... When things take you by surprise they always seem so much better don't they? I have no idea how many times I actually walked passed this place before I finally decided to go in, but if I ever end up running my own restaurant and see a guy like me doing nothing more than window-shopping for 2 years, then I'll start to wonder whether I'm doing something wrong: Is it me? Is it the branding? Is it the smell? Does this guy even exist? For the welfare of the inn-keepers sanity, and after 2 years of observing from a distance, I finally made the big step into the Soho snack bar. Only to be told that they were full. Bugger.
But here's reason no. 1 why this is heaven: The staff are actually humane about the concept of the no-booking system. Rather than asking you to line the streets as if you're about to sign-on, they take your number and suggest that you go for a drink across the road until they are ready for you. How easy is that?
This is in stark contrast to the current trend, where restaurateurs churn out customers like a farmer would when sheering his sheep. This is executed rather aggressively - by ramming the food down your throat before you even have time to take a breath. Once they have decided that you have had enough they then take your plate, frisk you for all your worth and then boot you out onto the street, demanding that you triple-pat your belly and give a thumbs-up to the shivering punters lining the streets outside.
Patiently sitting in the pub next door I was getting more and more anxious as the clock ticked closer to the time the manager said he would call me. I felt like Ashley Cole would have done on the eve of World Cup squad announcement day. I prayed that I wouldn't have the same fate as he did.
Ring ring. My time had come.
We were seated right at the back which allowed us to have a preview of what we were about to experience. The format here is that all of the food is laid out on the bar for you to pick and choose whatever dish you want. Each item has one of two sized wooden skewers sticking out of it. It's pretty simple - small sticks = £1.95, large sticks = £2.75. You then collect the sticks in a jar for them to be added-up later.
The overall vibe of the bar I would say has a very romantic feel to it. It's dim lighting, tile-panelling and small tables sets an intimate atmosphere. Perfect for a date. Or alternatively for three hungry and thirsty blokes to graze for a an hour or two. Either way this place will satisfy your desires.
Even the way in which they open the large window at the front, inviting people to come in, look at the food, leave if they want to, but invariably they will stay because it all looks so irresistible.
This place oozes relaxation and gives reason no. 2 a nudge as to why it is heaven: The staff are there purely as bar tenders. No table service means no interruption during the course of your meal. For me there is nothing worse than someone praying over you whilst you eat. This privacy and relaxed atmosphere is a precious commodity in London's dining scene nowadays. It's refreshing. It's heavenly.
The food itself is not mind-blowing, but the variety of what is laid out creates conversation, it encourages you to be adventurous; but above all, it allows you to see and smell the food you are about to sample. So in this sense, there is rarely a swing and a miss when it comes to whether or not you would like the dish you choose.
What I will say is that my two pals and myself have 20/20 vision and a keen sense of smell, hence why every dish we selected was a home-run. Naturally...
Accompanied with a bottle of their very reasonable £20 Acantus Rose, we kicked things off with the Smoked Mackerel Pate.
After a breather we then tucked into the Tuna with Sweet Peppers. The tuna was fresh, tender, and had a fantastic deep-pink colour to it. I could eat this all day.
On top of the Parma Ham that followed, we treated ourselves to many of the other delights that were laid out on the bar.
Going up to the bar for more grub was addictive. I would have spent all night there had the rose not got the better of me. The key thing about this place is that you don't feel as if you are being rushed, it was a delightful dining experience.
This is a place for any occasion. It is inviting for those who are curious and comfortable for those who finally decide to step indoors.
Please don't make the same mistake as I did. If you walk past it, go in. And if you don't, just be sure to not make eye contact with the duty manager; his sanity rests on your shoulders.