The best experiences I’ve had around Seven Dials seem to arise out of circumstance. The brightest in memory takes me back to the long, hot summer of 2014, shortly after Marcus Wareing opened British-leaning bistro Tredwells on Upper St Martin’s Lane, where I was seconded to interview him and his charming head chef, Chantelle Nicholson. The interview was arranged for early afternoon; I arrived around lunchtime. With an hour or so to kill and the sun on my back, I slipped into the Crown & Anchor for a pint and a packet of smoky bacon crisps.
To describe a pint of premium-strength lager as ‘seminal’ is probably a bit of a stretch, but there are some glasses of icy cold beer that stick in your mind. This was one of those. Since then, I’ve always associated the streets of Seven Dials with this excellent pub, its well-kept beer and what turned out to be a perfectly pleasant interview. Tredwells has since become the sole project of Nicholson and her sparky antipodean personality comes through in Asian-influenced dishes such as the excellent miso-grilled cabbage, miso aioli, crispy quinoa and garlic.
The area’s cocktail hostelries are equally agreeable. The most memorable drink I’ve encountered – perhaps surprisingly – is from fried poultry emporium Chick ‘n’ Sours on Earlham Street. Stopping by for an essential late-night serving of rightly-lauded The General sandwich (extra kewpie mayo, always), I noticed a lesser-spotted Habanero Junglebird on the cocktail list. Now, the Junglebird – a rum-heavy, citrus-spiked drink served in every self-respecting tiki bar from the tropics to Tottenham – is a hard serve to get right. With a heady mix of sweet toasted pineapple and a welcome hit of habanero chilli, the balance of this drink is worthy a place on any great cocktail list, just as much as it is its berth between Disco Wings and Beef Dripping Fries here.
Trips to Seven Dials always seem to involve wine. With a good number of venues with outside seating, I tend to gravitate towards something cold and spritely… can you see a theme developing? When Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels opened in late 2014, it was one of the first of the new generation of wine bars. Shedding the image of stiff Nineties frocks, dense eyeliner and yuppies, CVS brings keenly priced, excellent wine with a relaxed food menu that wouldn’t look out of place on a bistro menu anywhere in France.
Mine is always a glass of Willi Shaefer Riesling Spätlese from the Mosel. A steal at around £9 a glass, it comes with all that petrol-pump character you expect from Rieslings three or four times the price. The food menu shows equal dedication to provenance: a Posh Madame sandwich is packed to the gunnels with a heady mix of Comté, bechamel, salami and pillowy bread that you have to assume comes from St. John Bakery next door.
Having seen the excellent work that Mark Wogan, son of Terry, has been doing during lockdown to get his outstanding oversized pizzas from Homeslice to consumers’ homes, it’s one of the first restaurant bookings on my list once things begin to open up. A 20-inch chorizo, corn, coriander and spring onions on a cream corn base with a bottle of house red will be just the thing to file the restaurant abstinence of the past few months firmly into the past.
To round things off, nights in Seven Dials invariably end in various states of debauchery at The Escapologist. Slinging fast-and-easy drinks to a party crowd, it strikes a good balance between considered cocktails and high-volume pours. With every step down into this basement bar on a Thursday or Friday night, some say you inch ever closer to Hades. Though if God can be a DJ, Lucifer knows his place a storey or two below the streets of WC2, banging out solid drinks that pair nicely with his fun-time playlist. It’s the kind of place to lose inhibition at the door, and always be sure to leave 20 minutes before last knockings to make good use of the first battery of taxis waiting outside.