s also a private dining room for large groups upstairs that looks directly out on to the Chinatown gate.

Note: If you sit directly in front of the burner on the table, it is likely you’ll have steam in your face for the whole evening so try to distance yourself a little. It can get quite warm beside the burner, too, so choose your outfit wisely.

Take a bunch of friends or family for a fun and leisurely meal – it is especially good as everyone can get involved, and for once, there’s little chance that too many cooks will spoil the broth…

Find Hot Pot at 17 Wardour Street, London, W1D 6PJ

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A chocolate lover’s paradise: Said in Soho

said soho hot chocolate best in london

Word on the street is that Said serves up one of the best hot chocolates in London. It’s true. A cup of heavenly thick, rich molten chocolate, it is best devoured with a spoon. The taste of pure, melted, quality chocolate comes through with every mouthful – and between them it’s so satisfying to dip and swirl a spoon in the gooey liquid before you.

Said Dal 1923, as it’s officially known, is the London branch of a well-established chocolate shop in Rome, so it uses real handmade chocolate in its drinks – there’s not a trace of that powdered or watered down stuff here. And while the hot chocolate deserves to be shouted about, there’s another hidden gem here that shouldn’t be missed.

Chocolate bubbles behind the counter of this cosy little boutique shop-cum-café on Broadwick Street in Soho, and slabs of chocolate line the window and shelves. When we arrive at 8.45pm on a Monday evening, every seat is taken. To reiterate, it’s Monday evening, and it’s a full house.

said soho chocolate london

It’s clear to see that Said’s hot chocolate is popular – looking around at least 60% of customers have an empty cup in front of them, but there are also quite a few people forking cake into their mouths, sipping on coffee and munching on chocolate.

We’re soon seated next to a roaring fire in the centre of the café, it’s the epitome of cosy. Browsing through the four-page menu, it is full of sweet and savoury delights. As well as chocolate-coated strawberries, homemade cakes, profiteroles, tiramisu, ice cream, cheesecake, chocolate pizza (yes, it’s a thing, coated with Said’s own version of the popular Nutella spread, jars of which are available to buy), there are teas, coffees, and savoury items available.

There’s so much to tempt us that we can’t quite make up our minds. I quickly decide that this will become my new dessert spot so I can work my way through the entire menu.

After much umming and ahing, we opt for one milk hot chocolate (£2.50) and one dark hot chocolate (£2.50). It quickly arrives, and as we’re trying to scoop up every last drop, a plate of profiteroles arrives at the table beside us. There are three large profiteroles, each respectively drenched with warm white, milk and dark chocolate. The guy seated opposite me is about to take a bite and sees me eyeing them up. “They’re really good,” he says. I put an order in for them.

said soho chocolate shop

The profiterole-eating man couldn’t have been more right. I’m so deeply grateful for his tip-off. The profiteroles (£8) are a MUST – the best I’ve ever tasted in all my 26 years on this planet. But eat them quick, while the chocolate is still hot. And eat them in this order: the white, the milk and then the dark, so you get the optimum flavour from each. If there are two of you and you only order one plate as we did (it’s plenty!), cut each one in half so you get to sample every chocolate flavour. You can thank me later…

Bar spy: The Blind Pig, Soho

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You might have walked right past The Blind Pig before without batting an eyelid. It’s one of those unmarked speakeasy-style Soho bars hidden behind a secret door. The mystery! Search for an optician’s sign, and below it, a door with a knob resembling a pig’s head. Got it? You’re in, if you’ve made a booking that is…

Head up the stairs, past the entrance to owner Jason Atherton’s Social Eating House restaurant, and a doorway adorned by dark velvet curtains leads to its bar, The Blind Pig.

the-blind-pig-soho-londonCharacterised by dark, woody tones, the bar is dimly lit and charming, with comfy leather booths and smaller tables. Here, cocktails are concocted from the most original ingredients such as jalapeño syrup, pea cordial and smoked salt. And it’s a place that’ll have you drinking cocktails out of a milkshake cup, with customary striped straw. Table service means you don’t have to waste time standing at the bar.

Start with the refreshing Dill or No Dill cocktail, a refreshing mix of gin, cucumber, elderflower. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, go for the the Kindergarden Cup – an exciting mix of Skittles vodka, Aperol, lemon, egg white, “Wham Bar” syrup and vanilla bitters. It’ll have you squealing (sorry).

Peckish? Pig out (sorry, again) on the dishes from the “Bites and Jars” menu, which are made by Atherton’s expert chefs in the restaurant below: the duck fat chips are said to be great.

The Blind Pig is a great place for a date – stylish, intimate and relaxed, and you can hold a conversation without having to scream. Plus any date would be flattered to know you’ve sought out such a hidden gem… Just promise me you won’t make a pig’s ear of yourself! (Apologies, might have overdone it.)

Can you keep a secret? Weekend film club at The Soho Hotel

Soho Hotel film club

There’s nothing better than kicking back for a movie on a Sunday afternoon – except, perhaps, doing it in style.

Think comfy leather seats, free popcorn, and drinks delivered directly to your seat…

Intrigued? A well-kept secret is that The Soho Hotel runs a fantastic ‘Weekend Film Club’ where you can watch the latest releases in the luxury surroundings of its state-of-the-art screening rooms.

With twinkling ceiling lights, and chunky smooth leather seats, the intimate screening rooms do not attract the likes of youth who spend the entire length of the movie on their iPhones, but a well-heeled audience, many of whom are carting around their shopping bags from Oxford Street – and you don’t have to be a guest at the hotel to take advantage.

