The food and drink writer recalls her experiences of snacking, dining and sipping her way through Seven Dials’ most delicious corners
Despite being slap bang in the middle of London, Seven Dials has always felt like a bit of an eating out secret. I think it has something to do with the maze-like layout: hunting out that restaurant or wine bar down the right spoke of the dial, or finding the entrance to the enclosed alleyway or courtyard where that pizza joint or bakery lies, means the spoils taste all the sweeter when you eventually reach them.
Arguably, my inability to navigate the Dials is related to its bars. My earliest memory of eating in Seven Dials, when I’d recently moved to London six years ago, is actually less memory than impression. It was close to midnight and my best friend and I were in Flesh & Buns Izakaya restaurant –– where I’d dragged us after a hundred or so drinks elsewhere. I remember: a dark basement, throbbing red light, dazzlingly loud music and my first ever bao, sloppy and delicious with braised pork belly. I do not recall what it tasted like; I’m pretty sure most of the pork ended up on my lap. But it was an awakening. This was what eating out in London was like: mad, fun and messy, and probably resulting in a hangover.
Seven Dials is where I’ve put the world to rights half a dozen times over, aided by a bottle of natural Slovenian white at The 10 Cases or ‘mystery wine’ at Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels. And it is where I had my first gigantic pizza slice from Homeslice, for which we queued for an hours in the humid light night of an endless June when the very air in London was vibrating with life and possibility. I remember the anticipation both joyful and fearful of a hungover Sunday roast at Chick ‘n’ Sours, where we giggled at then gobbled down their legendary whole deep-fried free range bird.
Not all my memories of Seven Dials are from late nights out, mind. There’s also the breakfast meetings I’ve insisted be held at 26 Grains so I can devour the fanciest of porridges, drizzled with tahini and nut butters and compotes, on the basis that such a breakfast is healthy enough to warrant pudding next door at Jacob the Angel. Just a teeny tiny tahini madeleine or canelé to round things off nicely. I’ve won forgiveness from friends, peeved at my tardiness, by presenting them with a slightly squished but still magnificent jammy doughnut or lardy bun from St John’s Bakery. At Christmas, I descend on Rococo, theoretically for their excellent stocking fillers – salted caramel chocolate gull’s eggs, anyone? – but really as an excuse to warm my bones with hot chocolate spiked with sea salt and cardamom.
I have never made it to the big Seven Dials Market that opened last September – always a case of “I’ll go tomorrow”, until six months later I couldn’t. But that’s okay. It simply means another dozen restaurants to add to my “visit the second this is over” list, when I’ll get elbow deep in Monty’s Deli pastrami and Nanban’s curry ramen, slurp slushies and craft lager, and revel in the mad, messy fun of it all. I can’t wait.
Frankie McCoy writes for the Evening Standard, Independent and Buro 24/7