Berwick Street – Soho’s High Street
I have been coming to Soho since I was a small child at the start of the 1960s. My cosmopolitan Jewish grandfather was a fiddle player with a taste for the finer things in life and Soho was always our destination for poultry, veg, wine, patisserie, coffee and any foods from the Mediterranean. Even as a child I could sense that Soho had a sense of otherness. It was foreign, louche and disreputable and somehow it felt like home…
Berwick Street was laid out around the turn of the 18th century and named after James FitzJames, the first Duke of Berwick, the bastard son of James II and Arabella Churchill. A couple of buildings remain from that period; The Green Man pub has been serving drinks since 1738 and antique lighting emporium W Sitch & Co, the oldest shop in Soho, dates from the 1870s.
Contemporary Berwick Street is a mix of quirky independent traders ranging from vinyl shops to traditional London pubs, bespoke tailoring, colourful textile shops, vintage clothing, restaurants, coffee shops and fashion boutiques. What is exciting about it is that there are no chains which gives it a very different feel from the average British High St.
Berwick Street Market pulses with energy with traders selling cheeses, cakes, street food, artisan bread, fresh flowers and seasonal fruit and veg to the locals, chefs and to the many visitors coming to Soho for a foodie experience. The weekday street food market features well-known stalls such as Pizza Pilgrims, Freebird Burritos and Banh Mi.
We are starting our Berwick St day out with lunch at the Salt Yard Group’s wonderful new restaurant Ember Yard. It specialises in grilling and I have covered it in a separate review.
From Ember Yard we visited some of the shops that characterise both the past and future of Berwick St. Berwick Street has long been associated with fashion and textiles. We popped in to Misan Fabrics at number 32, one of their three shops on Berwick Street, who supply luxury textiles to local tailors, fashion students, the film and music industry and the theatrical costume makers of the West End. They were showcasing some fantastic tweed and woollen fabrics and I was tempted to get a couple of suits run up locally. Other fabric stores on the street include Biddle Sawyer Silks, Cloth House, The Silk Society and Borovick Fabrics.
Universal Works at 40 Berwick St are a menswear operation originating, as Paul Smith did, from Nottingham. This is their flagship store and it’s a great mix of classic and contemporary styles at affordable prices. Other clothing outlets include Reignwear vintage, tailor Chris Kerr, Bang Clothing Exchange and destination sneaker store Foot Patrol. Menswear designer Oliver Spencer, British clothing brand Percival, Swedish denim brand Nudie Jeans and Underground Shoes, which stocks limited edition product and special collaborations, all add to the fashion mix.
From Punk Rock days, Berwick Street has been known as ‘The Golden Mile of Vinyl’ with central London’s largest concentration of independent record shops; Reckless Records, Sister Ray and The Music and Video Exchange as well as Sounds of the Universe around the corner on Broadwick Street and Black Market Soho on D’Arblay Street.
Independent cycle shop and cafe Soho Bikes at number 26 stocks state of the art bikes as well as offering a full service facility and having an excellent little cafe serving great coffee and pastries.
Gosh Comics at number 1 stocks vintage and contemporary comics, graphic novels and children’s books. It’s a mecca for children of all ages and well worth a visit.
Our final stop is hardcore juice bar The Juice Well at 4 Peter St. As well as smoothies, juices, milks and tonics they offer multi-day juice cleansing regimes. We sampled a couple of their juices which are bursting with flavour and intensity-a perfect detox after our Ember Yard lunch.
Berwick Street and its environs are playing a full part in the restaurant renaissance of Soho. As well as Ember Yard, there is chef Florence Knight’s Polpetto (see our review). Part of Russell Norman’s Polpo group it serves brilliant cichetti, small plates of classic Venetian dishes, and features an aperitivo bar and an open kitchen. Alan Yau’s Chinese pub concept, Duck & Rice, will be joining the mix and open later this year also alongside his high end dim sum restaurant Yauatcha. The diverse food and drink offering on Berwick Street also includes tea specialist Yumchaa, a handful of quality coffee shops including Foxcroft & Ginger and Flat White, and on neighbouring Brewer Street café-meets-gallery Apostrophe, and Damson & Co (see our review) who have invented the concept of a British Deli Bar. Around the corner in D’Arblay St. is bijou French bistro Blanchette (see our review) and Soho’s own little corner of Seville Copita (see our review).
Berwick St combines a strong sense of identity with a diversity of experience. It’s really worth spending a day investigating its shops and restaurants to get a sense of Soho’s past, present and future.