Exploring Soho’s newcomers and old favourites

Soho is always changing, always interesting and always somewhere I enjoy spending time wandering around.  Constantly changing and yet keeping a great deal of its character is what makes it so worth a visit. You’ll still find some sleazy sex shops but the vibrant restaurant and bar scene, top entertainment and long standing favourite make it an exciting part of London .

Ronnie Scott’s has been hosting top jazz names on Frith Street since 1965 and although I’ve not been going quite that long (!), I’ve seen a good few shows in this iconic jazz haunt. Sitting at a table virtually on the stage when Georgie Fame was headlining and needed to use our table to rest while Guy Barker riffed through his trumpet solos is one of my top memories. Ronnie’s probably the first place I think of when Soho is mentioned and I’ve seen it change over the years but somehow keep the faith. My top tip is to grab a ticket during the week when you can stay all evening and see two sets if you wish to whereas at weekends there are two sets and you can only stay for one as they clear the room in between shows. On my most recent visit w were lucky enough to see the French star trumpeter and flugel horn player Stephane Belmondo making his Ronnie’s debut as a band leader – very smooth and dreamy….. 

Ronnie’s classic sign

Slightly fuzzy shot of inside Ronnie’s before the band arrived

If you are aiming for a late set at Ronnie’s, you’d be well advised to pop in across the road get a shot of strong espresso at Bar Italia. They’ve been keeping London awake since 1945 and it’s a great place to watch Italian football matches, but only if you support Italy or you will think you are in the wrong country!  

Any time is coffee time here

Alongside old favourites there are always new places to try out and I was lucky enough to be invited to Bar Termini and Piada Bar recently to see what they have got to offer.  Bar Termini has been on my must see list for a while and the chance to attend a coffee masterclass there was not to be turned down. 

Arriving at Bar Termini

Classy retro interior

When Marco Arrigo, of Illy’s coffee university, and Tony Coniglario, of the hip cocktail bar 69 Colebrooke Row, teamed up the resulting bar was definitely going to be one worth looking in on.  Marco gave us a coffee masterclass, running through their short and original coffee menu.  He is very clear about what he believes makes good coffee and he is definitely of the school that life is too short to drink bad coffee!  We checked out their smooth espresso, bianco, latte, cioccolate and affogato – just sipping each so as not to be bouncing off the walls full of the great caffeine!  He has very strong views about ‘latte art’ and how it spoils a good coffee, we learned about good and bad beans, how long it takes to make their top espresso and the importance for him to be able to serve a £1 coffee option in the Italian tradition of accessible coffee. There is no doubting his passion and expertise and this comes across in the coffee, the snacks and the drinks. 

The we moved onto their drinks and I was completely taken by the bespoke bottles and matching styish glasses as much as the unexpectedly great taste of their Terroirs vodka which has flint, clay and lichen distillates – yes it was a complete surprise!   Everything about this little bar is stylish, simple and classy and has a retro feel and a welcoming vibe that will see my back for an evening very soon!

Enjoy this gallery of coffee, cioccolate and cocktails:

Led astray by the Terroirs vodka, we stayed on for a full glass of this tasty sophisticated drink, but just the one as it packs a mighty punch! 

My second invite was to the new Piada Bar – what is a piada you may ask, I did! It’s a flat bread from Romagna, Italy and so devoted are they to authenticity in this bar that they import every single piece they use directly from Italy!  They have an extensive menu of different fillings from the traditional hams and cheeses to a salmon one to appeal to more English tastes and even a fruity one for a more healthy feel. They are a great snack and this bar is open all day and well into the night.  We were given a wonderfully warm welcome and some really tasty snacks along with some good wine – what’s not to like!!

Classic ham piada
Irresistible cheesy piadas
Pork belly piadas

Piadas even come with fruit!

There is so much more to Soho than just these four picks, so head in and explore the area. But if you want to find these here are the addresses:

Ronnie Scott’s  47 Frith Street, London W1D 4HT
Bar Italia  22 Frith Street, London W1D 4RF
Bar Termini 7 Old Compton Street, London W1D 5JE
Piada Bar 3-5 Batemen Street, London W1D 4AG

Bye for now,

Exhibitions and exhibitionists

Last week was full of exhibitions. It was the World Travel Market in London’s massive ExCel exhibition centre out east in the Docklands. It was sadly only for travel trade people, sadly because there must have been a stand from every country in the world and for a lover of travelling it was heaven. However, I was a there a couple of days for work and restrained myself from spending too much time looking at the wonders of South America and Africa.

It was a misty couple of days and the photo from the terrace captures that feel in contrast to the mad, busy, bright interior of the event.

I’ve been to a couple of great public exhibitions this week. One was a photographic delight – Beatles to Bowie: The 60s Exposed. This traces the course of the 60s and its pop stars through brilliant photography and magazine and album covers. It’s great fun to see all these icons in their earlier seemingly innocent times when we know what is in store for them. Each caption mentioned a key song from that artist at that time so there was shameless singing along from many visitors, including us at one point I must admit!
The second was at the wonderful Victoria and Albert Museum who are hosting the Maharja: Splendour of India’s Royal Courts. It’s a tour through their world over a couple of centuries of colour and excess. We saw fabulous jewels and paintings and even their 20th century luxuries when their commissions kept Rolls Royce and Van Cleef & Arpels extremely busy. There’s a lot of information and it look nearly 2 hours to get around and a coffee afterwards in the extravagantly decorated V&A cafe was essential.
From a lost worlds of Indian princes and the 60s to a film about lost millions and the internet but all about living lives on the public stage. ‘We Live in Public’ won the documentary prize at the Sundance Film Festival and traces the life of Josh Harries, a pioneer in the cyber world through his rise and crash including a section where he lives with his partner on camera 24/7 in a fore runner of films and TV to come. Josh himself was at the cinema for Q&A afterwards which was strange as the film portrays him as an interesting but very unsympathetic character, both of which were borne out in person. We squeezed in cocktails at the Criterion bar and a wonderful lunch in one of Soho’s authentic Italian restaurants – Il Porchetta – huge bowls of lovely pasta and very reasonably priced.
It feels like winter is nigh and the Christmas lights are coming on all over London – more on that next week and perhaps some photos.
Bye for now.
Sue Hillman