Like every office in the capital, "where are you going for lunch?" echoes through Esquire HQ around 1:00pm everyday.
In Soho, with Wardour Street and Berwick Street on our doorstep, we have some of the best lunch restaurants in London – yet we often find ourselves sleep-walking in the same generic sandwich shops day in and day out.
To address this problem, we took on the daunting task of investigating the best independent or lesser known lunch spots in London's most vibrant area – the fruits of which you can (literally) sample by trying out the places below. Thank us when you're full.
1 | Hoppers (pictured)
The here menu is based around hoppers - a pancake made from rice batter and coconut milk found in roadside boutiques in Sri Lanka - which owner Karam Sethi, the man behind London's legendary Gymkhana, describes as 'the Indian hamburger'. Served with or without egg and alongside a stunning selection of curried meats, it is snack food at its most moreish and - for now at least - something utterly unique on these shores.
Recommendation: Go with the namesake with a lamb and fish kari - but not before you've treat yourself to a bonemarrow varuval and roti to start.
49 Frith St, London W1D 4SG, hopperslondon.com
2 | Papaya
A tuna sandwich or pasta salad is always a safe option. But who wants safe. Tucked away just off Wardour Street on St. Anne's Court is Thai takeaway Papaya. At £5 a dish, you'll even come out with some change. The queue is long, but it moves fast, so make sure you have your chopsticks at the ready.
Recommendation: Chicken pad thai or green curry with chicken and vegetables on a bed of sticky rice – simple and perfect.
14 St Anne's Court, London W1F 0BD
3 | Pitstop Cafe
Proving you should never judge a book by its cover, this tiny white van at the top of Berwick Street looks like it might sell dodgy burgers, but in fact serves some of the finest Asian food we've found in Soho (from a street vendor: the finest full stop). It's an Esquire office staple – full of flavour, generously portioned and with a menu so varied, you wonder how on earth they manage it in less than a square foot of space.
Recommendation: Most of the people in the long queue will be asking for the Singapore Noodles – oh, and the dumpling are fantastic too.
4 | Lina Stores
This place has been a mecca for Soho residents in search of top quality cured meats, cheese and fresh pasta since 1944 - in fact, Lina Stores is the oldest Italian deli in Soho. Now, they've expanded their offering to include an outdoor dining space and (hurrah!) a booze license to go with a brilliantly simple and delicious lunch menu. Generous sharing platters, fresh salads and - best of all - homemade ravioli you'll be raving about for weeks are the order of the day, all served on one of cosiest people-watching corners in the area.
Recommendation: the 'Nduja Calabrese' is a brilliantly spicy spreadable Calabrian sausage served on fresh bread with rocket and, like everything else on the menu, is very fairly priced
18 Brewer Street
5 | Pizza Pilgrims
Once just a modest three-wheeler food van on Berwick Street Market, Pizza Pilgrims set up a permanent home on the corner of Dean Street back in the summer of 2013, with a second location setting up shop in Kingly Court in July this year. Having travelled the length of Italy – eating and learning how to cook authentic pizza on the way – the Elliot Brothers have perfected the art of crafting chewy, thick-based Napoli-style pizzas.
Recommendation: The 'Nduja' – a Margherita with a spicy, Calabrian pork sausage. Available to eat in or takeaway.
11 Dean Street, London W1D 3RP, pizzapilgrims.co.uk
6 | Savage Salads
Judging by the ever-lengthening queues, it's getting harder to call Savage Salads a secret (make sure you go before 12.15pm before it gets too crazy) but it's worth the effort. The brainchild of an Italian Chef and a Swedish food enthusiast, what Savage have hit on is that seemingly rare combination of a warm, healthy and genuinely filling salad without a limp leaf in sight. It tastes pretty good too.
Recommendation: The chicken and halloumi salad with red cabbage, couscous and quinoa. Make it a large one – you won't regret it.
Berwick Street Market
7 | Arigato
Surrounded by delis and chains, you can easily overlook this Japanese supermarket, which has a surprisingly impressive selection of authentic bento boxes and sushi to takeaway. From deep fried treats such as tonkatsu (breaded, deep-fried pork cutlets) to a healthier option of salmon teriyaki, each bento box comes with a generous portion of steamed rice as well as pickles and a potato salad.
Recommendation: The sushi is fantastic – if you know what you want, order directly from a menu instead.
48-50 Brewer St, London W1F 9TG
8 | Bibimbap
Named after the signature Korean dish, Bibimbap (it literally means 'mixed rice'), dishes up the ultimate comfort food – stone-bowl rice dish served with meat or seafood (tofu is available for veggies), sautéed vegetables and a fried egg. Other dishes include fried noodles, salads and Korean pancakes, making this one of the best lunch restaurants in London.
Recommendation: Feeling brave? Add a few dollops of the excellently spicy koch'ujang (red pepper paste).
11 Greek St, London W1D 4DJ, bibimbapsoho.co.uk
9 | Kua 'Aina
Pronounced 'koo-a eye-na', this is a real Hawaiian restaurant in the heart of the Soho. Their flagship Hawaii establishment also happens to be one of Barack Obama's favourite hangouts when he's back in his home state. Devour the 1/2lb burger with pineapple, teriyaki marinated chicken sandwich or grilled mahi-mahi fillet surrounded by Dick Brewer shaped surfboards and tropical ceiling fans. Alternatively you can take it back to your desk and demolish it there.
Recommendation: Our go-to is the burger with avocado and bacon. For obvious reasons.
26 Foubert's Pl, London, UK W1F 7PP, kua-aina.co.uk
10 | Yoobi
A play on the traditional temaki (a large cone shaped sushi roll) hailing from East Asia, Yoobi's signature dish infuses ingredients and flavours from Brazil, differentiating itself from the standard handheld fare. Priding itself as London's first "temakeria", the Japanese/Brazilian hybrid offers its signature dish in three different sizes, as well as sashimi boxes and maki rolls. Tucked off the main drag, it's also a good spot for a quick sit-down in laid-back surroundings.
Recommendation: The spicy tuna temaki is the pick, which comes with romaine lettuce, croutons, rice, and Yoobi's own spicy sauce.
38 Lexington St, London W1F 0LL, loveyoobi.com
11 | I Camisa & Son
For a genuine taste of Italy, head over to I Camisa & Son, a family-run rustic Italian deli and grocers on Old Compton Street. The walls are lined with cakes, biscuits, coffee and sauces as well as a huge collection of Italian meats and Parma ham hanging from the low ceiling. The sandwiches here are well worth the spiraling queue. Load up the freshly baked bread with a filling of your choice and enjoy.
Recommendation: Bresaola (air-dried, salted beef), parmigiano, rocket and olive oil.
61 Old Compton St, London W1D 6HS, icamisa.co.uk
12 | Carom
Offering a menu of simple, delicious pan Indian cuisine, Carom is ideal for a take away (try the £7.50 lunch box) or a longer lunch in its spacious, understated dining area (ask for a seat in the front window if you can). It also doubles as a great launch pad for a evening Soho adventure, with a long bar doing a solid line in cocktails.
Recommendation: keep it simple with 'Aloo bonda' – friend potato dumplings with a chili coriander dip – and a round of the excellent chili squid.
100 Wardour Street, London W1F 0TN, caromsoho.com