Tickets for the film screening alone are £15, but most people make an evening or afternoon of it (as we did) – for £35 you can enjoy afternoon tea, lunch or dinner in the hotel’s Refuel Restaurant before making your way down to the screening room for the movie of the week.

What’s great is that as you enter the screening an air of calm descends, and you’re invited to pick up a free box of popcorn and take it to your seat. Seats are not pre-allocated – it’s a choose-as-you-arrive situation.

The screen is large, sound quality is as good as you’d expect, and there’s a generous amount of leg room. The cherry on top is that you don’t have to sit through a row of adverts before the film begins – and it starts bang on time.

Also, note that if you want a specific drink and you place your order before you enter the room, a waiter will bring your beverage to your seat.

Film screenings take place on both Saturdays and Sundays – see the line up for The Soho Hotel and the Charlotte Street Hotel, which runs the same thing.

So if you’re looking for something a little different – but relaxing – for next weekend, this might just be it.

Shoryu: Japanese dining in Soho

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The vibe: a loud sit-down Japanese restaurant famous for its generously portioned ramen dishes, located behind Piccadilly Circus.

What’s cool: Shoryu’s menu includes a glossary on the last page, which helpfully simplifies the Japanese terms you find dotted through the descriptions. Plus, this particular branch has the largest selection of sake, shochu and umeshu, with over 130 to choose from.

What’s not cool: you might have to wait for a table, they don’t take reservations. At 7pm on a Thursday evening when we visited, there was a queue of about 12 people waiting [outside, in the rain] for a table.

Don’t be alarmed by: the bang of a loud drum when you enter the restaurant. It’s the staff welcoming you in. For the first fifteen minutes or so, you’ll be startled by it every time someone new comes in, before slowly becoming accustomed to it.

We drunk: Kirei Momoshu plum wine – peachy and fruity liqueur with “added youthful hyaluronic acid” according to the menu, ooooh! It was sweet and refreshing and didn’t taste alcoholic, although it was.

We ate: Shoryu Buns (£4.50 per piece) – nice, but Ippudo and Bao’s hirata buns are way better.

Shichimi Mushrooms (£5.50) – avoid.

Chicken Karaage (£6) – chunks of tender chicken with a tasty dip. Get this dish.

Salmon sashimi (£9.90) – yum.

Miso Wafu Chicken (£11.50) – the ramen dish was good, and huge, enough for two people!

Final thoughts: the portions at Shoryu are generous, and provide good value for money. The food is good too, I’d give it a 6.5/10.

A sweet addition to Soho: The Pudding Bar pop-up

It’s cool how even if you’re full to the brim, you can always manage to find room for dessert, right?

Dessert is my ultimate guilty pleasure, so it was with great excitement that I headed over to sample the sweet treats on offer at The Pudding Bar, a new pop-up on Greek Street that’s all about afters.

It officially opens its doors tomorrow (Saturday 19th July) for three months, and on the menu are a selection of lovely cakes, puddings and dessert wines.

The Pudding Bar London Soho pop up

From top left: Earl Grey Panna Cotta; S’more Cheesecake; Strawberry Eton Mess and Choux Buns

Before I say anything else, I’ve got to SHOUT about the luscious S’more Cheesecake (£7): a spoonful of it takes you straight to cloud nine. It’s so comforting and moreish, plus you get a scoop of nutty peanut butter ice cream on the side. It’s so good that I will be taking my dessert-obsessed friends back just for this.

The Strawberry Eton Mess (£8) is another standout dessert. The meringue is light and crunchy, and paired with indulgent clotted cream, strawberry mousse and zingy black pepper shards, it’s distinctively delicious.

Also on the menu is Earl Grey Panna Cotta (£6) – for anyone who enjoys Earl Grey tea, it’s sure to be a hit. The vanilla-soaked blackberries that accompany it just burst with joy in your mouth.

There’s also Lemon Parfait, with meringue, candied lemons and honey ice cream, and Choux Buns with chocolate cream, caramel sauce and pistachios.

All of the baking at The Pudding Bar is being handled by ex-Gordon Ramsay chef Laura Hallwood, so we’re in good hands.

Café style cakes and coffee and tea will be served at The Pudding Bar throughout the day, but come 6pm, the wine will be corked open and plated desserts, like those above, will be served (and there is an English Cheese Board for those with less of an appetite for sweet stuff).

The brainchild of friends Emily Dickinson and Pete Cawston, and Oliver Whitford-Knight (who used to work with Emily), the idea of a pudding bar was hatched 18 months ago, but only last week did the trio get the keys to the new place. It’s been a stressful few days for the down-to-earth bunch, as the place “really needed some love”, says Laura. It needed to be painted, the kitchen space fixed up and all interior details sorted within 7 days for the opening tomorrow.

It hasn’t been an easy task, as Pete says: “We’ve had some teething issues so far, with the electricians accidentally sawing through the power cable, for example. Touch wood everything now goes to plan. We hope to change up the pudding every few weeks, too.

“We chose a pop-up because looking at the costs of opening a new place, and getting a lease was working out very expensive. This way, we can trial it and see how well it does. If it does go well, it might become a permanent fixture in London.”

pudding bar soho london pop up

The Pudding Bar has a laid-back charm, with mini staircases connecting three small floors (one of which is the kitchen), with wooden tables and benches, and mismatched chairs and crockery giving the eatery a lived-in feel.

It’s the perfect place to catch up with friends over a few glasses of wine or to visit after dinner (it’s open till midnight most days), and its location is really central. There’s always an excuse for pudding…

Find The Pudding Bar at 26 Greek Street, W1D 5DE. Monday-Saturday 7am-midnight; Sunday 7am-11pm. Bookings: 020 3620 4747