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.

On the other side of Soho, a different type of restaurant altogether has been one of the trendiest since opening in 2009. Hix Soho by famous restaurateur Mark Hix is within an architecturaly sophisticated l dining room on well-known Brewer Street. At its door stands a dapper man -- who could just as easily be in a West End musical -- to inquire after your reservation, and past the hostess is a glimpse of the glass-wrapped dining room. One side is flanked by a long counter-style bar, while the center is filled with shiny wood tables and floating banquettes. Walls and ceiling are strewn with pedigree British modern art; Damian Hirst is a friend of Hix, and there are works by Sue Webster and Sarah Lucas as well.

Downstairs is perhaps the best part of Hix: the basement-level Mark's Bar, arranged in cozy seating arrangements abuzz with a dressier collection of pub revelers. Signature cocktails such as Guy's Punch (and a great Tom Collins) are served in original bar wares with a Bar Snax menu of smoked salmon croquettes, fish fingers with mushy peas and baked bone marrow that allude to the British-minded delicacies in store for the evening. Back upstairs, standout dishes include asparagus with duck's egg, cuttlefish with peas and broad beans or Isle of Wight asparagus tart, one of three nightly vegetarian options.

While technically not new, Dean Street Townhouse is new in London terms, having been opened early last year by the owners of Soho House. It's not a members club -- it's thoroughly open to the public as long as you can secure a tough-to-come-by reservation -- but its dark atrium and elegant dining room embraces the feel of an age-old clubhouse along a first-floor space on Dean Street in prime Soho.

During warm summer days, a front terrace wedged in the front yard offers outdoor dining among the buzzing pedestrian action of Soho. At times, especially on weekends, it is far too crowded to be enjoyable, but inside is a more sedate, aristocratic scene with rustic hardwood floors and walls with white wainscoting and proper red leather booths and banquettes. There's a beautiful mahogany bar where drink orders are filled with the proper ice cubes -- shaved or hand cut -- in a scene of celebrities and showy businessmen that consider it cooler than Soho House.

Dining at Dean Street Townhouse is a quick lesson in classic British cuisine, from the morning eggs and buttered soldiers to the evening pork tenderloin with Bramley apple or quintessential fish and chips with mushy peas. Unique to Dean Street Townhouse is its attached 39-room inn offering a mix of small and large rooms with such classic details as clawfoot tubs and amenities by Cowshed Spa. It can make a foodie weekend out of a single night in Soho.

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Michael Martin is the managing editor of JetSetReport.com, a luxury travel and lifestyle guide based in Los Angeles and London. His work has appeared in InStyle, Blackbook, Elle, U.K.'s Red magazine and on ITV and the BBC.

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