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Summer Dining Is Hottest in London's Soho

LONDON ( TheStreet) -- Locals love to complain about the unpredictable weather and unforgiving rain, but usually it's done in one of those charming 4 p.m. pub scenes overflowing into the streets of Soho. There's something uniquely magical about summer in London, especially at the utterly hip eateries that now define the once gritty area.

Some of Soho's best eateries are a more casual sort, including the new Principi, a counter-style bakery and open kitchen with a wood-fired oven and all-day menu of Italian baked goods, cheesy entrees and Tuscan specialties. Busy from morning to night, Principi draws a mix of locals and office workers tucking into leisurely breakfasts and quick lunches inside the communal-style eatery, which oozes farmhouse style and comes with a price tag that's little more than chains such as EAT or Pret A Manger.

Dean Street Townhouse opened early in London's Soho with a dark atrium and elegant dining room that embraces the feel of an age-old clubhouse.

Further down Wardour street is the original location of well-known Thai restaurant Busaba Eathai, which has expanded across London in recent years to three locations. Soho's has a communal dining room with bench-style seats behind an iconic facade of retractable windows. The restaurant doesn't take reservations, but the seafood dishes, including calamari and whole baked fish or soups and curries, is well worth the hour-plus wait you'll face on busier weekends.

Perhaps the toughest Soho restaurant to get into at the moment is Polpetto, on the upper level of the French House, an acclaimed haunt dismissive of anything smacking of TV, film or celebrity culture. Don't try getting a reservation; they're not accepted. Lunch and dinner are on a first-come, first-served basis where you likely won't be the first one on the list regardless of how early you show up.

Past a main floor terrace with bearded Guinness drinkers and women in scarves and sunglasses despite evening darkness, a narrow stairway leads to a small landing where a Swedish host surveys your approach, clipboard in hand. "We are totally full for the whole night," is his common response before taking cell numbers to which he can text last-minute openings later in the evening.

The lucky few that get in are ushered into a single-room dining room of well-worn tabletops, mismatched chairs and coveted banquettes facing a second-floor Soho street scene. Since there is no air conditioning, windows let in a breeze that sends the row of simple, flickering light bulbs swaying. There is no shortage of charm at Polpetto, even before the first bite. A choice of 30 wines by the glass fulfills its proletariat promise, followed by a daily menu of small-plate Venetian osteria dishes such as grilled octopus, caramelized onion flatbread and delicate monkfish sourced from small farms and producers in northern Italy.
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