Soho is so gilded nowadays that even drug addicts look down on it. The wasteland without must match the wasteland within. That is harmony. Soho is not a wasteland now: it is no longer that interesting. It is, rather, a shopping district with restaurants and hotels: whimsical, trivial, overpriced. People say it is our youth we lament when we moan about Soho, not the filthy streets we lay in and were fond of, but I am not sure if this is true. Every great city needs a district for wanking and sobs. But this is not it, not anymore. The gateway under the grand hotel by Piccadilly is now an Ugg shop and I have not seen an Orthodox Jew leap into a sex shop with a great, subversive skip — he was vaulting through cultures, after all — for years. Those days are over. They were priced out. The district is fretted with colours, and they do not belong here. You had better find your own internal Soho, because that is all that is left.
But there are always consolations, and this column is in the consolation business. That is its purpose. We seek them out, and we consume them. That too is harmony. And whatever Soho isn’t these days — home to the Colony Room Club, the Establishment Club, Karl Marx, stray dogs and typhoid — it is still a home to many imaginative restaurants, which come and go like friendship, and here is a new one: INO Gastrobar (Gastrobar is a stupid word) on Newburgh Street near Liberty of London, where I once bumped into Jeremy Corbyn’s press man, and am still surprised, which is why I mention it.
Newburgh Street is a small, cobbled lane of tidy and freshly repointed Victorian houses. I like these buildings and lament the loss of their fellows, but perhaps I will be happier as a ghost. INO (I cannot type Gastrobar indefinitely because it means ‘bar relating to the stomach’ which is word porridge) used to be a jeweller called The Great Frog — I told you Soho was whimsical — but the frog, great or self-deceptive, departed this rookery for another. Now it is a delightful Greek restaurant from the founders of OPSO in Marylebone and Funky Gourmet in Athens with its two shining Michelin stars. Bad names are communicable.
Inside it is pleasingly tiny: a series of brightly lit boxes. There is a long, open kitchen with bar and stools to the side — the part for young people, who do not fear bar stools — and, at the back, a snug. It is a small snug. I do not think you can have a big snug, though at some point someone will try to make one, because that is the nature of capitalism. You must fold yourself in.
Perhaps I have brasserie fatigue, because I only want salad: real salad, which means salad from the south. The Greek salad, with its great soothing lump of feta, is not something I will forget quickly, because it is the best I have found in or out of Greece. The menu is a vast selection of small dishes — I will not say small plates, and I have never eaten a plate and I hope I never will — many of them cooked on an open fire grill. They serve sticky pork sausages with red onion marmalade; beef short rib chops with citrus bitters and oregano; lamb chops with Greek yogurt; a Greek slider with thyme honey and tahini brioche and prime beef short rib patty; a cauliflower steak, which I ignore for personal reasons; a long list of Greek wines. We spend £200, gobbling and seeking.
I do not know how long INO will stay in Soho. Nothing lasts for ever, particularly here. I would catch it as it rests.
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