Soho is a microcosm for both the very best and some of the least appealing aspects of London life, with plush media offices, chic boutiques and some of the city’s fanciest restaurants rubbing up against sex shops and scruffy bars. And yet, Soho remains one central area of this expensive city where Cheapos can definitely still be classy, as the area’s bohemian nature seems to have protected a substantial selection of eateries and bars from the onslaught of both time, gentrification and price increases.
Here’s our Cheapo guide to enjoying Soho for less:
Seven Dials Hotel
7 Monmouth Street, WC2H 9DA
Doubles from $159
Found in the more upmarket Covent Garden end of the area, the Seven Dials is a good and basic family-run hotel. In the tradition of Soho’s finest establishments, it’s slightly crammed and dated, but its location – in the midst of London’s theaterland and some of the city’s most vibrant nightlife – is undeniably brilliant.
YHA Oxford Street
14 Noel Street, W1F 8GJ
Doubles from $62
Given its position in the heart of Soho, the YHA could happily sit back and sell itself simply on the strengths of its location. Instead, this hostel’s bright and fresh décor and useful amenities (which include its own café) put some more expensive hotels to shame. Rooms on the higher floors even get a view of the London Eye thrown in for free.
Bi Bim Bap
11 Greek Street, W1D 4DJ
When your arteries are crying out for something other than the traditional English stodge of chips and crisps, aim for a Korean Bibimbap bowl of hearty and healthy fare. With prices starting from £6.95, dishes range from the “nutritious” (a virtuous combination of brown rice, dates, ginkgo, chestnuts and ginseng) to the slightly more indulgent spicy pork. It’s worth paying extra for the deliciousness of adding a fried egg to your bowl, but eschew the expensive bottled beer in favor of the £1 Korean or Green tea.
30 Charing Cross Road, WC2H 0DE
Tottering on the brink of closure due to a hefty rent hike, a well-publicized public campaign backed by several of Britain’s most celebrated actors has given Gaby’s Deli a momentary reprieve and has let lovers of its Middle Eastern fare breathe a temporary sigh of relief. Gaby’s has been a reliable source of cheap and tasty falafel since the 1960s – it’s even been claimed it was the first in London to sell the stuff. Sit in to enjoy a salt beef bagel and show your support, or take out a hefty container filled with a selection from their well-stocked salad bar for only £3.
7 Archer Street, W1D 7AU
The little sister to the pricey but oh-so-tasty Bocca di Lupo across the road, Gelupo’s innovative gelato and granita flavors (try the burnt caramel or ricotta coffee and honey) draw crowds for a £3 double scoop. Lesser known, but more of a bargain, are the sandwiches available for the same price. Made in the kitchens at Bocca di Lupo, they’ve got fillings more unusual than the average lunch offerings (spicy pork paste, anyone?). Grab a coffee, too, and perch at one of their stools to watch the city go by. Their deli section also sells freshly-made pasta sauce for livening up self-catering options.
18 Old Compton Street, W1D 4TN
With a clientele that seems to encompass both Soho’s has-beens and next-big-things, Stockpot’s wooden booths and laminate menus look as though they may not have been altered since the café opened back in the 1950s. Stockpot’s undeniable appeal is the option of a three-course meal in central London for less than £10. Serving classic British “nursery” food – such as breaded chicken, pork chops or spaghetti Bolognese, with crumble or sponge pudding with custard to follow – it’s practically the definition of cheap but cheerful.
Bradley’s Spanish Bar
42–44 Hanway Street, W1T 1UT
It’s definitely the tackier side of Spanish culture celebrated at this scruffy but friendly dive bar – think tequila rather than tapas. Spread over two levels, Bradley’s is rightly proud of its jukebox, with a selection of vinyl dating from the birth of rock ‘n roll through to the present. The bottled beer is on the expensive side, so go “continental” and plump for the wine instead. Or, for brave souls, there’s always the house special of Tequila Sangrita.
55 Brewer Street, W1F 9UJ
For all of its long-standing reputation for debauched drinking, it’s difficult to find a decent and affordable pint in Soho. Glasshouse Stores is a Samuel Smith pub, a Northern brewery whose formula of cheap pints served in traditional surroundings has won them a cult-like following. With its ornate glass fittings and regulars propping up the bar, this pub certainly looks the part. Ask nicely and they might even enlighten you on the obscure rules of their bar billiards table.
New Evaristo Club
57 Greek Street, W1D 3DY
Fortune favors the brave at this drinking den. Once you’ve found your way through its unmarked doorway and downstairs past the bouncers (you may have to ask someone to sign you in), you’re rewarded with nothing grander than a room decorated with a few chairs and tables and some pictures of Italian footballers and boxers. The appeal lies in the club’s convivial spirit, its devoted, long-serving clientele, and its basic and basically-priced booze which makes for the kind of nights that become Soho legend. It’s great fun but not for the faint of heart.
Ray’s Jazz at Foyles
113–119 Charing Cross Road, WC2H 0EB
Bibliophiles will find it hard to escape Foyles – a huge bookstore dating back over 100 years – even before discovering Ray’s Jazz, their café-cum-music venue on the first floor. By day, enjoy great coffees and cakes and free Wi-Fi to the soundtrack of jazz records. In the evenings and on the weekend, you can catch some of the world’s best jazz musicians performing for free. Look at their website to find out who is playing next.