Mornings become electric in Soho
03 November, 2016 — By Tom Moggach
Pide of place: the signature dish at Babaji
MORNINGS are a magical time to visit Soho, as the streets shrug off their nightly hangover.
The atmosphere is strangely tranquil – just the odd street sweeper or tourist – although a decent plate of food can be tricky to find.
In a few recent forays, I’ve found a couple of top notch destinations for breakfast and brunch. Babaji, open from 11am at weekends, whisks you on a journey to Istanbul. Expect flatbreads and hummus instead of toast and Marmite.
Poached eggs are jazzed up with yoghurt and chilli. Babaji is the creation of famous restaurateur Alan Yau, who set up Wagamama then enjoyed smash hits with Yauatcha and Hakkasan. He’s famous for his sense of style and attention to detail, so Babaji is ravishing on the eye: deep blue walls; good looking staff; a chic wood-fired oven by the window.
Classical music drifts through the air; most customers natter in Turkish or Arabic. Their signature dish is “pide”. Yau explains that these are “something very close to a pizza” but with some key differences. For a start, the dough is stretched into a long narrow shape and flattened with a delicate, theatrical dance of the fingertips. Getting it perfect is devilishly difficult.
Only two chefs at Babaji are entrusted with this task. Watching them prepare their dough is like admiring a piano maestro practising their scales. We turned up as the restaurant opened and grabbed a table by the window looking out onto Shaftesbury Avenue.
The Afyon pide is topped with beef sausage, cheese, red chilli and parsley. The dough is carefully folded at the edges, so the contents don’t seep out. My daughters sipped glasses of watermelon juice and scooped up sesame-sprinkled hummus with the “ekmek” – warm breads made with the same dough as the pide but kneaded with a different technique.
There are seven riffs on eggs, including with feta, sausage and slow-cooked lamb. We shared two eggs baked with spinach and pine nuts. Other dishes on the brunch menu include salads such as tomato and walnut with a pomegranate dressing, kebabs, grills and simple lentil soups.
A few streets away, Dean Street Town House, an offshoot of the Soho House group, is just as stylish but an entirely different proposition. The hotel rooms above are out of my league. But the restaurant welcomes everyone and is open from 7am weekdays, 8am at weekends. The breakfast menu offers near faultless renditions of the classics: kippers; kedgeree; mushrooms on toast; Eggs Benedict and the like. I could not fault their ham hock hash with a fried duck egg.
The surroundings ooze class. Expect vast piles of the weekend papers, cold-pressed juices with added collagen, impeccable waiting staff and lush low lighting. Prices at both places are similar – about £15-20 for a slap-up meal with juice, tea and coffee. Treat yourself, as you won’t need lunch.
53 Shaftesbury Ave, W1D
020 3327 3888
Dean Street Townhouse
69 – 71 Dean St, W1D
020 7434 1775