Some of the best dining and drinking London has to offer is tucked away, out of sight and, unfortunately, out of mind. That changes here, because we’re bringing some of the best underground bars and restaurants to light. Fancy drinking in an old air raid shelter-cum-retro bar, or eating in a former sex shop? Think windows and pleasant views of the outdoors are overrated? Then you’re in the right place.
Like most cities, London has it up to here with vintage-inspired cocktail bars. Cahoots, though, is an exception. In the event as you haven’t had enough of the Tube on your morning commute, Cahoots goes a long way in emulating it, from the hideous (but accurate) patterns on the seats, to the windows looking out to nothing but billboards and brick walls. Couple that with the fact the space used to be an air raid shelter, and it’s fair to say the post-war theme they’re going for is very much on point.
If we told you there’s a good, affordable – yet fairly opulent – restaurant in a basement just off Regent Street, we’d probably get some strange looks. But then, have you been to Brasserie Zedel? The 220-cover restaurant specialises in oh-mon-dieu classic French fare – coq au vin, steak tartare, boeuf bourguignon, and the like – often for under a tenner. C’est incroyable.
Alan Yau’s underground dim sum and tea house is something of an empire in itself now, with eight branches across London, the US, and India. The fact the concept doesn’t seem dated or oversubscribed may come as a surprise – the Soho restaurant is well over 10 years old. Thing is, judging by its unwavering popularity, we wouldn’t bet against it continuing for another 10 – or even 20 – more.
This subterranean cocktail bar is possibly London’s worst-kept secret. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure, simply turn up at the Breakfast Club near Liverpool Street Station, and ask staff if you can see the Mayor. All we’ll say is there’s more than meets the eye with that SMEG fridge lurking at the back of the restaurant…
Being as it is in the heart of Soho, you’d be forgiven for thinking La Bodega Negra is anything other than – how do we put this – an adult boutique? Besides, the large neon sign reading ‘sex shop’ and gimp suit-clad mannequin outside gives a certain first impression. Descend into the club-like restaurant however and you’ll discover an alternate kind of satisfaction – tacos and tequila.
As you probably know by now, not many restaurants can offer anything close to a Hawksmoor steak. Well, the same could go for their cocktails too, and Hawksmoor have been going long enough to invent their own classics, including Shaky Pete’s Ginger Brew – a gin and ginger concoction with the rather curious addition of London Pride. It’s all served up in the Hawksmoor Spitalfields’ basement, alongside a selection of bar snacks that are as good as the food upstairs.
Gordon’s may well be the oldest wine bar in London. It certainly shows – a positively Dickensian ambience purveys its candlelit walls, while one part of the bar suggests you’ve mistakenly descended into a smuggler’s cave. As the name would hint, it’s all wine wine wine here, so beer and spirit drinkers better head off elsewhere.
Blacklock’s original Soho joint is famous for its charcoal grilled chops and epic Sunday roasts. With 55-day dry aged beef roasted over English oak, served with duck fat potatoes and bone marrow gravy as a menu staple, why shouldn’t it be? Its second restaurant, also subterranean (and rather conveniently on the site of a former meat market), will surely follow suit when it opens later this spring.
This is a guest post from freelance food journalist Hugh Thomas. He’s contributed to Foodism, Time Out, Great British Chefs, and is part of British Street Food’s small team of vigilant writers. Find him on twitter @hughwrites.