By Rick Steves
London has a trendy, Generation-X scene that most Beefeater-seekers miss entirely. These restaurants are scattered throughout the hipster, gay, and girlie-bar district, teeming each evening with fun-seekers and theater-goers. Even if you plan to have dinner elsewhere, it's a treat to just wander around this lively area.
Beware of the extremely welcoming women standing outside the strip clubs (especially on Great Windmill Street). Enjoy the sales pitch — but only fools fall for the "£5 drink and show" lure. They don't get back out without emptying their wallet...literally.
The Soho "Food is Fun" Three-Course Dinner Crawl: For a multicultural, movable feast, consider eating (or splitting) one course and enjoying a drink at each of these places. Arrive before 18:00 at Belgo Centraal and split the early-bird dinner special: a kilo of mussels, fries, and dark Belgian beer. At Yo! Sushi, have beer or sake and a few dishes. Slurp your last course at Wagamama Noodle Bar. For dessert, people-watch at Leicester Square, where the serf's always up.
Prices, while reasonable by London standards, add up. Servings are large enough to share. All are open nightly.
Belgo Centraal serves hearty Belgian specialties in a vast, 400-seat underground lair. It's a seafood, chips, and beer emporium dressed up as a mod-monastic refectory — with noisy acoustics and waiters garbed as Trappist monks. The classy restaurant section is more comfortable and less rowdy, but usually requires reservations. It's often more fun just to grab a spot in the boisterous beer hall, with its tight, communal benches (no reservations accepted). The same menu and specials work on both sides. Belgians claim they eat as well as the French and as heartily as the Germans. Specialties include mussels, great-tasting fries, and a stunning array of dark, blond, and fruity Belgian beers. Belgo actually makes Belgian things trendy — a formidable feat (1 block north of Covent Garden Tube station at intersection of Neal and Shelton streets, 50 Earlham Street).
Yo! Sushi is a futuristic Japanese-food-extravaganza experience. It's pricey — those plates add up fast. But it's a memorable experience, complete with thumping rock, Japanese cable TV, and a 195-foot-long conveyor belt — the world's longest sushi bar. For a small price, you get unlimited tea or water (from spigot at bar, with or without gas). Snag a bar stool and grab dishes as they rattle by (priced by color of dish; check the chart: 2 blocks south of Oxford Street, where Lexington Street becomes Poland Street, 52 Poland Street). If you like Yo!, there are several locations around town, including a handy branch a block from the London Eye on Belvedere Road, as well as outlets within Selfridges, Harvey Nichols department stores, and Whiteleys Mall on Queensway.
Wagamama Noodle Bar is a noisy, pan-Asian, organic slurpathon. As you enter, check out the kitchen and listen to the roar of the basement, where benches rock with happy eaters. Everybody sucks. Stand against the wall to feel the energy of all this "positive eating." Portions are huge and splitting is allowed (10A Lexington Street). If you like this place, handy branches are all over town, including one near the British Museum (Streatham Street), High Street Kensington (#26), in Harvey Nichols (109 Knightsbridge), Covent Garden (Tavistock Street), Leicester Square (Irving Street), Piccadilly Circus (Norris Street), Fleet Street (#109), and between St. Paul's and the Tower of London (22 Old Broad Street). Check out their website for coupons.
For a more romantic experience, Andrew Edmunds Restaurant is a tiny, candlelit place where you'll want to hide your camera and guidebook and act as local as possible. This great little place — with a jealous and loyal clientele — is the closest I've found to Parisian quality in a cozy restaurant in London. The modern European cooking with a creative seasonal menu is worth the splurge (come early or call ahead — request ground floor rather than basement, 46 Lexington Street in Soho).