Experience a different side to London’s West End with these suggestions for great places to eat, cool bars for cocktails and hotels to suit all budgets
I had lived in London for over 10 years but when it came to meeting friends in the West End, I always struggled to come up with ideas as to where to go out. Often, I'd spend a small fortune on a rather disappointing meal and end the evening in a very average bar. But then I got a new job and found myself right in the heart of London - and my whole perception of the West End changed. So I thought I would share a few of my discoveries with you, all within walking distance of Tottenham Court Road tube...
Oxford Street is a bit hit and miss when it comes to restaurants, but there are some great places if you know where to look. One of my favourites is the Eagle Bar Diner, which is just off Oxford Street in Rathbone Place. It's great value for money, with a vast selection of burgers, beers, cocktails and milkshakes (alcoholic ones if you're feeling brave!) The all-day breakfast menu is worth checking out, too.
Charlotte Street hosts a vast range of restaurants. Bertorelli is a consistently good Italian or, if you're in the mood for a Mexican, try La Perla; neither will break the bank. If you're treating yourself, check out the two-Michelin-starred French restaurant Pied à Terre - bring the credit card or, better still, someone else to pay the bill! Another very cool and contemporary place is the award-winning Japanese restaurant Roka, with an extensive sushi and sashimi menu and a good selection of vegetarian dishes - YO! Sushi prices it is not, though, so the credit card will need to come out again. Also worth mentioning is Shochu: the stylish downstairs bar serves some unusual and inventive cocktails, and the door policy ensures that it doesn't get too busy.
The Crazy Bear was dangerously close to where I used to work. I love this place (and I think they probably loved me, too, after a large proportion of my wages ended up here!) It can get very popular towards the end of the week and at the weekend, so I'd highly recommend booking a booth downstairs in the bar if there's a group of you. If you fancy a bite to eat beforehand, book a table in the rather good Thai restaurant - mention upon arrival that you'd like to go to the bar afterwards and they'll reserve a table.
A quick after-work drink sometimes ended up being a late night, and the final place for a last drink tended to be The Roxy on Rathbone Place; free entry on most nights before 10.30pm and discounted entry with a flyer from their website. For an even later drink, try Balans in Soho, described as 'an essential part of Old Compton Street', which stays open until 5am during the week and 6am at weekends.
For the ultimate decadent rock'n'roll experience, try the Sanctum Soho Hotel, complete with 24-hour rooftop bar, spa tub, room service and in-house cinema as well as iPod docks and Wii consoles in every room. For a more traditional hotel, Hazlitt's is one of Soho's best kept secrets, beautifully furnished, unpretentious and elegant. Other places I'd recommend, although not in Soho, are Base2Stay in South Kensington, a hip hotel that's great value, with a range of rooms and suites, or the just-opened Think Apartments in Earls Court. Alternatively in Chiswick is the Chiswick Moran Hotel a great base if you don't mind staying a little further away.