A wonderful weekend in trendy Soho – London's heartbeat
Excitement was the overriding feeling on my return to Soho, one of the most iconic shopping and dining destinations in London.
Memories of a previous visit were hazy to say the least, as it was a fleeting one-night trip which became somewhat lost in the bottom of a beer glass.
This time, however, accompanied by wife Laura, I was keen to educate myself on all that this unique part of London had to offer.
We arrived at our hotel - The Nadler - mid-morning and surprisingly the room was ready, meaning we could dump our bags and freshen up before heading out to explore.
The Nadler is a modern-style hotel tucked away at the end of Carlisle Street and just a hop, skip and a jump away from Soho Square. It's easily recognisable by the huge iron fairy sculpture directly above the entrance.
Don't be fooled by the hotel's quiet location as it's also within spitting distance of the area's finest dining and nightlife spots.
There's no in-house restaurant, but is there really any need considering what you're surrounded by? An added bonus for guests though is that all rooms come equipped with built-in kitchenettes.
Feeling hungry after our journey, first foodie stop was at Pittabun on Newburgh Street. As the name suggests, Pittabun is a modern twist on traditional Greek street food, where the freshly-made pitta is the star. Add a generous filling of the tender and juicy cuts of meat slow-cooked overnight and you've got the best that fast food can offer. There's fish, vegetarian and sweet options too, which we happily devoured.
Lunch was burned off with a stroll around the unique Newburgh Quarter, nestled in the heart of Carnaby, where creativity runs through the picturesque cobbled streets and fashion-conscious shoppers feel right at home.
A Soho shopping experience brings something different on every corner. There’s a variety of independent stores and international brands, such as the recent opening of cult menswear retailer END, plus the timeless fashion offerings at Oliver Spencer and Universal Works.
Clearly it's all about looking the part, so we decided to get involved with a stop off at Cowshed Carnaby salon, where we kicked back and relaxed while being pampered with an express manicure. For the record, men are regular customers too.
Berwick Street is the hub for music and vinyl and home to record shops including Sister Ray and Reckless Records, stocking a huge selection from rock and pop to jazz, soul and dance.
You don't need me to tell you that night-time is when Soho really comes alive and this was discovered first-hand during an evening at trendy Hovarda on Rupert Street, where glamour, live music, Aegean-inspired cuisine and fabulous cocktails all come together.
Its menu has an emphasis on seafood and we indulged in the fishy delights of yellowtail and sole sashimi followed by mains of mackerel and scallops, before dipping into the extensive wines and cocktails list.
Hovarda is not a place you leave in a hurry as the party atmosphere cranks up well into the early hours, but thanks to several post-dinner shots and espresso martinis, time went unnoticed.
Soho's diverse selection of restaurants, bars and cafes is quite something. Traditional pubs sit alongside concept restaurants and bustling cafes complement the many street food outlets.
Brand-new to the area is Swedish artisan bakery Soderberg on Berwick Street, which for us was the perfect place to soak up the excesses of the night before.
Just a two-minute walk from The Nadler, Soderberg offers delights such as 'smorrebrod', poached eggs with avocado and smoked salmon, and Frukostbricka, a traditional Swedish breakfast tray of yoghurt, fruit salad, cheese, sourdough, crispbread and Serrano ham.
After a walk to Piccadilly Circus and browse round Chinatown, lunch took us to Cafe Monico, a traditional European brasserie nestled in between two theatres on Shaftesbury Avenue.
With its inspiration taken from the original established in the late nineteen century, Cafe Monico boasts a decor oozing elegance and charm, providing the perfect place to dine pre or post West End show.
A variety of shellfish, pastas and grilled meats are offered along with a drinks menu of classic cocktails, traditional aperitifs and selection of vermouths.
For me as it was Sunday, the full roast beef dinner was in order (Yorkshire puds included), which was effortlessly washed down with a beautiful bottle of red.
Whether it's award-winning food, unique fashion or rich heritage you're after, Soho is one of the must-see places to visit in the capital.
And with its diverse and vibrant reputation, plus hotbed of individualism and creativity, you can see why its renowned for being London's heartbeat.
GETTING THERE BY TRAIN
You can save 1/3 off adult fares (and 60 per cent off kids fares) with a Railcard. Using a Two Together Railcard, which costs just £30 a year, the price for two adults travelling together from Leeds to London on a 'super off-peak return' is £149.80, a total saving of £77.20. When travelling by train you also get 2-for-1 offers on many great attractions with www.daysoutguide.co.uk.