Central London's best spots to eat, drink and explore, picked by the locals
© Steve Stills
Whether you're craving a drink, hungry for somewhere new to eat, or after some retail therapy, there's plenty to explore in the central hub of the capital.
London’s inner centre is a tangled medley of centuries-old heritage and fast-moving modernity, and there’s something new to discover at the turn of every street. To highlight the best places to drink, dine and dance in the area, we’ve asked some of our favourite Londoners to share their local knowledge.
Ranging from relics of '60s Soho sleaze to foodie hotspots and buzzing after-work bars, avoid the tourist traps and let this list guide you through the eating and drinking possibilities of Zone One.
Dutch streetwear in Soho
Amsterdam-based streetwear brand Patta (founded in 2004) opened their London store summer of 2016, and still now remain at the heart of London youth culture. Pass through for high quality streetwear and a chat with their down to earth staff.
Joyce's Jerk Joint
A Caribbean staple in the West End
A big fave for me since the days when it was known as Jerk City, or before that Mr Jerk. Lovely Caribbean food and a venue that’s great to hit up for that lunchtime meeting. Reasonable prices and they do a mutton soup to die for. A lot of heads get down at Jerk City so names shall be protected! I’ve been coming here for quite a while now and in the ever-changing, fast-moving West End it’s a safe haven.
Iconic food and drink market, dating back to the 12th century
In terms of variety and as a massive tourist hotspot, it has to be this, the oldest fruit and veg in London. The sheer range in incredible: poutine at Hawksmoor! Freshly squeezed goodness from Chegworth Valley! The ultimate cheese toasties opposite! The ridiculous queue for Padella! Even incredible gluten free brownies can be found on sale here. Something for everyone, basically, plus every budget.
El Pastor's Tacos at Borough Market - a great place for a pre rave bite to eat and drink. They have delicious, authentic tacos and a mescal selection of dreams which you can order by the glass, bottle or carafe. Guaranteed to get your night off to a good start.
Modern tapas restaurants with open kitchens
Better seafood and tapas than you get in Spain (I know, bold but true). Warning: not the most cost effective on your wallet – go there when you’re a little bit hungry rather than starving!
3 locations across Covent Garden and Soho
Candlelit dining in an 18th century townhouse
An intimate and super cosy restaurant with amazing home-cooked dishes that change regularly. They have really friendly staff that make you feel right at home, but still manage to be attentive. This is the perfect spot for a romantic dinner with a loved one, or if you are trying to woo someone to the point where they become a loved one…
Italian restaurant chain
Now I’m not a big fan of pasta but Vapiano’s just does it different for me, it is one of my favourite restaurants. I tend to go to the one in Oxford Circus with my friends after I’ve finished shopping for things that I do not NEED! It’s a good place for those that enjoy the company of new people as they have shared tables, so you tend to always start having a chat. You can eat and socialise! I always either get the Gamberettie E Spinaci or the Cogac.
Norman's Coach & Horses
Grade II listed traditional London pub
When it comes to people watching, and the spirit of Soho mischief, this pub is hard to best. It’s got the spirit of 60s and 70s Soho sleaze in its bones, and the likes of Richard Harris and the writer Jeffery Bernard use to drink here. But nowadays the reception non Soho old-schoolers get is probably a bit warmer and the pub is now a vegan dining hotspot, which the infamous Norman (landlord in the days when it was a low-rent actor’s pub) might have had a word or two to say about…
Crazy golf in the heart of the city
A great place to hang out and get your crazy golf swerve on while having a nice cocktail is Swingers. Head in there in the daytime if you have the time off. Great bar staff, some lovely street food and you have the option off Crazy Golf with a group of you or on your own. It’s very new but worth the visit. Word!
Little Nan's Bar, Fitzrovia
Kitsch bar and restaurant serving cocktails, afternoon tea and roasts
They’ve got it all going on here: cocktails named after vintage telly characters like Pat Butcher and DCI Burnside cocktails (which are VERY generous), alongside plenty of tropical vibes (Madonna, Billy Ocean and Wham! in your ear 'oles), sombreros and so many photo opportunities for the Gram, especially alongside many a life size cutout. The Lionel Richie one is is obviously a fave. Wonderful staff every time I’ve been too, which can only encourage me to keep going back.
The Vault at Milroy's
Cocktail bar nestled under London's oldest whiskey specialist
It has to be this bar in the basement of Milroy's whiskey shop – you get through it via a secret bookcase and head downstairs where they serve some of the best whiskey-based cocktails, and a few others thrown in for good measure. Just don’t tell anyone else, I don’t want it getting too busy!
Whiskey-fuelled rock and metal bar
The pub with the best jukebox in London as far as I’m concerned. The bar itself is tiny and it’s grimy as hell… but what a jukebox! This is a rock bar and one of the few left in the area – the Intrepid Fox is now a Byron burger joint – and if you’re expecting much more than beer, whisky and heavy rock, you’ll be disappointed. But the day that this place goes, Soho is officially dead.